For those of you who are not Primary Years Program (PYP) teachers, I want to begin this blog post by sharing some background into the Approaches to Learning (ATL) skills that are deeply woven into the fabric and structure of teaching and learning in the PYP. All classroom and single subject teachers are expected to embed ATL skill development within all lessons and units, but to do so in authentic and meaningful ways.
So, what are the ATL skills? The ATL skills are broken into 5 categories with each category being broken down further into a specific list of sub-skills. Here is a quick glimpse into these 5 areas.
Creating learning opportunities that consistently address ATL skill development is a very important consideration when unit planning, so it is critical that teachers are all on the same page in regards to which specific ATL skills will be focused on in each unit taught. It’s impossible to create meaningful learning opportunities if too many ATL skills are focused on. As I’ve worked in the PYP for over 15 years and have also worked on a consulting basis with a number of PYP schools around the world, I’ve often seen way too many ATL skills being focused on in different units being taught. I’ve seen some schools have more than 10 ATL skills being focused on in each unit. There is no possible way to go beyond surface level with any of these ATL skills if there are too many identified as being important to unpack. As the old saying goes, “Less is more!”.
In order to deeply unpack ATL skills, teachers must narrow the focus, therefore it is critical to select just a few to focus on. When I say a few, I mean no more than 3, especially in the single subjects as the teachers of PE, Music, Art, and Library have so little time with students.
I want to provide a practical example of what narrowing the focus really looks and feels like in relation to ATL skill development. To give you some background, the example you will see is from our grade 3 ‘Landforms’ unit of inquiry that is currently taking place at Gardens Elementary School.
In a previous blog post, I wrote about the Levels of Integration. A Level 3 integration is the highest level of integration there is between the single subjects and the classroom unit of inquiry. This is when both the single subject teachers and the classroom teachers are focused on using the same central idea, key concepts, and related concepts in their units. The collaboration that takes place is specific, purposeful, and meaningful.
A Level 1 integration is the lowest level of integration, however, some great learning can still take place. In a Level 1 integration the common connection between the single subjects and the classroom unit of inquiry is either a Learner Profile attribute or an ATL skill. At minimum it is at least one ATL or Learner Profile attribute.
Now getting back to the grade 3 ‘Landforms’, the classroom teachers are really focused on the the ATL skill ‘Resolving Conflict’ which falls under the overarching theme of Social Skills. The classroom teachers decided to focus on this ATL skill as their students will be doing a lot of group work in the ‘Landforms’ unit and are likely to encounter conflict when working together.
As our PE department is currently doing an Adventure Challenge unit, the ATL skill ‘Resolving Conflict’ fits perfectly into their unit. ‘Resolving Conflict’ is the glue that holds together both the Adventure Challenge and Landforms unit. Therefore, the collaboration taking place with single subject teachers is specific and purposeful. In an effort to honor every teacher’s time and to maximize opportunities for genuine collaboration, the specific focus in our collaborative planning meetings in grade 3 will be around the ATL ‘Resolving Conflict’. There will be deep and meaningful dialogue related to how best to unpack this ATL in the classroom and in PE.
As I am co-teaching the grade 3 Adventure Challenge unit with my colleague, Bill Kelly (you can find Bill Kelly here on Twitter), we are diving deeply into unpacking ‘Resolving Conflict’ through a variety of challenges in our unit. We are actually unpacking this ATL before the classroom teachers. Going into week 3 of this unit, the classroom teachers can now use what we’ve unpacked in PE with their own students in the classroom. The teachers will access this prior knowledge in order to unpack ‘Resolving Conflict’ even further.
The visual below is what we created based on the ideas that grade 3 students came up with in regards to specific conflict they have experienced in the Adventure Challenge unit. Based on their ideas, I created the visual for Bill and I to use in PE. I took a photo of this visual and passed it on to the one of the grade 3 teachers to use in her classroom space once she begins to unpack ‘Resolving Conflict’ with her students. She can use what they’ve already learned in order to springboard the discussion further.
The bigger vision and goal that we have in regards to planning ahead is that the grade 3 classroom teachers and PE teachers (including myself) will co-construct a ‘Resolving Conflict’ rubric that the students can use to self-assess themselves and to assess their peers with the specific focus being on how well they were able to resolve conflicts when working together with their classmates.
For now, I wanted to share the initial unpacking of the ATL ‘Resolving Conflict’ to give you some insight into what it looks and feels like in PE and how we intend to take this skill and further develop it throughout the rest of the unit in PE and in the classroom. I'll be blogging more about this integration and will also share the self and peer assessment rubric that we co-construct.
How do you unpack ATLs in your school? How do you ensure relevant and meaningful connections to all learning in relation to the ATLs? Would love to hear some of your experiences. Thanks for reading.
KAUST Faculty, Pedagogical Coach. Presenter & Workshop Leader.IB Educator. #RunYourLife podcast host.