This article describes a PYP educator’s experiences conducting the PYP exhibition after having returned to the classroom from an absence of 6 years. It applies to the exhibition as a tool to improve student’s learning and as a reflective tool for practice.
Inquiry and depth of instruction are two pillars of the IB, therefore questions drive most of what we do in my classroom; we ask a lot of them. As this year’s exhibition ends, I found myself exploring the questions my students asked.
The exhibition process
We started this year’s exhibition with issues and then built outward from those. We constructed questions from those things we found interesting.
I asked the staff in our building to come into my classroom the first week of our exhibition and present on something they felt passionate about that fit with our central idea: Changes people experience at different stages of their lives affect their evolving sense of self.
One of our teachers had some experience with hospice care by taking care of someone who was in the last stages of their life. “Pretty deep for ten-year-olds”, I thought. A group of exhibition students started out talking about people with disabilities in general, then ended up focusing on blindness. “How does going blind affect your sense of self?” tied their inquiry back to our central idea. The group inquired about how blind people take care of themselves. They found an agency in China that trains guide dogs. As part of their action they organized an assembly to raise awareness of how difficult it can be to go places with a guide dog in China.
Another group started talking about war then moved to talking about conflict. Their research about conflict led them to adding another line of inquiry about bullying. They wanted to know: “How does being bullied affect your sense of self?” During the Q&A that followed their presentation, someone in the audience asked one of the students about being bullied. He said, “Yes, I was bullied at my old school, but not so much here.”
One group, after seeing one of our teachers speak about their involvement with an orphanage in China, chose to investigate the life experiences of orphans. There are many orphans in China, many of them healthy baby girls. They explored this: “How does being adopted affect ones evolving sense of self?” They researched, pulling facts and figures off the internet. They talked about adoption with one of our teachers and organized a trip to a local orphanage. One child in this exhibition group was adopted from an orphanage when she was an infant. She looks different than her mother and father. She looks different than her brother and sister. Her mother tells me that she has not asked about her own personal past, and well, they do not know much.
At the close of the exhibition, I have seen some great inquiry. I have seen children applying the elements of the IB PYP. Presentations have been created to share the research completed, actions taken and recorded. I have seen children tying inquiry to action and, I believe, to their own personal narratives of their lives. But also, I feel that I have been witness to icebergs passing me by, children showing just the tip of their thinking, the rest of their thoughts submerged, shadows in the depths.
Mark Lasater has worked in international schools for the past 15 years, eight of which in IB schools. He has experiences as a teacher, counselor, administrator and a variety of other roles in schools in the US, the Middle-East, central Asia, and now China. Having moved to China and returned to the classroom in the last year, he is interested in reflecting on his current practice. Two of the most useful tools Mark has found in terms of improving his practice are reflection and feedback from peers.