Action in the PYP
INT. A LIVING ROOM IN BONN GERMANY- EVENING
TOSCA sits on the sofa. She slouches against the back with her laptop on her knees. Her forehead is furrowed in thought. Softly a piano plays the same riff over and over from somewhere in the building. There are research papers and books scattered about the floor and a half empty coffee cup steams in front of the open window.
You know, ‘Action’ is a strange word. It has a bunch of connotations. Some of which you have already conjured up in your brain since you began to read this. It can be the snap of clapboard, a flurry of feet, a divisive thought, or a pattern in choice. But anyone who teaches in the PYP knows that action is an essential, yet elusive, element of the programme. In fact, two years ago, Jeff and I observed that action was really obsolete from our own school documentation. From planners, to assessments and reflections we had assumed that action would simply generate from the protagonists of our learning community. Our assumptions were wrong.
The IB states that that action will ‘make a difference in and to the world’ and this is what we envisioned enabling our students to do. From our discussions, we devised a qualitative research study to unpack our hypothesis: The concept of action is more a state of mind than a product. Action can make a resonating difference to and in the world only when it is developed in tandem with a toolbox of explicitly taught skills, modelled behaviours, scaffolded plans and a gradual release of responsibility.
Our data suggested that we did indeed need to explicitly teach the skills to take action, to model the behaviours associated with taking action, and to plan for how we anticipated action might come about as a result of the inquiry. Essentially, we needed to be directors of the stage but allow the actors to ab lib the script.
To aid in this process Jeff and I decided to create an action phase document that details how the skills could be developed throughout a student’s learning journey in the PYP. This document moves students from teacher-guided action in the younger years to independent, skilful and sustained action in grade 5 or beyond. We also noted that a phase document alone would not provide teachers enough clarity to plan for action in the classroom. Consequently, we wrote a children’s book to help highlight the skills needed to take action in a kid-friendly way. We also developed a website that works as a free extension of the book and hosts the phase document, resources, guides, posters, worksheets, lessons, and activities in order to help teachers around the globe unpack the skills needed to take action within their own classrooms (http://www.helptakeaction.com/).
As a jumping point, we used Jeff’s class and the PYP Exhibition as a case study to put our hypothesis into Action.
INT. AN OFFICE SPACE IN KELOWNA CANADA- EARLY MORNING
JEFF perches on the bar stool chair in front of his laptop open on a high table. He squints at the morning light reflected off of the lake and streaming in through the large windows. There is the tinkle of ice against glass as he takes a sip of his water.
I have often heard parents, students and even teachers describe the PYP Exhibition as a “project” or a “unit”, but it is so much more than this. It is truly an opportunity for students to demonstrate all that they have learned and developed in their journey through the PYP.
Over the past two years, one of the biggest focuses that we’ve had for the Exhibition is that students have a personal connection to their topic. If we want children to make a difference in the world we need to help them personalize the action they take, and understand that it is not just a mandate from their teachers and parents, but a life-long mindset they develop. Although we want students to think globally, it is also extremely important that students begin with their own lives.
One of my biggest pieces of advice for PYP teachers, and specifically teachers that facilitate the PYP Exhibition, is to begin to focus on the skills and habit of mind necessary to take action from the beginning. In Adora Svitak’s TED talk, she mentions that “the goal is not to turn kids into your kind of adult, but rather better adults than you have been”. So, believe in your students and don’t underestimate them, they are capable of amazing things; challenge them and have high expectations; empower them to be responsible for their own learning and allow them to make mistakes and learn from the experience.
I have witnessed students that have taken action that far exceeds the typical use of a bake sale to raise money. Now you may say that bake sales are valid, and you may be right, but I think that the way I feel about bake sales is likely how a Scientist feels when they see, yet another, volcano model at a science fair. I want to share a few examples of actions our students have taken, so you can see the potential of what grade 5 students are truly capable of.
Dalila had dealt with bullying issues growing up and decided that students of all ages needed to become more educated about this important topic. She developed a website and compiled a range of resources (songs, videos, recommended books and sites, games and student-created eBooks) and organized these by the appropriate age level (lower primary, upper primary, and middle school). http://helpavoidbullying.weebly.com
Another group developed a connection with a school in Nairobi, Kenya through their church. Through research, they realized that this school needed school supplies, so they collected supplies from members of the community. They then wrote a large shoe company chain, explaining their action, and asked them for empty shoe boxes. They gained their support, packaged the school supplies, and then met with a high representative from DHL to inquire about shipping the packages. DHL funded the shipment and crates of school supplies were sent to Nairobi to make a difference in their daily education! http://backtoschoolbox.weebly.com/back-to-school-box-project.html
After traveling different parts of the globe, Kate realized that women were treated differently in countries that she had visited. Upon returning to Germany, she realized that there was still work to do in reaching equal rights between genders. In order to raise awareness, Kate wrote and produced a song (with some rapping involved!) and delivered a talk and the song at the TEDxYouth@BIS 2012 event. Kate continued to share the message at the United Nations Day in Bonn, Germany and was invited to sing at a United Nations Women’s Committee event! Link: Kate's TEDx talk and song
Our aim is to challenge children to look beyond action as a one-time thing, and begin to view it as an extension of their learning and interests, becoming a habit of mind and a way of life. Taking action can happen at any age. Itʼs all about how we as parents, teachers, and the community, support children and youth as they begin the learning journey towards becoming adults that are agents of change!
INT. A LIVING ROOM IN BONN GERMANY- LATE NIGHT
TOSCA sits cross-legged on the floor. She hunches over the laptop open toward her. The light has gone from the day and the interior halogens create a glare against the screen. She determinedly taps at the keyboard. The coffee cup, still half-empty- is now cold.
So despite what we thought we knew about action, the impacts of this study were far-reaching and numerous. Students from many grade levels came forward with student-generated projects, teachers were inspired to learn new skills, and the leadership team made action a focus for the school year. The school’s PYPC and I just initiated an 'Action Wall' in order to celebrate and extend the action taking place in the school and the leadership team have chose to use our original hypothesis to drive action at the school.
On a personal level, ‘Action’ for Jeff and I, became a state of mind- we use it to drive our teaching and learning, the resources we develop and the very ethos of our company. And although it can seem like we are merely directing the stage for our students- what we really are doing is becoming the protagonists of our learning journey and taking action ourselves.
SNAP. That's a wrap!
Tosca Killoran & Jeff Hoffart