“There’s a lot of assumed knowledge here.”
This statement by a teacher who was struggling to successfully transform his teaching in an MYP classroom was overheard almost a decade ago during a faculty meeting. It stuck with me because in transitioning to MYP: Next Chapter this year, I have heard similar sentiments as teachers make the shift from the previous MYP model to the current one.
The Implementation Dip
Fullan’s (2006) work on change management gives us some reassurance that learning is a way out of what he calls the “implementation dip,” that temporary slump in practice as practitioners struggle to learn new ways of practice and let go of the old ways, to enact a necessary change.
The dip happens because old ways no longer suffice for implementation to occur. The way up and out of the dip is through learning the new ways of practice.
For those of us tasked with supporting teachers in enacting the MYP, we are mindful of the dip and each teacher’s approaches to learning and implementation. Perhaps, avoiding assumptions that teachers naturally learn to enact change, and providing support for these adult learners as each one struggles out of the implementation dip into approximations of mastery, help us to transition into new practices and transform our classrooms. Through supportive facilitation, pedagogical leadership helps teachers to transition and transform practice.
Unit planning as an approach to learning
From a teacher’s perspective, the daily teaching and learning is the priority. The way in to the professional knowledge necessary to transition to new practices might rest on careful and thoughtful planning for units of work.
By giving support in unit planning, we actually learn so much about MYP practice. What can we learn about the MYP through the practical planning we do for units of work?
Form and Function
Just in the first section of the unit planner, we uncover some pressure points for transition.
The first section of the unit planner asks for key concept, related concepts, global context, and these are synthesized into the statement of inquiry. The statement of inquiry is then unpacked through factual, conceptual, and debatable questions.
The structure of the Inquiry section of the planner assumes that teachers are familiar with key concepts, related concepts, global contexts and how each of these function. By asking teachers to synthesize these into a statement of inquiry requires understanding of the “structure of knowledge” (Erickson, 2008) which hold concepts as key to arriving at generalizations by seeing topics and facts become illuminated and organized through concepts. Breaking down the statement of inquiry into questions helps the teacher to grasp the interrelatedness of concepts to content in the unit.
Factual questions have content-based answers, so these questions show direction and scope of learning through content.
Conceptual questions engage students in analysis and synthesis. Conceptual questions ask for concept formation and attainment by students before application, analysis and synthesis. This helps a teacher understand the work that must be accomplished before asking students to express synthesis.
Debatable questions bring in the global context into the students’ engagement. Debatable questions necessarily call upon a choice of critical lens, or perspective, allowing students to draw upon authentic connections between the concepts and content learnt in a unit to the wider world beyond the classroom.
A teacher’s pressure points in developing the conceptual framework of a unit might be implied in some of these.
- How is concept formation and attainment facilitated?
- How does an inquiry approach look like, sound like, feel like in my classroom?
- How do I approach conceptual teaching and learning through inquiry?
- How do I help my students learn to ask the questions?
- What might it mean for me to allow students to ask the inquiry questions?
- What might it mean for me to let go of some control and hand it over to the students?
Some of the above questions imply different levels of thinking that teachers engage to plan a MYP unit. All of the above are conceptual questions, in that they require teachers to examine concepts like form, function, structure, context, and even identity.The implications we might extrapolate from the questions above could be:
- Knowing the Subject Guide and Principles into Practice documents thoroughly.
- Understanding how concept based teaching and learning differs from content based teaching and learning.
- Understanding inquiry approaches to teaching and learning.
- Applying requirements in the Subject Guide and in Principles into Practice.
- Analysing what is required in the subject criteria, what it looks like in student performance
- Synthesizing knowledge and understanding
- Evaluating what works
- Creating new pedagogy that supports new learning objectives
- Reforming professional identity as a teacher who uses a constructivist approach to teaching and learning
As we progress through a unit planner, we touch upon essential elements in the MYP framework. We learn that MYP teaching and learning is:
- learning how to learn (ATL framework)
- inclusive (differentiation)
- constructivist (learning engagements and teaching strategies)
- authentic (service as action)
- reflective (reflection before, during, and after teaching)
At each step of the planning process, the teacher is challenged with new knowledge and understanding, new pedagogical opportunities, and even perhaps tensions within their professional identity. How these challenges are provided support directly impact the successful negotiation over the implementation dip.
How might we support learning toward successful implementation? Share your ideas in the comments.
These are questions I think about all the time in helping teachers implement The Next Chapter. I find that inquiry-based teaching/learning practices and concept-based education are really abstract ideas that are hard to envision and implement into practice without actually seeing them. I am trying to start group observations of teachers who are masterful in particular areas so that groups of teachers can process through the observation together. I think the difficulty is largely a function of “if you don’t know better, you can’t do better” and I am always looking for other ways to do this? Any ideas on that front? Thanks for your great blog!
Hi Liz, thanks for your comment. Inquiry approaches and concept-based teaching are challenging because they are themselves conceptual. Inquiry is a process driven approach, and conceptual teaching and learning hinges a lot on transformation of processes in the classroom. PYP’ers have been doing these since the inception of PYP, as it has been more explicit in their planning and teaching and assessment processes. There might be a concert of different ways to encourage teachers to learn these and internalize them through practice. Lesson study is a good way to approach it. I’ll try to get a roundup of resources and post that. Thanks!