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.
Reframing a quality physical education experience
Over the past several months, I've been thinking much more deeply about the building blocks necessary in a quality physical education program. Without question, there are several fundamental building blocks that must be present in order to create meaningful experiences in physical education. Voice and choice must be a part of any program in order to better engage students.
However, having said this, there is a huge difference between choice that has no constraints and purposeful choice that is rooted within the parameters of the unit being explored in PE. I’m all about voice and choice, but having clear and specific outcomes in place when providing students with opportunities to choose what they want to work on.
The purpose of this blog post is to dive into 2 key features that I believe are critically important in a quality physical education experience. But, before getting into these 2 features, I’d like to emphasize that it is a deep belief of mine that motor competence is an important part of all learning in PE. Students need opportunities to develop important skills related physical activity and sport.
There are some who believe that motor competence is where everything begins and once the students begin to develop their motor competence in different areas, they become more confident. Confident students will be more engaged in PE and be willing to take the risks necessary to try new things in order to fully participate in the program. I understand that some teachers value placing motor competence front and center in their programs, but to me I place personal relevance and challenge at the core of a physical education experience.
If we are to intrinsically motivate students to want to be physically active and engaged in sport, we must make everything we do in physical education personally relevant to them. Every single student needs an entry point into their movement experience. As renowned educational researcher, Ron Ritchhart, says, we must create opportunities for all students to have an entry point into their learning whether it be a low entry point or a high ceiling entry point.
Much of my recent thinking has been shaped by the work of Dr. Tim Fletcher, Dr. Déirdre Ní Chróinín, Professor Mary O’Sullivan, doctoral student Stephanie Beni, Dr. Doug Gleddie, and Ciara Griffin and their Meaningful PE model which emphasizes 5 key features to a quality physical education experience: Fun, Motor Competence, Social Interaction, Personal Relevance and Challenge.
I’ll be working closely with the Meaningful PE researchers over the next several months, sharing the work that our PE team is focused on here at Gardens Elementary School in Saudi Arabia, especially in regards to the features of challenge and personal relevance. The number one goal in our PE program is to make strong connections to community and to offer every opportunity possible for students to connect all learning in PE to what is available to them in our community in regards to being physically active.
In this blog post, I want to share examples of how we are unpacking the features of challenge and personal relevance in our program and provide specific strategies that I have been working on implementing at our school in order to go much deeper into the importance of challenge.
Our Challenge Continuum
In order to help students develop a deeper understanding of the importance of continually challenging themselves in regards to their own learning and growth, I brought an idea forward to the teachers that I coach at my school. The idea was to create a challenge continuum that really unpacks what challenge means and what challenge feels like.
We started with a 10-point scale with 1 on the scale representing ‘super easy’ for them and 10 being impossible for them. We are trying get the students to understanding that the ‘just right’ challenge zone is somewhere between a 6-8 out of 10. As I’m also coaching one of our grade 5 classroom teachers, we are using the challenge continuum in his class. His students are getting double exposure to the challenge continuum as they are using it in their classroom and in PE, therefore the same language is being used in regards to unpacking challenge.
The main idea behind it is that the students can self-assess themselves in relation to how challenging something is for them and that they can clearly communicate this to the teacher. This information is so important for the teacher to know as they can help to guide them toward finding ‘just right’ challenges in all subject areas. We are using the challenge continuum mostly in math and PE right now. As they get more used to using this challenge continuum, we can go deeper into the concept of challenge and the role it plays in their learning and growth.
The grade 5 students are more than halfway through their first unit of the year which is a cycling unit. As we first introduced the students to the challenge continuum in their math class, the next step was to use it in PE as well.
As an opener in this unit, we wanted to get the students to discuss what they find challenging about riding their bicycles in and around our community at KAUST. As you can see from the visual below, the students identified several things that they find very challenging to them. Getting students to dig into what challenges them at the start of the unit allowed us to create opportunities to find the right entry point into their learning related to cycling.
I created a visual to be used in the second class of the unit that would begin to address the feature of ‘challenge’ and for the students to use a simple colored dot strategy to self-assess how challenging each area on the visual is for them. This allowed us to determine the best entry point for them.
During the second and third classes of the unit, the students were asked to work on each of the areas identified on the visual and to self-assess themselves using colored dots. As you can see in the visual, we used green, yellow, and red dots. Green represents ‘easy’, yellow represents ‘challenging’ and red represents ‘impossible’ for them at this point. When self-assessing, the students also wrote their name on the dot. As you can see, there was a wide variety of responses from the students and the information gathered from this assessment was highly valuable to us as we taught the unit.
As we worked our way through the unit, we have included cycling excursions in our community with the most recent class focused on riding on different terrains (cement, rock, grass, and sand) and we even had a group of student tackle the challenge of riding out into a desert area close to the school. It was quite cool seeing the challenges that they came up with in the desert challenge. They were racing against each other, riding up and down sand slopes and playing follow the leader on their bikes.
At the end of this class, another assessment that we used was getting the students to identify how hard the class was for them. This required having three different coloured cards ready to go (green yellow and red). At the end of the class, the students simply chose the card that best represented how difficult the class was for them. They held the card in plain view and using their fingers, showed what number best represented how challenging it was for them. As you can see in the photo below, the students ranked the level of difficulty very differently.
Some were a yellow 5 which means that it was starting to be a challenge for them. As seen in the photo, one student assessed the level of challenge being a yellow 9 which means that he found it almost too challenging. In watching this boy cycle in the desert, he was indeed having difficulty but did not give up. You can also see a few green assessments in the photo. A green 4 means that it was easy for them but was approaching the challenge zone. Taking a group photo allowed us to see where each student was at and to ensure some of them either backed off a bit from making it too challenging or increased the level of challenge the following class.
The title of this blog post is ‘Finding the Beauty in Challenge and Personal Relevance. It is so important for us, in our program, to make all learning related to physical activity and sport very relevant to each student. In helping students to make strong connections to what’s on offer in our community in regards to being physically active, we are hoping it has a lasting impact on them and helps to intrinsically motivate them to be as physically active as possible when not in PE or in school.
We have already seen the impact of this unit on some of the grade 5 students. There are quite a few who have told us that they went back to the desert area to cycle around on the sand and to create their own adventure cycling course. They’ll be teaching it to the rest of the class next week.
Personal relevance and challenge are so closely aligned in our program and it is our belief that motor competence is a natural by-product of the process and learning and growth we are hoping to deepen throughout this school year. If kids are intrinsically motivated to be physically active and can find the right entry point to suit their level of ability, great things can be accomplished. Stay tuned for further blog posts that provide more insight into our PE program at Gardens Elementary School. Thanks for reading!!
Although this definition of integration dates back to 1995, it is still very relevant today in any concept-based teaching and learning environment. When cutting to the core of what integration means, it’s about creating as many authentic opportunities as possible for students to learn about important concepts and skills in a way that transcends discipline specific boundary lines.
However, creating the right conditions for authentic integration is no easy task as it requires carefully structured collaborative planning that is specific and purposeful in order to maximize the impact that the integration can have on student learning.
Although I’ve seen many great examples of quality integration in different PYP schools over the years, I’ve also seen many examples of integration that were very tenuous as they lacked any kind of depth or genuine purpose.
When I first started working in the PYP many years ago, collaborative planning around integration was done in ways that served no real purpose. Although every teacher and curriculum coordinator was well-intentioned in regards to making planning purposeful, traditional round table type of sharing dominated these meetings. I’ve seen this style done in many schools and think it's not even close to being the best use of planning time. Authentic integration requires genuine collaboration not just cooperation and sharing. When teachers come together to plan, effective use of time is of the essence as it honors each person at the table ensuring relevance to all.
What I mean by traditional round table type of sharing is this:
Classroom teachers from the same grade, teaching the same unit sit around a table. Seeing as it’s an integrated unit with the single subjects, the single subject teachers are also in the meeting. What traditionally happens in meetings such as this is that each classroom teacher shares what they are doing in the unit, one by one. Then each single subject teachers also shares what they are doing in their classes. As the single subject teachers are sharing, classroom teachers listen quietly or work on their own planning. There may be a general discussion that is sparked from this sharing, but that is pretty much it. I'm not implying this type of planning is done in all schools, but in my experience, it used to be a pretty common thing to see.
This type of meeting, to me, is a waste of time and does very little to deepen integration or enhance student learning as there is no real guts to planning in this way. We have to remember that the act of sharing is not collaboration, it’s just sharing. So, how can we ensure we are delivering more rich and meaningful learning opportunities related to integration?
In order to create the conditions for deep collaboration that goes well beyond surface level planning, there needs to be clear and specific structures in place which begin with being explicit about the exact depth of integration. Traditionally, integration is referred to as being full integration or partial. If it is not full or partial integration, it is considered a stand alone unit of inquiry.
In the levels of integration model that I'm sharing with you in this blog post, it's important to understand that there is no 'stand alone' unit of inquiry. Although the unit of inquiry in the classroom and the units happening in the single subjects may seem as though they are galaxies apart in regards to any kind of connection, I would argue that this is far from the truth.
A carefully crafted and well-thought out curriculum has, at its core, opportunities to reinforce and deeply develop the essential skills necessary for students to succeed (socially, emotionally, and mentally) in school and in life. I will go into specific examples later in this blog post, but for now, I want to summarize the levels of integration. When looking at the photo below you will see each level of integration. If you are not a PYP teacher, I hope you can still glean some insight from this model and how it might be applied in your own curriculum.
Level 3 Integration
A level 3 integration is what some consider full integration, meaning that the single subject unit and the unit of inquiry in the classroom have a lot of overlap in regards to the central idea, conceptual lens, related and key concepts and even ATLs and Learner Profile.
Level 2 Integration
The focus of a level 2 integration is more on similar concepts. The central idea probably doesn't fit in both the single subject unit and the classroom UoI. Instead common links are found elsewhere through some conceptual connections.
Level 1 Integration
At minimum, I firmly believe that there are opportunities for a connection with at least one Learner Profile attribute or an Approaches to Learning skill. This is what I mean when I say that there is no stand alone unit. As educators, it is our responsibility to create opportunities for important learning that transcends subject specific boundary lines.
Once the level of integration is determined, the real collaboration begins. There is no more going around the meeting table, one by one, sharing what is happening in the classroom or in the single subject. Instead, teachers make firm decisions about the concepts or skills that will be focused on and when these things will be unpacked over the 6-week unit. We then plot these concepts and skills out on our planning timeline (see planning timeline blog post here).
Once the planning timeline is done, the structure of our meetings gets very precise as the teachers involved in the integration co-construct conceptual questions that will be unpacked in both the single subject space and in the classroom. My next blog post will delve more deeply into the co-construction of conceptual questions, Learner Profile questions, and ATL questions. For now, all that I want my readers of this blog post to understand is that this is when the most meaningful collaboration takes place.
Teachers must put their heads together and ensure everyone has a crystal clear vision in regards to the concepts, ATL skills, or Learner Profile attributes being focused on. Are they looking at it in the same way or are they teaching these big ideas in a way that sends different messages to students?
Once this crystal clear vision is established, the process of co-constructing teacher questions related to important concepts, ATL skills, or Learner Profile attributes begins. It is these teacher questions that are then used in both the classroom UoI or the single subject unit to being the unpacking process.
To end this blog post, I'll provide some brief examples below of what these co-constructed question might look like:
Level 3 Co-Constructed Questions
Take the concept of 'Interactions' for example. If 'interactions' was the main concept being focused on, a co-constructed question to be unpacked in both the single subject space and the UoI in the classroom might be:
"What do positive interactions look like? "
The great thing about a question like this is that it can be unpacked in PE, Music, Visual Arts, and in the classroom. The question might be unpacked at the same time or perhaps the question is unpacked first in the single subjects then followed up on and unpacked further in the unit of inquiry in the classroom.
Further collaboration is then geared around the unpacking of this question and common assessments created to be used in the single subject space and the classroom. As there are more common concepts in a Level 3 integration, more co-contructed questions could be created during the unit to further unpack things with students.
Level 2 Co-Constructed Questions
A level 2 integration is quite similar in regards to the co-construction of conceptual questions. However, the biggest difference is that the central idea and conceptual lens are probably different. Therefore, the single subjects and classroom may only have a concept or two that is in common with each other.
A great example of this is a recent level 2 integration at our school between the grade 4 classroom UoI and music and visual arts. The classroom UoI was centered around 'Well-Being'. Music and Visual Arts were focused on completely different units, however, the common link that could be focused on was the concept of 'well-being' itself.
This was the focus of the level 2 integration. The co-constructed question that the music, visual arts, and classroom teachers came up with was:
"How does creative expression affect well-being?"
The important thing to understand is that the collaboration in this level 2 integration now has a specific and explicit purpose. The visual arts and music teachers don't sit around a table and share what they are doing in the unit nor do the classroom teachers. The meeting is structured in a way that is relevant to all stakeholders. Therefore, in the 'well-being' example from above, the collaboration was structured around the unpacking of well-being and follow up decisions made in regards to next steps needed to deepen student learning around the conceptual understanding of well-being in the single subjects and the classroom UoI.
Level 1 Co-Constructed Questions
A level 1 integration should not be considered weak or tenuous at all. There can be lots of great learning that takes place as the focus is on either a Learner Profile attribute or an ATL skill. The unit in the single subject and the UoI in the classroom may seem like they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. However, there are still opportunities to carefully plan an ATL or Learner Profile connection.
For example, in a grade 3 unit the focus might be on Landforms (more or less a geography focus) and in PE the unit may be Adventure Challenge or in Music the unit might be Melody.
The common connection might then be on the ATL Social Skill 'Resolving Conflict'.
The co-constructed question could be:
"In what ways can we resolve conflict with our peers?"
As the students are doing lots of group work in the Landforms unit, resolving conflict is an important skill. In PE, the students are taking part in lots of different teamwork challenges therefore this question totally applies. And in music, the students might be working in small groups to create melody making this question relevant in that subject as well.
As mentioned, I will write another blog post soon that dives more deeply into the process of co-constructing questions. I hope that this post begins to spark your thinking about how collaboration is done at your school and what you might need to change to deepen this collaboration with your colleagues in order to create more relevance, purpose, and meaning, especially in regards to integration.
Thanks for reading!!!
How to maximize collaboration to ensure greater clarity and purpose
Anybody reading this blog post can probably articulate why collaboration plays such an important part in the planning process when it comes to quality teaching and learning. A simple Internet search can provide loads of visual metaphors that represent what authentic collaboration should look and feel like.
Just take a glance at the photo below. The message embedded within this photo suggests that collaboration is all about togetherness, agreement, peace, harmony, and support. Although all of these things are critical building blocks of great collaborative practice, collaboration itself can be messy, frustrating, and may even seem pointless if it is NOT structured in ways that are relevant and meaningful to all stakeholders involved, especially in regards to important decisions being made about teaching and learning.
Getting a group of grade level teachers together, around a table, to make decisions about an upcoming unit is no easy task as everyone brings different perspectives in relation to what important concepts, skills, and dispositions should be focused on. Now, imagine also placing single subject teachers in this meeting to share their thoughts about how they can connect student learning in PE, Music, and Art with what is being focused on in the classroom.
Integration adds an entirely different layer of complexity to these meetings and if we do not carefully structure how this collaboration takes place, things can become much less purposeful and relevant. The planning strategies and approaches that we are working on developing at Gardens Elementary School are aimed at refining collaboration, so that it is relevant and that clearly defined next steps are in place for each teacher in our meetings.
The other day, I wrote a blog post that shared the strategy of using planning timelines as a starting point to mapping out when important concepts and skills in a unit will be unpacked. These planning timelines really help to provide much more clarity with teachers and the collaboration can become much more purposeful as a result of going through this process.
However, having a planning timeline in place is just the first step in helping to create more meaningful dialogue during our collaborative planning meetings. A second step that I’d like to share is our Mid-Unit Check in and how these check ins help to deepen the discussions taking place.
The Mid-Unit Conceptual Check In is a strategy that has all teachers self-assessing where they are at in regards the unpacking of the big ideas in a unit. The planning timeline makes very clear when certain concepts will be unpacked in a unit, so the mid-unit conceptual check in helps to determine where each teacher is at based on these planning timelines.
In the photos below, you can see many different examples of what the mid-unit check in looks like in action during our meetings. You’ll notice that the mid-unit check in is done using a large, poster-sized piece of chart paper. In the far left column, you can see the initials of each classroom teacher. Across the top of the chart paper, you’ll notice the important concepts that were the focus of the unit.
Using either a green, yellow, or red sticky dot, teachers place these dots under each concept identified at the top. A green sticky dot means that the teacher has completely unpacked the concept with their students. A yellow dot indicates that the concept is just beginning to be unpacked, and a red dot means that the concept has yet to be unpacked.
As each teacher has a different cohort of students, the timing of the unpacking process will vary according to each class. However, the mid-unit check in allows for deeper discussion and for teachers to use each other as resources. For example, if a classroom teacher has not yet unpacked a concept, they can access a colleague to see how they have unpacked it with their students to get some ideas.
As well, the mid-unit check in allows for the classroom teachers to see what is happening in regards to the unpacking of concepts in the single subject space. If the single subject teachers and classroom teachers are unpacking the same concepts, it is important to see where each other are at. Should the concept already be unpacked in the single subject space, the classroom teacher can reference this with their own students and use it as a springboard to unpack this concept in their own classroom.
Meaningful, authentic, and purposeful collaboration is not easy and takes routines and specific structures to ensure relevance for all. Using planning timelines and doing mid-unit conceptual check-ins provides deeper clarity and sparks some wonderful discussions during collaborative planning sessions. Whether you work on a small team of grade level teachers or large team doesn't matter. These strategies work regardless of the number of teachers on a team. In fact, even if you are the only person, using a planning timeline and doing your own conceptual check in at the mid-unit point helps to keep you on track and accountable.
As you will see in the photos below, we always have teachers reflect after these check ins and to set important intentions for the upcoming week. It's these intentions which are discussed the following meeting. In what ways does your team collaboratively plan to ensure relevance and purpose for all teachers. Would love to hear your ideas. Thanks for reading.
Flow is defined as the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
If you were to walk into a learning space and observe students in action, how would flow be manifested? What would you see and hear? What role would the teacher be playing within this setting? How would you know that the students were in flow with their learning?
One of the distinct privileges of my job is to be able to deeply observe teaching in action on a daily basis. As a pedagogical coordinator, one of my main roles is to coach teachers, working closely with them to plan their units and lessons, as well as assessments. I must admit that nothing charges me up more than going into a teacher’s space and seeing students in flow with their learning, especially when I know, going into the class, what the learning intentions are and what the main focus of each lesson is. As I have planned with the teachers, I am aways aware of what is happening in regards to important learning outcomes in the units that are taught which helps to provide important context to all teaching and learning that I observe.
So, does flow just magically happen when all the stars align and the teacher seems to be on their game on a particular day OR is there much more to it than this? It is my firm belief that we greatly increase the chances of success when we plan in very specific and explicit ways in order to provide every opportunity possible for deeper learning with our students.
tEverything we do must begin with purposeful planning that is well-thought out and infused with flexibility in order to create an agile teaching and learning space. Over the next few weeks, my goal is to write a blog post series that shares some of the strategies and specific approaches to planning that we have been putting into practice at the Gardens Elementary School here at KAUST in Saudi Arabia. In designing specific ways in which collaboration takes place, I believe that we are planting the seeds for long term success in regards to teaching and learning at our school. Although many of the ideas that I will share in this blog post series are relatively new, the feedback has been very positive in regards to this planning structure. In no way am I implying this is the best and only way planning should take place, but instead to simply share ideas you may consider using or tweaking to fit the needs of your program.
As I write this blog post today, I am going to share with you the concept of creating specific planning timelines that require teachers to look deeply at their units in order to decide when important concepts and skills will be unpacked with their students. Many teachers look at their unit planners and see that they have a number of concepts and skills that will be the focus of the units they teach, but to me, so much more groundwork is needed in order to create the best learning experiences possible that go much beyond the unit planner itself.
Often times when going through the timelining process you will read about below, it becomes glaringly obvious that there are way too many concepts and skills that are being focused on in a 6-7 week unit. It also becomes obvious that some of these concepts and skills are getting only surface level attention during the unit, so why even include them? This process helps to refine the number of concepts and skills being focused on which has an immediate impact on teaching and learning, as teachers can go so much deeper with a more refined focus in their units.
So, what does a planning timeline look like and how is it used?
A planning timeline is done on a large poster-sized piece of paper that is divided up into a number of different columns depending on how long the unit is. For example, if the unit is 6 weeks long, the paper will be divided into 6 columns.
Once the important concepts and skills have been decided on, we use different colored strips of paper to write down these skills and concepts. As we are a PYP school, when planning our units, we have a focus on key concepts, related concepts, and approaches to learning skills.
So, we use different colors to represent each of these focus areas in our planning to make it distinctly clear on the timeline itself.
We also have a conceptual lens focus which is the overarching big idea that all teaching and learning is delivered through. As well, we have a Learner Profile attribute focus which are specific dispositions that we are trying to develop within our students (for example: Communicators, Risk-Takers, Inquirers, Thinkers, etc). We tend to focus on just one of these dispositions in order to allow us to really delve deeply into it with our students.
The conceptual lens and learner profile attribute are anchored into the timeline at the top.
When teachers actually begin to map out how the units will be unpacked, it always leads to deeper and more meaningful discussions as the conversations go much beyond a surface level chat. Teachers need to talk their way through the unit in a way that helps them articulate why they have laid out the unit, as they have, on the planning timeline and to make the necessary commitments to bring these concepts and skills alive in rich and meaningful ways.
Creating our planning timelines really helps to frame up the units in a way that provides much more clarity and structure to teaching and learning. As well, it allows us to have ongoing reflection and use these reflections to adjust our teaching and learning accordingly. Teachers use sticky notes to write these reflections down and stick them up on the timeline each week. Again, these reflections are timely and help to provide more clarity and to determine next steps needed in the unit.
Please see some of the example timelines below.
I'll dive more into this type of planning in upcoming blog posts, but the main focus for this particular post is to just introduce you to the concept of timelining and what it looks like. The most important consideration here is that the strips of colored paper that are up on the timeline are moveable. This is a critical piece in the process of timelining. When reflecting, teachers sometimes realize that they haven't had time to unpack certain concepts. If they have not had time to unpack something, they simply move the strip of paper with the concept or skill on it to the following week.
Remember my reference to the timelines being flexible in order to create an agile teaching and learning space. Having moveable strips of paper allows for the shuffling around of concepts and skills when necessary.
So, returning back to the definition of flow:
Flow is defined as the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
In order to create more enriched learning experiences that allow both teachers and students to be in flow more often, purposeful and carefully thought out planning is a prerequisite to great learning and to great teaching.
Using a planning timeline that is highly visible and large enough to include written reflections on it is a very important first step in the teaching and planning process. Hope you found some value in the ideas shared in this post today and that you keep coming back to read upcoming posts .
It’s been ages since I’ve blogged and I’m making a strong intention to get back into it as it is so rewarding to think my way through thoughts and ideas that I have related to teaching and learning.
The thought that I would like to share today is one that I have been reflecting on a lot lately, especially in regards to my professional role at The KAUST School in Saudi Arabia. As a pedagogical coach, my job is to help teachers along their journeys of self-improvement in order to have a positive impact on the learning of their students. I love my job and am constantly inspired to make a difference to the teachers that I work with, as well as my peer coaches and other leaders in our school.
However, in being in this role, it is important for me to critically reflect on my own performance and what it takes to be able to make a genuine difference in the work that I do. It is easy to get so focused on my own work that I can sometimes lose sight of the importance of self-improvement.
Showing up, day in and day out, and trying to be our best self is no easy task and there are days, without question, that we will fall flat. But, when we experience days such as this, it is important to reflect on what went wrong and why it went wrong in order to better understand ourselves.
I recently came across these words in a poem that was shared in a talk that I had seen on You Tube. I was inspired to write the words up on our chalkboard wall at home as a strong reminder to myself, my wife Neila, and our two boys, Eli and Tai that building a better version of ourselves each and every day is how we can help to build a better world. Our growth is squarely on our own shoulders and we have a responsibility to focus on self-improvement on a daily basis.
For any educators reading this post, I thought I’d share these words with you as a reminder that our profession demands a lot from us, but with each passing day, we need to continue to grow and learn in order to keep making a difference to those around us. Thanks for reading folks.
How aligned are your thoughts, words, and actions?
I feel very fortunate to have recently taken part in a peak performance pilot training program created by renowned American sports psychologist Michael Gervais and Seattle Seahawks NFL head coach, Pete Carroll. Michael has worked very closely with Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks coaches and players over the past few years, helping each stakeholder in the organization to find their best selves in order to perform at the level that each person is fully capable of performing at.
This training course, Compete to Create, is all about developing the necessary skills and mindset to bring on peak performance under any conditions. The Compete to Create team has some wonderful coaches in place to help and to challenge each participant to learn more about themselves in order to identify what is working and what is not in their lives. Whether it be a personal or professional pursuit, the learning in this course is aimed at better understanding ourselves and the mindset that we bring into difficult and challenging situations. When under pressure, we can often fail to perform to the best of our ability, often leaving us expecting more of ourselves and confused as to why we aren’t delivering in the way that we know that we are capable of.
By applying specific strategies that are entirely within our control (and can be trained), this course guides participants through a series of exercises and activities that help to reframe what is possible in our personal and professional lives. It’s not about hacking our way to a better self that performs amazingly in every situation thrown before us, but instead to put in the necessary time and energy cultivating the conditions that bring about better performance in any endeavor we set out to accomplish in our lives.
Let me make it clear.......
In this blog post, I'm sharing my own thoughts related to my own learning over the past five weeks, not the thoughts or teachings of the Compete to Create crew. Every person's learning journey is an individually unique experience, so this blog post is aimed at sharing my own learning, not the thoughts and teaching of the coaches (Adam, Nicole, and Courtney) or Michael Gervais and /or Pete Carroll. However, it is very important for me to recognize the impact that the entire Compete to Create team has had on my learning. Thank you!
The Value of Critical Self-Reflection
During the five weeks of study in this pilot course, I constantly returned back to and reflected on the work that I have done, as an educator, over the past 20 years. I have always genuinely believed that teaching is the noblest of professions, as every single day there is a blank slate that we have before us. Every single day, we can create a new picture of what we hope to achieve in order to leave a lasting impact on students that we teach and the colleagues that we collaborate with. Our world has never needed our profession more than now.
In my opinion, one of the most prominent themes that came out in this training was the importance of knowing who we are, what we believe in, and aligning everything we do to this specific purpose. Seems so easy to do, right?
However, when we genuinely dissect and examine our own personal and professional lives and are genuinely honest with ourselves, we can often find an incongruence and disconnect between what we believe is important and how we think in regards to our beliefs. And when we dig into these themes even further, we can often see that our actions do not align with our thoughts and beliefs as often as we would hope.
I’ve taken a very hard look at the thoughts, words, and actions that are prevalent in my own personal and professional life through a process of critical self-reflection over the last five weeks while taking this course in order to to identify the gaps and the disconnect between them. Our my thoughts, words, and actions aligned with consistently in my personal and professional life? Am I living my thoughts, my words, and my actions on a daily basis? The honest answer is NO.
As a result of taking this 5-week pilot training program, I’ve given myself a meaningful homework assignment during the summer vacation. This will help me to dive more deeply into what it is I believe in and how I can learn more about myself to better align my thoughts, words, and actions in moving forward in my personal and professional life. So, in sharing this blog post with you, I want also to share a short list of reflective questions that I will ponder and dive into over the next few weeks. I hope that you take 15-20 minutes to jot down these questions and to honestly reflect on them and write your thoughts. At minimum, I hope you just think about them, even if for a few minutes and to ruminate on what answers come to mind. In being the best educator you can be and the best person, I believe that critical self-reflection plays a pivotal role in helping each of us to better understand ourselves and the next steps needed to deepen the personal and professional impact we have on others.
Tough questions to explore, but so important in moving toward the father, husband, educator, and friend I want to be for those around me.
Thanks for reading folks!
Teacher Reflection on the Unit
This was an interesting unit to teach for me as I was definitely trying out a new approach to teaching health related fitness to grade 5 students at the KAUST School. In an earlier blog post that I wrote about this unit, I shared how pre-unit interviews with students helped to provide me with some very relevant information in regards to how they felt about their experiences related to past Health-Related Fitness units.
I felt that doing these interviews would provide me with valuable insight that I could then use to structure and design my delivery in this unit. My simple goal in this unit was to better engage students in Health Related Fitness and to make the unit as relevant as I could for them. Using the information gathered I began to make some choices in regards to how I would deliver this unit. The photos below show students' thoughts and feelings regarding their previous experience with the Health-Related Fitness unit.
As you can see from the photos above, a number of students ranked their experience in the previous Health-Related Fitness unit on the lower end of the scale. The person who had taught this unit before is not only a good person, but an excellent teacher. He had delivered the unit in the way that used fitness testing to set goals and also provided choice to the students in regards to how they worked to achieve their goals.
My point here is that regardless of how good a teacher might be, it is imperative to constantly re-think our deliver of units in order to create the conditions for students to be more engaged in their physical education experiences. It also brings to the table the importance of having important discussions with them before the unit begins. I've heard all too often from teachers that students must learn certain things whether they like it or not.
As teachers, it is easy to fall back on 'well that's the curriculum, too bad if you don't like it", but my firm belief is that there is a lot of room for flexibility in planning and the designing of units. When we genuinely strive to bring student voice into the process of designing units, they feel valued and listened to.
Bearing this in mind, my intention was to listen to them and structure the unit in a way that not only addresses important learning outcomes in Health-Related Fitness, but allows students more autonomy in deciding which particular areas of fitness that they wanted to focus on. In order to do this, we explored 4 different areas of fitness (Burst & Recover Through Active Games, Burst & Recover Through Training, Longer Time at a Steady Pace, and Flexibility & Strength). and had them sign off on each area after they had done it.
This was done through mini 8-10 minute challenges. I wanted to have the students experience what it feels like to be active in a variety of ways. After they had experienced each area of fitness, they simply signed off on it. See photo below
After exploring these areas and experiencing some specific activities directly related to each area, I asked the students to select a minimum of two different areas to further explore for the rest of the unit. They used yellow sticky notes to write their names to indicate which areas they wanted to focus on.
Differentiated Entry Points
This allowed me to find each student's entry point to activity. As you can see for example, some students wanted to do more high intensity type interval training. Some wanted to do activities that allowed them to stay moving for a longer period of time at a steady pace. This provided me with an opportunity to specifically teach them this type of training.
Once the students had selected their areas of interest (minimum 2), each class after this was devoted to them being as active as possible during the remaining lessons in this unit. My goal was to observe and offer direct support whenever needed. I allowed them to build in necessary breaks as well.
Although most students took well to this type of delivery, there were still a few students who did not put as much time into being active through 'burst and recover' type activities or 'burst and recover through training' or 'longer periods of time at a steady pace'. I found myself stepping in and reminding them about that this unit was about being as active as possible in their chosen areas of fitness. For example, if they had chosen 'burst and recover' through games, the goal was to be as active as possible AND committed to putting in effort. The games that a few of these students played were definitely not very active. However, I was trying to avoid stepping in and forcing them to play more active games just to meet an outcome in this unit.
Instead, I chose to have conversations with these students and try to encourage them to be more active by designing fun games that they could do to stay moving.
Over the last two classes, the students did 20-minute challenges. Their goal was to stay as active as possible in at least 2 different areas of fitness. For some, it was playing small-sided soccer games at a higher intensity of play. For others, it was doing yoga for 20 straight minutes and then riding a bike for 20 minutes afterwards. Some students decided to jog around the field for 20 minutes. Whatever they decided to do, the goal was for them to experience longer periods of time doing their chosen activity.
The students completed simple reflection sheets at the end of the last class of this unit. It took about 10 minutes for this activity. It provided good insight into what they feel they learned and what they liked. As well, I asked them to identify just one thing that I can do better next time I teach this unit.
In looking back at this unit, I did not reach each student as I had hoped to. The reality is that some students will respond and some students won't. Could I have forced students to do fitness testing and other forms of rigorous physical activity because that's what they are suppose to do in a unit such as this? For sure, I could have done this. Control and compliance does force kids to participate in the things we feel are best for them. However, in playing the long game of getting students to take action on being more physically active when not in PE, a control and compliance type approach does not work.
This was far from a perfect or ideal unit, but I'm trying to refine my understanding of how to better engage students in their physical education experiences. Sometimes I feel I don't know where I'm going with this, but I need to remind myself that this is a journey of the unknown at times and I need to be comfortable with that. I need to tinker and refine this approach and seek advice from others (thanks Dr. Justin O' Conner & Dr. Aaron Beighle for your valuable insight!!).
Health-Related Fitness avenues of exploration
For those of you who read my last blog post, you will recall that I did pre-unit interviews with my students to determine where they are at with their understanding of the big ideas in regards to Health-Related Fitness and their thoughts about potential directions we might explore in this unit.
To take the teaching and learning process a step farther in this unit, I'd like to share with you the concepts that I intend on unpacking over the next couple of lessons and how I am hoping to achieve this aim. It is critically important to me that I get the students to understand that we all have choices in regards to how we choose to improve our level of personal fitness.
To do this, I could blindly throw fitness testing at them and run them through a barrage of different fitness testing type activities, but as you can see in the pre-unit interviews that I did with my students, most of them had ranked fitness testing very low and did not want to do it. In honoring their perspectives, I must deliver the unit in a way that helps them to understand that improving personal fitness can be done and measured in other ways.
Bearing this in mind, I have focused them in on 4 different areas that we will explore and given them choice over which of these areas that they would like to focus on. It is important to me that they understand the concept of 'burst and recover' which is the way most kids engage in physical activity which is moving their bodies in bursts of energy then tiring and slowing their pace down before picking it up once again. When they are active at recess, we can see 'burst and recover' in action all of the time. Kids will spring around playing tag then slow down only to start racing around again a few moments later. The concept of 'burst and recover' through active games will be explored in our Health-Related Fitness unit.
It is also important for students to understand that some people can create 'burst and recover' type activities by careful design through interval training. Usually this type of training is done by athletes, but still important for the students to know and understand. The concept of 'burst and recover' through interval training is another area that I want my students to develop an awareness of in this unit and will provide them with the option to do interval type training if they choose to.
The third area I'm getting them to focus on is the concept of moving their bodies for extended periods of time at a steady pace of medium intensity. The types of activities that we will explore to provide them with the experience will be through longer bike rides, jogging, skateboarding, scootering, power walking, etc. These are all relevant life options that work on developing cardiovascular endurance that many people take advantage of.
The last area that I'm going to have my students explore is the idea that we can move our bodies in ways that help us develop muscular flexibility and strength. This can be achieved through yoga and other types of core workouts.
To begin to unpack these different areas, I booked some time with the students in their classroom and showed them the following 4 visuals that I had created using poster sized paper and markers. I then had the students choose a minimum of 2 different areas that they would like to explore in this unit. A number of students chose more than 2 areas which was great to see.
Setting the Stage
Despite the students choosing a minimum of 2 areas to explore, I will require them to take part in activities that have them experience all 4 areas in the next couple of classes in order to give them a fair glimpse into the different ways that people can work on improving their own levels of personal fitness.
Afterwards, I will get the students to revisit their initial choices and allow them a second chance to choose. Perhaps some might change their original choices or add another choice into their exploration.
The 20-Minute Challenge
Another task that I will get them to try out is the 20-minute challenge that I posed to them last week. The 20-minute challenge is getting them to choose one activity falling under any of the 4 themes; Burst and Recover through active games, Burst and Recover through interval training, Moving their bodies for a longer period of time at a steady pace, or Moving their bodies in ways that works on flexibility and strength.
For example, I had 4 students choose to ride their bicycles for 20 straight minutes without taking a break. I had another group play 4 v 4 soccer on a small pitch for 20 straight minutes, and another group use scooters for 20 straight minutes. There were allowed to take breaks if they truly needed to but I asked them to self-assess their level of effort and whether or not they could last the entire 20 minutes doing the activity that they had chosen. In measuring how long they could take part in the 20-minute challenge, they know where they are at and the time that they will try to surpass when we do the challenge again.
Although most students do not want to do fitness testing this unit, there are 4 students that want to do some of the tests. I will support them with this and set up the tests that they would like to do.
I'll write more blogs as we progress through this unit to share my own reflections, what's not working well and what areas are working well. It is my intention to share as much as I can on my blog to seek critical feedback. How would you run a unit such as this? What am I missing? What might I consider doing? Your thoughts are appreciated. Thanks for reading!
Reframing the way that Health-Related Fitness is delivered to students
I've thought long and hard about the purpose of health-related fitness as part of a physical education program. In reflecting on this purpose, I have struggled to make sense of what is most important for young people to understand, to know, and to be able to demonstrate in relation to the unit itself. There are many conflicting views about the purpose of health-related fitness thrown around daily by teachers and researchers alike. The reality is that there are many different perspectives, but at the end of the day, the biggest consideration that is often overlooked is what do the students actually think about health-related fitness and how it applies to their daily lives.
Teachers and researchers can stick to their guns in regards to what they feel is best for kids to know, understand, and demonstrate, but to what extent do we balance the actual needs and wants of the students, especially in regards to the context of their lives and their realities?
Bearing this in mind, I am bringing their voice much more into the process of designing the units that I teach in PE. This is not simply about offering free willing voice and choice, but hopefully has much more meaning and relevance to the way that I teach and the way in which students will learn.
I'm convinced that pre-unit interviews with students is the way to go. In my opinion, it is an imperative part of the teaching and learning process to help dig into their thoughts and beliefs in order to reveal where they are at in regards to their understanding of what physical activity, sport, and personal fitness/health truly means to them in relation to the unit that they are about to embark on in their PE classes.
I have found that conducting these pre-unit interviews to be an extremely valuable investment of time and energy as it reveals so much. It also allows me to share with them important learning intentions and outcomes for the unit so that they understand that there are constraints that we must work within. Blanket free choice won't work. The non-negotiables of the unit are established right away in order to begin the unpacking process of learning about each of the important outcomes being focused on.
Pre-Unit Health Related Fitness Interviews
I took the time last week to interview the class about their experiences with their last Health-Related Fitness unit. As I am teaching them for the first time, it is particularly important to have these conversations with them. Therefore, I structured the interview around 5 essential questions that I felt were critical to gain insight into:
1. On a scale from 1-10, how much did you enjoy fitness testing last unit?
2. On a scale from 1-10, how much do you want to do fitness testing again?
3. What are the 3 biggest things you learned in the Health-Related Fitness unit?
4. If you were the PE teacher, what are 2 things that you would do to make this unit more fun?
5. What is most important to you about this unit?
The students were then able to share their thoughts using small sticky notes. This entire process took between 10-15 minutes. A great investment of time as many things I didn't expect were revealed. Although fitness testing was mandatory last unit, I am not making them do fitness testing. However, for the ones who enjoyed it, I will set these tests up for them.
From the photo above, it looks as though the students didn't share any responses to question 4. I actually removed all of their responses to question#4 in order to create a second visual. I was quite surprised at all of their responses to question#4 and had to address their thoughts. See poster below which shares their ideas. I introduced the visual below to them to let them know I had listened to them and fully intend to take these suggestions into account when designing the unit.
The pre-unit interview phase then allowed me to introduce the important learning outcomes to the students which I was able to do in the first class of the Health-Related Fitness unit. In making these outcomes clear and explicit from the start of the unit, the students are very aware of important expectations which will guide their learning and be unpacked over the next several weeks. The learning outcomes can be seen in the visual below.
So, this is the start of our unit and how we began the entire process with pre-unit interviews in order to help me better design relevant and meaningful teaching and learning. In the next blog post, I'll share the next steps that I have carefully thought through and planned to take this unit one step further. Thanks for reading.
KAUST Faculty, Pedagogical Coach. Presenter & Workshop Leader.IB Educator. #RunYourLife podcast host.