Making connections for ATL skills articulation, Part 1

Part 1, ATL development in the classroom and subject

The MYP faculty meeting yesterday yielded a lot of shared understanding about ATL skills implementation. Making connections was a big part of the engagements. As we made connections, we began to see how these connections made ATL skills the “bones of the MYP”–they may be invisible as they are, but they hold up the systems.

There are layers of implementation in MYP, illustrated by the diagram below.

Layers of MYP Implementation

This first year of transition into MYP: Next Chapter holds a lot of challenges, and in our efforts at alignment, we collaboratively decided in May 2014 to focus on classroom implementation first–planning learning and assessment, and using new criteria, fueling our developmental work with the collaborative time and structures with which we  inquire into points of practice and share understanding. Professional learning that is closest in proximity to the classroom, and to student learning, seems to drive our collaborative planning, as well as honing craftsmanship and efficacy of individual teachers in the context of a complex, messy process of implementing a shiny new MYP. For this meeting, we used these three tasks to help us make connections.

ATL in the classroom

Even with co-teachers planning together, a unit planner holds personal design choices implicit within the connections it makes. Choices we make in a unit plan of key concept, related concepts and global context present the overall frame of learning and teaching intention. As the unit plan progresses through the statement of inquiry, unpacked in inquiry questions and answered by the summative assessment design, the ATL skills immediately adjacent to the assessment presents the teacher with a rationale for choices made. When we choose ATL skills immediately connected to our big idea in the statement of inquiry and the assessment of learning, those ATL skills are chosen as skills essentially manifested in the summative assessment.

The task we used to make this connection was a simple template. Teachers picked a strand they were assessing in a summative task, and stated its connection to the skill students need to use and will be clearly manifested in the summative task product. An example is given below.

An Assessment-ATL connection for PHE

As teachers went through this simple task of connecting assessment to ATL skill, we understood why there is inherently a contextual requirement for ATL skills development in MYP. When we plan ATL articulation with our students in mind, our planning is relevant, meaningful, and has endless potential to manifest in how our students perform and achieve. For a teacher, this connection is a powerful source of efficacy and agency. When the choices a teacher makes holds authentic relevance visible in student learning, unit planning, teaching and assessment become mindful engagements, opportunities to be thoughtful and precise.

ATL in the Subject

Units planned, taught and assessed throughout a school year form the subject overview. Our second task in the meeting was to see connections throughout the subjects we teach. We focused on the command terms in this task, as the command terms in the criterion strands of our subjects progress through levels of complexity, which indicate skills that necessarily must become evident and manifest in assessments designed to reveal levels of learning and achievement described by the criterion strands. Below is an example from Sciences.

Command terms and complexity

When we examine one criterion closely, we begin to see the progression of complexity at which students must perform and achieve in an MYP subject. The command terms anchor us in a connection between ATL skills that manifest in a subject and the level of complexity at which these ATL skills must be used. As a student moves through the MYP years, he or she needs to call upon the ATL skills to engage in tasks of increasing complexity. In Sciences, for instance, the complexity can be identified when we juxtapose Bloom’s taxonomy with our command terms.

from Journal of Indian Law and Society.
from Journal of Indian Law and Society.

The juxtaposition of the command terms present in the Sciences criterion B strands shows an increasing level of complexity at which students must perform the ATL skills implicit in Inquiring and designing in Sciences.

Bloom's Taxonomy and Sciences Criterion B (Sciences Subject Guide, 2014)
Bloom’s Taxonomy and Sciences Criterion B (Sciences Subject Guide, 2014)

Where do we see this complexity? When we see the overview of a subject, the assessment design shows us the increasing complexity at which the MYP student needs to learn, perform and achieve as he or she progresses through the subject.

The value of the Overview

Side by side with the other MYP subjects, we can make connections throughout our MYP. Our third task was to examine three different sets of criteria strands. Below is our task 3 from the meeting.

Task 3. Take a look at the tasks described below.

Inquiry Questions:

Factual – What skills are implicit in these strands?

Conceptual – How does a student have to perform the same skill at different levels of complexity?

Debatable – How do our students reach independence in learning for year 5?

 Year 1: 

  • explains the choice of a research question
  • effectively follows an action plan to explore a research question
  • uses methods to collect and record consistently relevant information
  • thoroughly reflects on the research process and results

from Individuals and Societies Guide (2014), Criterion B

Year 3:

  • designs and explains a plan for improving physical performance and health
  • explains the effectiveness of a plan based on the outcome

 from Physical and Health Education Guide (2014), Criterion B 

Year 5:

  • develop rigorous criteria for the product/outcome
  • present a detailed and accurate plan and record of the development process of the project
  • demonstrate excellent self-management skills

from Projects Guide (2014), Criterion B for Personal Projects

The intention for using Criterion B was to draw out the understanding that MYP subjects’ Criterion B are process learning criteria, focusing on a subject’s methodology to teach students the purposes, values and limitations of a learning process. The inquiry process implicit within Criterion B in all subjects shows us a MYP-wide thread of using iterative, cyclical processes to approach learning.

As teachers examined the Criterion B from two different MYP subjects and the Personal Project, the understanding that emerged was how subjects had opportunities for allowing transfer, the ATL skill learners must draw upon to make connections between themselves and their learning, concepts and contexts across subjects, and among other relationships, understanding of different perspectives and that these perspectives, “with their differences, can also be right” (IB Mission Statement).


In Part 2, we will explore ATL skills from the programmatic level, looking at how policies and the MYP core may be systemically aligned with and through ATL articulation.

Please join our professional learning network! MYP educators connected on Twitter hold #MYPChat hosted by Stephen Taylor and other MYP educators.

Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

2 thoughts

  1. Thank you for this. As a teacher new to MYP at a school going through accreditation this is very useful.

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