The IB Primary Years Programme encourages students to identify and choose the areas of learning they wish to explore. IB World magazine speaks to three PYP teachers about how they support their students in directing their own learning.
“When students feel they have a voice and the freedom to make supported choices in their learning, they will be engaged. It is impossible for them not to be,” says PYP Coordinator Donnah Ciempka from Coatesville Primary School in Australia.
By its nature, the PYP fosters an inquiring mind and empowers students to become agents of their own learning. To aid this, teachers should create, support and encourage a climate for student ownership, believes Ciempka.
The PYP defines student ownership as: “Engaging students as active partners in their own learning, which gives them the skills and the space to make choices, show leadership and take action. Enabling student agency creates autonomous and self-organized learners.
Students recognize that it is possible to make a difference in their own lives and society and they feel empowered to make choices that may lead to action. As their independence grows, students work with their peers and teachers to initiate and lead their own learning.”
Student ownership is recognized in many different ways, from students selecting which books to read, to choosing what to investigate, or how they wish to present their understandings. Where and how students work – whether it be in a quiet setting, individually, in pairs, with a teacher, indoors or outdoors – are also key ways students can have input.
Starting with an end in mind helps to guide the process, says Ciempka: “We encourage our students to plan their learning. Once our students decide on what they want to focus on, we then support them to work towards achieving that goal.
I find that summative tasks for units of inquiry are great ways to explore ownership. Solving problems and answering questions demonstrates how students are taking ownership of their learning and ideas.”
And, with any goal-setting process, students need to identify what will be used as a measure of their success to keep them motivated. Sue Riley, PYP Coordinator from Murrumbeena Primary School in Australia, says: “We use a variety of pre- and post-assessments such as self, peer and teacher assessment, which allow students to evaluate their success or identify how to reach them. Students are empowered to see their strengths and their areas of improvement rather than relying on the teacher to identify them.”
Anne van Dam, Assistant Principal at International School of Zug and Luzern in Switzerland, and her team have investigated Dr Helen Hedges’ idea that the student is a theory builder. This has helped van Dam create a team where teacher-student collaboration is valued. Dr Hedges is the Head of School for the School of Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
Van Dam says, “Dr Hedges has looked at how researching students’ interests, inquiries and working theories is fundamental to finding out how students learn. We have investigated this idea and, as a result, we have created a discourse where teachers actively listen to children’s theories and then plan accordingly.”
The PYP encourages teachers to continue inquiring into the effectiveness of their teaching practice, reflect on its impact on student learning and remain open to new ideas: “Everyone in the PYP community is a learner with a commitment to lifelong learning. Teachers understand the links between their learning and teaching and the impact these have on student outcomes.”
Although younger students are more eager to learn many new things, Riley finds that they can be unsure of their own capabilities, and encourages students to lead their learning in small ways, initially. “Teachers will identify the focus for a class but, when we plan units of inquiry, we try to consider the interests of the students,” she says.
“We will ask questions about the main idea and lines of inquiry to find out what they already know and what they’re interested in learning more about. This may lead to interest-based groups as a way of inquiring further, or it may lead to action-based groups as students want to pursue a matter that is important to them.”
Allowing students’ questions to guide their learning sparks the interests of other students, and also ignites creativity.
“There is a link between ownership and creativity,” says van Dam. “When you have ownership over learning, students are more likely to think about all the possible solutions, and this helps develop creativity.”
Students in the driving seat
Co-constructed learning offers the perfect opportunity for students to reflect on their learning, and demonstrate their understanding, which establishes an inquiring mindset and puts students in the driving seat for their future, believes Ciempka.
Teachers have seen students develop their thinking and communication skills as a result of student ownership, as well as forming many lifelong skills and dispositions, such as perseverance, resilience and self-reflection. And, as they have been involved in the entire process, Riley has seen her students become more confident in talking about what they have learned.
Van Dam adds, “With ownership comes the necessity to collaborate, express ideas and negotiate. Students learn to listen to others, which is equally important. It is all the skills necessary for the 21st century.”
Students are more excited about learning as it is a personal experience that they have control over. “Ownership is a powerful thing to experience,” says van Dam. “It is coming to know yourself and discovering what interests and excites you.”
To embed a philosophy of student ownership, authentically, takes time. For student ownership to be a success, students should set their own goals and plan their learning, with support from the teacher.
“We want our students to be active participants in their learning. We want them to be problem solvers and keep working at something until they get the answer,” adds Ciempka.
“Student ownership is the key to creating lifelong learners but, more importantly, it is the key to creating people who not only want to take action but have the mindset, skills and confidence to do so.”
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