Going into the self-study process for our first evaluation, I sought out meaningful ways to present the process to the school community as a program coordinator. What better way than to develop it into a unit of inquiry! Using the school’s chosen inquiry cycle and our customized planning template, we developed a unit plan.
By Evans Kimani
“I thought it prudent to create a feeling of ownership and transparency for all stakeholders. My goal was to get the message across that this was not my process or that of a selected few, but it was ours. “
Our program evaluation journey was a great milestone in developing understanding of the IB philosophy and practices for us as an institution. We had experienced a growth spurt in student and staff numbers between getting authorized and having our first evaluation and this collaborative process helped in aligning our goals and motivations.
Reflecting on the premise of this process, I sought out meaningful ways to present the process to the school community as a program coordinator. What better way than to develop it into a unit of inquiry! Using the flow of our inquiry cycle was going to be relatable to all teachers and students and raising the chances of a fruitful exercise. Using the school’s chosen inquiry cycle (Kath Murdoch’s model) and our customised planning template, we developed a unit plan.
Tuning in to the process
As a natural step to kick start the inquiry, I evaluated my own prior understanding of the process, responding to “What do I already know about the evaluation?” I like using the 5W’s to help me synthesise a topic;
- Who: teachers, parents, students, school administration, program coordinator, IB visiting team & relationship manager
- What: it is an event – it has a start and an end. It is a process – it has several steps. It is a reflective exercise.
- Where: All the groundwork will be done at school; the school community is the focal point of this exercise.
- When: The process is lengthy, almost a year+ and has to be completed before the event. The event will happen on an agreed-upon date in 2020.
- Why: It is a requirement and a service – a natural, regular cycle of growth that we must have as a PYP school.
“Ideally, the self-study process is a self-assessment, and building portfolios is one of the more progressive assessment methods proposed by the IB.“
Finding and Sorting out
I front-loaded all resources I had about the self-study and evaluation process at our very first meeting. I brought in my inquiry board which helped in adding a familiar element to the process – something that most teachers could relate to (image 1). With my sign-up sheets ready, I asked teachers to sign up for an area of interest and growth for them or the school. Choice is a huge motivator – allowing the option of what standard to focus on was one of the early successes. (Image 4)
One conscious choice I made was to include the email from the regional office, the rationale for this is in the salutation the email is addressed to the school! I thought it prudent to create a feeling of ownership and transparency for all stakeholders. My goal was to get the message across that this was not my process or that of a selected few, but it was ours.
Working with a large team with varied backgrounds, it was vital to reconcile viewpoints and develop a shared understanding going into the process. We did this using the default rating provided in the program evaluation guiding document – Excelling, Demonstrating, Developing and Emerging. Designed as a bonding exercise for newly-formed committees, groups were asked to apply the same rating on four unrelated scenarios. The goal was to generate a list of keywords associated with each rating to be referred to once evidence had been gathered for rating. (Image 5)
Going further into multiple perspectives
Student’s voice is now explicitly articulated within the enhanced PYP. Though working with the 2014 IB Standards and practices at the time, there was an overwhelming urge to honour student voice in a big way during this process. In my opinion, our student survey of 2018-2019 was the most significant success of this self-study exercise. I scheduled it into an online assessment period with all students having an option to take the survey after completing their test. Two hundred sixty-four students out of a K-12 population of 500 took the survey! (Image 6)
Reviewing the evidence and Drawing conclusions
Evidence took many forms, and the task at hand now was how to compile this evidence into an accessible and uniform format. Earlier when researching best practices involving student portfolios, I had come across Portraits of learning: Comprehensive assessment through E-portfolios by Savita Malik, Alycia Shada, Ruth Cox, Maggie Beers and Mary Beth Love. Ideally, the self-study process is a self-assessment, and building portfolios is one of the more progressive assessment methods proposed by the IB. I recommended compiling a portfolio as an end product – a portrait of learning, similar to one a student would create in the course of a unit of inquiry. We used Google slides to build the portfolios of evidence and justifications as compiled by the teams. With Google slides, the portfolios were living documents that could be shared and appraised by the school community.
Reflecting and Developing the Action Plan
This very intuitive process is meant to inform the school’s future actions. The program action plan should ideally be revised based on the findings of this exercise. It is essential to recognise that the self-study is also an opportunity to identify successes and celebrate them, not merely develop a to-do list. ‘Stop-Start-Continue’ is a process widely used to provide quality feedback. We used this to develop new action items (Start & Stop) and reassure our current efforts (Continue). This process is a variation of a feedback mechanism called the SKS ((stop (S), keep (K), and start (S)) form developed by Phil Daniels, then a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University.
The collective building of the action plan using Start-Stop-Continue was a big success. In contrast to our first action plan, this cycle of review led to communal feeling towards our journey ahead as a learning community. The final action plan was overwhelmingly packed with many significant steps that needed to be taken, but the success of it was in how much more self-aware we were as a learning community. Evidence of this reflective disposition came across clearly, with the visiting team admiring the collaboration and reflection exhibited throughout the self-study process. The evaluation exercise was successful with many commendations coming through in the final report and ultimately few recommendations thanks to a well-informed action plan. Due to collaborative reflection and a commitment to evidencing growth and learning, the learning community at AIS Uganda has embarked on what will undoubtedly be a collective journey of PYP program development.
Evans Kimani is the PYP/Assessment coordinator at Acorns International School in Uganda. Evans has been with Acorns International School for the last 6 years, transitioning from a homeroom teacher into a coordinating role in the last 4 years. Evans is currently completing his M.Ed research project inspired by the ideas of Project Zero, in particular exploring challenges to teaching critical and creative thinking in upper elementary classrooms. He maintains a collection of his insights on his blog myquesttoevidencelearning.com where he is currently exploring ideas about purposeful learning, meaningful assessment and evidencing learning in the classroom.