Documenting observation: A school’s experience of refining the PYP planner

A reflection on the process of redesigning the PYP planner to meet our school needs. 

Documenting observation: A school’s experience of refining the PYP planner

By Melanie Minos

Our teachers reflected that they needed a document they could use to record the learning objectives, concepts, useful resources, ideas for provocations and assessment, but not something so stifling and static that there was no room for learner agency and student voice developing along the way.

At the beginning of our school year we prioritised a review of the PYP planner aiming to create a document that served dual purposes and inspired inquiry planning. Our teachers reflected that they needed a document they could use to record the learning objectives, concepts, useful resources, ideas for provocations and assessment, but not something so stifling and static that there was no room for learner agency and student voice developing along the way. We wanted a fluid document that could be updated as student questions evolved, as we moved through the inquiry cycle, looping back to tune in again or sort out a new discovery. At the same time, we wanted a planner that reflected the learning that had occurred in class capturing the comments of students, observations of teachers and a place to record the next step’s a student needed to progress. A planner that subtly balanced forward planning and responsive planning was identified in our collaborative planning and we began our inquiry into the best way to document these things. 

Documenting observation: A school’s experience of refining the PYP planner

This Learning Story inspired our revitalized planner.

Our first PYP planners were modelled on the Early Learning Centre style Learning Stories. A colleague, previously from Early Learning Centres in New Zealand shared her experience of documenting observations and student voice in one page, colour photograph ‘Learning Stories’. They were snapshots of a learning experience- exploring mud or listening to the sounds of objects on a nature tray- and whilst they documented one moment in time well, they would be unsustainable for daily documentation and left little scope for recording forward planning by teachers. However, with these examples in mind, we created a Reflective Planner. 

Prior to using our Reflective Planner, I could have long conversations with any teachers about the things individual students had said or achieved in class, they could tell me what they were working on and what they were going to teach them next to continue this growth. However, what wasn’t happening, was capturing these rich observations from class in our documentation- our evidence was not being collected- a lost opportunity.

Documenting observation: A school’s experience of refining the PYP planner

Documenting observation: A school’s experience of refining the PYP planner

The Reflective Planners allow for a balance between forward planning by teachers to meet learning objectives and reactive planning that allows for student agency and responsive in-lesson differentiation.

The Reflective Planner took the beautifully captured observations of students’ responses, wonderings and questions from the Learning Stories with a greater emphasis on observing what our students said and did and what they needed to do next to develop. We were using these planners with students from Pre School (3 years) to our Grade 6 students (12 years) so they needed to suit a variety of information. The first version of our planner provided space for observations, highlighted students individually by name to evidence differentiation and told the story of the classroom. They were a wonderful improvement from the static boxes of our previous planner. However, as teachers began to use the document as a tool for promoting learner agency (teacher as facilitator, following the student interests and choices), we found that teachers wanted more forward planning. So a few changes were made. Firstly, we added a weekly overview for the 6-8 weeks of each inquiry. This allowed teachers to document how to develop a sequence of learning, essentially plan how to get from point A to B,  in terms of the learning objectives. Added to this, we now had a space to include teacher questions to guide the inquiry. We were starting to strike a balance between having too much information dictating where the inquiry was going and enough leeway for students to contribute to the direction of the inquiry. The teachers were feeling optimistic!

Another advantage of the new planner format and focus on documenting observations was that as a result, the teachers became finely attuned to their role of observing in class. Being the largest of the four dimensions of assessment and the one we wanted our teachers most focused on during time with students, this adjustment to the planner was really shifting the role of the teacher in the class. Our teachers found themselves looking for evidence, quotes and comments from students, as well as photo evidence that they could add to their planners. Teachers found is useful to add a box in the planner with all of the student names in the class and delete them as an observation was made about them. From this, our teachers could easily see what each student could do and when to challenge or extend them. It also ensured nobody was going unnoticed in a class or not receiving feedback. Equally important, it allowed them to plan the next steps for classes that followed. 

Documenting observation: A school’s experience of refining the PYP planner

Teachers transitioned from leaders of learning in the classroom to observers of learning, collecting evidence for the reflective planners.

Encouragingly, the teachers were enjoying writing in their planners as they were able to show that their effort was being reflected in the students’ learning. The practise of documenting both what they planned to happen and what actually happened was reflective for our teachers. For the first time, their planning felt meaningful. The planner served the purpose of allowing teachers to reflect on their own practise as educators, however, it was also a document that they could use when writing reports, communicating with parents and evidencing their planning and teaching. A simple search for an individual student in the document at report writing time, catalogued an entire year of observations, comments, progress and student questions that could be used when writing reports. This was unique to our planners and certainly not something that the previous planners were able to offer. Teachers could see what a benefit it was to have observations and planning in the one place. A record of everything that they were doing during an inquiry- not just what they had intended to do. The new planners were a joy to read and you could hear the student voices and imagine sitting alongside them as they asked their ‘I wonder’ questions or made connections to the learning. Reading about the discoveries students made, the progress teachers were capturing and the documentation of the classes made it all come to life- no more static documents. Learner Agency was evident, as was differentiated teaching and learning. Our planners were becoming documents of insightful evidence. Our Grade 4 teacher reflected, “I’ve enjoyed being able to see my observations from the week before and use them in determining what I am going to do next. I’m looking at what is happening today and planning little things for next steps- such as today I saw we need to work on self management, so I have started planning this in my planner for next week.” The cycle of observation, planning, assessing and evaluating has been really useful in our school. 

Prior to using our Reflective Planner, I could have long conversations with any teachers about the things individual students had said or achieved in class, they could tell me what they were working on and what they were going to teach them next to continue this growth. However, what wasn’t happening, was capturing these rich observations from class in our documentation- our evidence was not being collected- a lost opportunity. All teachers know their students and their eyes light up when asked about progress being made or what creative ideas students were exploring- now we had a way and a place to collect this important data. The story of our school was being told each day, each week and the learning of our students was poignantly captured- almost beautiful enough to publish! The reflective process of evaluating our planners, adjusting and adapting them and using them week to week created a far more dynamic change in our classrooms than we would ever have anticipated. A truly worthwhile inquiry! 

Documenting observation: A school’s experience of refining the PYP planner

Melanie Minos is the PYP Coordinator at Shinagawa International School, Tokyo, Japan. She has been an IB Educator prior to this at Benton Junior College, Melbourne, Australia. Throughout her career, Melanie has focused on innovative ways to improve documentation and evidence of teaching and learning ultimately to improve student outcomes. Melanie also currently teaches Individuals and Societies and Language and Literature at Grade 7- strengthening her love of Language and Humanities teaching.  

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2 Responses to Documenting observation: A school’s experience of refining the PYP planner

  1. Alejandra 27 April 2021 at 4:47 pm #

    Thank you Melanie for sharing your experience. It gave me a lot of room for thought. I find that in general planners are not revisit much in risk of loosing path. This is a good strategy to find genuine connections between teaching and learning
    Alejandra

    • Melanie Minos 11 May 2021 at 6:07 am #

      Thank you Alejandra. That’s true- it really makes the process of planning more valuable when the planner is a dynamic, multi faceted document that genuinely reflects the learning process as well as the initial intentions.

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