This article puts forward three different approaches to the creation and use of the central idea, including early sharing, student creation and parent creation of the central idea. It shares the benefits and drawbacks of all three approaches.
We can spend hours crafting a rich and significant central idea with colleagues, but once this process is over, what is the best way to share it with our students? I have been working with teams of teachers to take different approaches with their central ideas for different purposes, resulting in different kinds of learning for our students. Here are three possible approaches explained.
Approach 1: The central idea as a springboard
Purpose: To share the central idea early on, to inspire inquiry.
How: In this approach, the teacher presents the central idea near the beginning of the unit of inquiry. Typically, a teacher will help the students understand the vocabulary of the central idea, then over the course of a few days, run mini info sessions on the essential elements that will drive the inquiry. This approach may see students writing their own version of the central idea, or displaying their understanding through drawings, acting out, models or questions and can be a form of formative assessment.
Benefits: By deconstructing the central idea in a very direct manner near the onset of a unit of inquiry we can help our students understand the programme, how it works as a structure and what each part plays. It is helpful to use this approach with students or teachers who are new to the programme.
Draw-backs: This approach can be formulaic, less than inspiring, and can actually hinder inquiry by providing students with a conclusion. If the vocabulary of the central idea is too rich for the age group, this type of deconstruction can be confusing and switch off the learning engagement.
Approach 2: The central idea as assessment
Purpose: To assess student understanding at the conclusion of an inquiry.
How: In this approach, teachers collaboratively construct the central idea to inform their teaching, but do not share it with students. Teachers lead learning engagements that develop student understanding of the lines of inquiry, the concepts, skills and attitudes, sharing these with the students. At the end of the inquiry, students reflect on and analyze their understanding by creating a central idea that summarizes their learning, is conceptually driven and expresses an enduring understanding.
Benefits: By going through this process, students deeply engage with the underlying aims of the programme and often report that they ‘get it’ after this process. This approach promotes a high level of conceptual and critical thinking and promotes creativity. Students feel empowered and respected as learners. For teachers, supporting students to write a central idea can be a great learning opportunity to reflect on and articulate the ideas and values behind the programme, improving our own ability to write great central ideas.
Draw-backs: Although I have seen this approach used as young as 5-6 year olds it may be a challenging process for very young children. Likewise, students new to the PYP may struggle with this approach.
Approach 3: Constructing the central idea with parents and students
Purpose: To increase parent understanding of the programme and increase home/school engagement.
How: After experiencing the provocation and a few key learning experiences, students invite their parents into a session in which they complete an inquiry activity together, review student learning so far, and then, led by teachers, students and parents co-construct the central idea. Parents and their children consider the transdisciplinary theme, chosen concepts, attitudes and attributes of the learner profile, and read curriculum outcomes that must be achieved. They then work in groups to construct a rich central idea which is shared with the group. One central idea is chosen, or a new central idea that uses language from many is settled upon.
Benefits: This approach helps parents really understand the structure of the programme, its elements, and how inquiries are driven. They see the craft in teacher planning, and often relay a new sense of enthusiasm and appreciation for the quality of the education their children are receiving. The engagement between home and school is never stronger than when parents design the central idea.
Draw-backs: Teachers need to work the room to ensure that all voices are heard and that progressive ideas of how children best learn drive the discussions.
What approaches to the central idea do you use for different kinds of student learning?
Kylie Dorsett is the PYP Coordinator and deputy head of the junior school at Scots Albury. She has 10 years experience as a teacher and leader in PYP schools and is now taking her second school through the authorization process. Kylie is passionate about the programme and the gift of lifelong learning it delivers to its students. She is constantly redefining her understanding of what a great education looks like, and is currently delving into the role of creativity for both teachers and students in realizing potential.
This was a really helpful article, thanks. It includes great ideas, is based on real experiences and observations and I love the way it is set out: Purpose, How, Benefits, Drawbacks. It’s helped my thinking around central ideas and also parent information sessions.
Thanks so much Julie, I am looking forward to running more co- creation sessions with parents next year, focusing more on key and related concepts with them.
This was indeed interesting and informative.
I am new to the PYP approach.
Is it possible for you to share unit planners as examples of the above 3 approaches for year 2 students.
A great article Kylie!! I’m very interested in trying the second approach of leaving out the deconstruction of the central idea at the beginning of the unit. I think some teaching teams will embrace your ideas. Congratulations!