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Interview with an IB PYP practictioner

What does it mean to teach in a PYP classroom?

Grace Robinson

on 8 September 2013

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Transcript of Interview with an IB PYP practictioner

Interview with an IB PYP practitioner
As a pre-service primary teacher studying the International Baccalaureate, I had to interview an IB teacher. This was to clarify any misunderstandings I had and to see how the PYP works in practice.

I asked a number of questions regarding the PYP philosophy, transdisciplinary themes, the 5 essential elements, the learner profile, international mindedness, inquiry, second language learning, assessment, and action.

The teacher I chose to interview was a year 4 teacher who worked in an all-girls school in Canada.
In a PYP classroom, the philosophy should infuse much of what the students see, hear and read. The attitudes and attributes are part of the vocabulary of the room; the words are all around in the school so it is second nature to the girls to talk about empathy or respect. I suppose an IB classroom differs from others in that we have a special vocabulary, almost a set of code words, that have important meanings for us. Words such as 'empathy' and 'respect' and 'knowledgeable' are powerful and have deep meaning for our girls.

What does it mean to teach in a PYP classroom?
1. In what way is the PYP philosophy apparent in your classroom? How does your class differ from that of a regular classroom?
2. Do you find it challenging covering both the curriculum and the transdisciplinary themes? If so, how do you overcome any issues?
No, I find the Transdisciplinary themes a great organizational tool. Sometimes, I think we tend to not do them justice so this coming year I will have them front and centre. Right now they are at the back of the room but I will move them to the IB board and make it a point to talk about them often. They fit beautifully with our provincial curriculum, particularly science and social studies, as they are so universal or global. Things can be made to fit with just a little tinkering, sometimes.
3. What procedures do you carry out for planning the year's work so as to include the PYP 5 essential elements (knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes, action)?
Our IB coordinator is fantastic at that, so it has been her responsibility. We are lucky enough to have meetings with her every 8-day cycle for revision of our planners and she helps with mapping out the units. That way, all elements are covered and there is no overlap.
4. In what way do you include the Learner Profile in your classroom? How do you know that students have addressed each aspect of the Learner Profile?
We do writing and art on the profile throughout the year. It is so ubiquitous in the school, the girls are totally immersed in it. The profile is taught in all classes so our IB coordinator uses it in music class, and they hear it in French in French class, and Phys. Ed and so on. We do a unit on rocks and minerals, so this year they will be doing an art activity with our art specialist. They will clean up a rock, use the rock tumbler, and put one of the profile words on their rock. That will be the aspect of the profile they went to work on for the year or a term, their goal. By the time they are in grade four, like my girls, you would hope that all of the profile has been addressed. They certainly know it inside and out.
5. How do you ensure that students develop international mindedness?
In the age of the Internet, when things can be seen in real-time, as they happen, international mindedness is readily accessible. I bring in newspaper articles, which they love, but it's seeing a volcano erupt as it happens or a webcam of an eagle and babies that make it real. Also, we have international students from all over the world at our school, and my class this year has three girls from China, one from Finland and they all have ties to other countries. The school is a global community and the Internet has opened the world up ever more so.
6. When do you incorporate inquiry into the classroom?
I usually do inquiry in the afternoon, but it happens almost seamlessly all day. I integrate my language arts with the IB, and most writing assignments are also IB assignments. If it were all separate there wouldn't be enough time in the day, and I think the IB philosophy is perfect for integrations of subjects. My read-aloud novels deal with IB subjects, our art is IB related, the other subjects like music, dance, French, Phys. Ed, are integrated as well. They have their own curriculums to cover, but they do integrate when possible.
7. What have been the most successful inquiries you have lead and why?
I thoroughly enjoy my six units of inquiry and am looking forward to teaching them again this September. Last year, I taught another year level and did units developed by another teacher. It was great, but it wasn't my own work, so maybe that's why I love the grade four units so much- because they are mine. Some of the subjects, like rocks and energy, initially seemed boring, but once I got right down to planning them and thinking and researching, I found they are fantastic subjects. You can take almost any subject from the curriculum and make it fascinating. I love our Respecting Diversity unit because it deals with an amazing people: Canada's Inuit people. They are fascinating and the girls come to an appreciation and respect for them once they learn a little. Our social studies and art unit on the Group of Seven Canadian artists is wonderful. The seven men are all really interesting and there is a mystery about the leader of the group. Was he murdered or was it an accident? That's a great hook for the girls. It's never been solved, happened almost a hundred years ago, but the girls love the idea. This year I think I will focus on a woman who was an honorary member of the Group for a change. As an all-girl school, that idea is always in the background. Our Canadian government unit also offers the opportunity of highlighting Canadian women who have made significant contributions to the country. So units change constantly, morphing from one shape to another, depending on the interest of the students, what is happening in the world, and your own feelings of wanting to change.
8. Have there been any issues with students learning a second language?
No, Canada is a French/English bilingual country and French instruction is an academic subject so it is very important. No issues!
9. How do you use assessment?
At our school, as at most schools, we keep portfolios and they become a showcase for the six units. All of the work goes in the binder and it becomes a truly impressive document that the girls take great pride in. All the formative and summative assessment pieces, whether they be writing, art, or technology end up in the binder. The formative pieces tell me what they are understanding and what needs more attention, and ultimately tend to shape the direction the unit takes. The summative assessment lets me know what they know and will influence how I teach that unit next time. It can be anything, a large technology piece to a smaller written assignment. All assessments include a rubric with suggestions for next time. Hopefully that way, the girls will learn each step of the way.
10. What action do you expect to occur from your students (relevant to your year group)?
Sometimes, like when Haiti experienced the hurricane, the action was overt: a student wrote a play for an assembly and money was raised. Sometimes it's more subtle, a student commenting on something discussed at home that relates to the unit. It could be something as simple as a piece of writing reflecting on the subject. I have learnt over the years, it doesn't have to be a big, sweeping gesture. Sometimes, smaller is better!
11. In what (other, if already mentioned) ways does PYP theory differ in practice?
I think the integration is extremely important. Science is not science class, it's inquiry. The same for social studies. It's just a given now that we do IB and language arts together. They used to get confused thinking there had to be separate subjects. Not with IB. The emphasis on the global community is also extremely important.
Summary of responses
PYP philosophy - Students are exposed to it in visual and auditory ways.
- Attitudes and attributes are used around school.

Transdisciplinary themes - Good for organising.
- Keep in a place where they will be seen, talk about them often.

PYP 5 essential skills - Knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes, actions.
- Previously mentioned that attitudes addressed throughout school.
- Teachers reflect on how plans are working.
- PYP coordinator works with teachers every 8 days to revise plans.
- PYP coordinator helps with unit mapping.
- Teachers work together so there are no overlaps in covering same information.

Learner profile - Taught explicitly in all subjects.
- Focus on one aspect for term/year depending on magnitude of aspect.
- Not assessed.
- Taught every year.
Inquiry, integration, and global mindedness are at the centre of learning. Inquiries should relate to the interests of students, current events, and the curriculum. (For example, famous women, space launch, notable people in society.) Subjects should be integrated with the IB where possible so that students can connect to the information, see the relevance, and teachers make better use of teaching time. Technology should be used where possible to make learning more real, like using technology/internet to show live video footage of a volcano erupting when studying about the power of the earth.
Assessment shapes how units are planned and the direction they take. They prove what the students do and do not know, and so influence how the unit will be changed. All assessments are put into a portfolio. These include assessments from various subject areas, of different sizes, and type. The action students are expected to take after units of inquiry can be subtle or large, depending on the learning area and need for action. For example, it would be very helpful if students donated food to help feed the homeless in their local area.
Constant reflection and revision of plans is also key. Students may need to focus more on certain aspects of a unit that they do not understand, or, alternatively, grasp concepts quicker than expected, and so the plan will need to be modified. What is also important is staff working together to create plans, and make sure there are no overlaps in content covered. It is a large task to create Inquiry units, so sharing the work will make it easier. It is also important that the staff know what other year groups are doing so they can choose a different topic, ensuring students are not taught the same thing again.

I was surprised by how much the school worked together and how often teachers reflected and revised their plans.

I knew that Inquiry was an important aspect of the IB and that integration of subjects was recommended, but I did not expect this to be done to the extent it was in this teacher's classroom.

How the learner profile is explicitly taught and reflected upon, surprised me.

It is good that the transdisciplinary themes link well with the curriculum and are brought to attention.

I knew Canada was bilingual, so I was not surprised that learning a second language was not an issue.

I was impressed by the action students took and that action did not have to be big gestures.
Thank you for viewing!
Revising plans
Integration and Inquiry
Learner profile
Transdisciplinary themes
Second language learning
* Definitions *
IB philosophy
- The purpose of the IB is to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring people who contribute to a better world through respecting and understanding other cultures (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2009, b).

International mindedness
- Valuing the world as a context for learning, developing conceptual understanding across various subjects and inquiring, acting and reflecting on your practice (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2013). In other words, a student who encompasses the Learner Profile. International mindedness is developed through the 5 essential elements, meeting the PYP standards and putting them into practice, catering for diversity, and following transdisciplinary themes (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2009, b).

Transdisciplinary themes
- Themes of global significance that exceed that covered in regular subject areas (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2009, b). These include: who we are, where we are in place and time, how we express ourselves, how the world works, how we organise ourselves, and sharing the planet.

PYP 5 essential elements
- The knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action students are expected to possess and act upon (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2009, b).

Learner profile
- Students studying in an IB school aim to be inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, and reflective. Students use these attributes to become good citizens who recognise their oneness with others and responsibility they have to the planet to create a better world (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2009, a).

- The process where students move to a deeper level of understanding (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2009, b). This can be student or teacher initiated and involves being actively engaged with the environment to make sense of things, as well as reflecting upon the connections between experience and information (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2009, b). Inquiry may take the form of exploring, experimenting, collecting data and reporting findings, researching, and problem solving.

- As a result of successful inquiry, students should initiate action to extend their learning or impact society (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2008). Students should reflect on their learning and the best way to act first, before choosing how they will act. Sometimes inaction is the best choice (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2008).
I was surprised by how much the staff worked together and how often teachers reflected and revised their plans. I now realise the importance of this, and the reality of catering to students’ needs. I also see how much reflection should be done and how important it is in fitting plans around learners. It was good to see teamwork happening so that responsibility was shared, and changing plans to suit learners so information is relevant. I do think regular reflection is necessary, so one would think that inquiries would not need to be changed too much if small alterations were made every so often (8 days in the case of the teacher being interviewed). Clements (2013) makes the point that if teachers are not reflective, how can they expect students to be? Making mistakes is part of successful learning.
I knew that Inquiry was an important aspect of the IB and that integration of subjects was recommended (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2008), but I did not expect this to be done to the extent it was in this classroom. Using inquiry so often demonstrates a clear purpose to fulfill the IB philosophy.

I believe it is good to integrate subjects so that students see the connections between subjects (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2010). It is also good that students learn to be active, self reliant learners through inquiry, which is also supported by Vygotsky’s constructivist theory and the ideas of Jerome Bruner (Marsh, 2010). When this is done seamlessly, like using story books that cover aspects of IB, it is successful. However, if inquiry is to be used on a regular basis, students need to be motivated (Palmer, 2005).
How the learner profile is explicitly taught and reflected upon, surprised me. As it does not say how often this should be covered within the Learner profile booklet (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2009, a), I did not expect the attributes to be taught so overtly and so often. This is probably what should be done, as continual practice and exposure to information helps students remember it (Marzano, 2007). The teacher I interviewed had some good ideas on how this could be implemented. It is a good idea to focus on each attribute for periods of time as it makes students think deeper about the concept and reflect. This results in more beneficial learning. Focusing on learner profile attributes directly addresses the IB philosophy because these attributes help students to contribute to the creation of a better world.
I was unsure how well transdisciplinary themes would link with another country’s curriculum. At times it seems difficult to find the connection between the two, but like the teacher I interviewed said, it can be done “with a little tinkering”. The Australian curriculum generally links well to the IB transdisciplinary themes, covering topics like sustainability and learning about other cultures, as becoming globally minded becomes more important (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2013), and diversity in classrooms becomes more apparent. It is good that the teacher plans to bring the transdisciplinary themes to more attention, so that everyone is clear about them and knows how they will be covered. Studies have shown that constant exposure to information makes learning more permanent (Marzano, 2007). In focusing on transdisciplinary themes, the teacher is implementing the IB philosophy by giving students the knowledge to create a better world.
It did not surprise me that second language learning was not an issue in Canada. I knew that Canada was bilingual, however, it is surprising how tough Australians seem to find language learning, or how it is not seen as very important. This may be because we do not see as much of a need for it, and English is seen as the world language (Topsfield, 2012). However, with Australia’s proximity to Asia, its growing economic relationship with Australia, and the emphasis in the national curriculum of this relationship (ACARA, 2013), learning a second language in Australia should become less of an issue over time. By learning a second language, students grow to understand another culture (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2009, b), and so fulfill this part of the IB philosophy.
I was impressed by the action students took, like raising money for Haiti. It is encouraging for students to see that they can make a difference. I was unsure how this would work in practice and what action students could take, but I can see this can be done in big and small ways, and that possibly inaction may be appropriate, if when students reflect they find it to be the most beneficial response (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2008). By contributing to the world, students are already starting to demonstrate the IB philosophy.
International mindedness - Internet.
- Live video feed.
- Newspaper articles.
- International students.
- Global community opened up by internet.

Inquiry - Used daily.
- Subjects integrated- language arts (reading and writing), IB related information e.g. philosophy.
- Subjects are IB related e.g. Books cover an IB Learner Profile aspect.
- Subjects are all inquiry.
- Big emphasis on global community.

Second language learning - Not an issue as Canada is bilingual.

Assessment - Portfolios on all units.
- Formative assessments influence how unit will be revised every 8 days, as it shows students’ learning.
- Summative assessment influences how unit will be revised for next year.
- Assessments include rubric (teacher notes some suggestions for next time).

Action - Checked up on, not necessarily assessed.
- Can be a big gesture like raising money, or something done at home.
The Canadian PYP practitioner I interviewed was effectively able to implement the IB philosophy and programme into her classroom.

The key terms of the IB philosophy are presented in various ways around her classroom and school, for example through posters and constant discussion. Through teamwork and regular revision of plans, meaningful and relevant lessons were developed for students. The importance of the learner profile was remembered through regular lessons on it in various subject areas, for example, a student could paint a rock with the word 'caring' on it, then that would be the word they focus on for the term. International mindedness is a regular focus in the classroom, since there are students from a range of countries in the classroom who bring their experiences to the class, and the teacher uses technology to "open up the world". The importance of inquiry is not forgotten and is practiced regularly. Assessment is an important part of any classroom, and portfolios of assessments are kept. These assessments shape how units will progress. Action is also important and encouraged in any way.

After interviewing this teacher, I can now see more clearly how the IB PYP programme works in practice.
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2013). F-10 Overview. Retrieved from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Curriculum/Overview

Clements, M. (2013). The importance of reflection in education. Retrieved from http://www.edunators.com/index.php/becoming-the-edunator/step-5-reflecting-for-learning/the-importance-of-reflection-in-education

International Baccalaureate Organisation. (2009, a). IB Learner Profile booklet. Retrieved from http://www.ibo.org/programmes/profile/documents/Learnerprofileguide.pdf

International Baccalaureate Organisation. (2009, b). Making the PYP Happen: A curriculum framework for international primary education. Retrieved from http://www.brownacademymagnet.org/MAKING_THE_PYP_HAPPEN_2009.pdf

International Baccalaureate Organisation. (2008). Towards a Continuum of International Education. Retrieved from http://www.godolphinandlatymer.com/_files/IB/F12E57C5DFADC6B9C01C557C90935681.pdf

International Baccalaureate Organisation. (2013). What is international mindedness? Retrieved from https://ibanswers.ibo.org/app/answers/detail/a_id/3341/~/what-is-international-mindedness%3F

Marsh, C. (2010). Becoming a teacher: knowledge, skills and issues. Frenchs Forest, NSW, Australia: Pearson Australia.

Marzano, R., J. (2007). The art and science of teaching. Virginia, United States of America: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

McDevitt, T., M., & Ormrod, J., E. (2010). Child Development and Education. New Jersey, USA: Pearson Education Inc.

Palmer, D. (2005). A motivational view of constructivist-informed teaching. International Journal of Science Education, 27(15).

Topsfield, J. (2012). French? Italian? It’s all double Dutch to many. Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/french-italian-its-all-double-dutch-to-many-20121006-276gz.html

By Grace Robinson
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