When I first started working with PYP, I was beyond overwhelmed. I came with a lot of knowledge and ideas, and now I had to do everything a whole new way. I didn’t need convincing; obviously it was a great way to deepen learning. What I needed were specific strategies, steps, checklists to help me understand how I could move from what I’d learned in teacher training to what I could be doing in my classroom. It was exciting and inspiring, but some days it was so challenging that it crossed into being discouraging. For me, one of the hardest things about it was stepping back and trusting students to think and learn instead of listening to me tell them everything. (Seems strange when you think about it that way, doesn’t it?)
Since then, I’ve learned so much, and when new teachers come in and are equally challenged, overwhelmed, and discouraged, here are a few tips I share, which I think have helped me in my journey.
- Talk to the students about how the brain works and how we learn. The brain works by making neural connections, so the things you learn need to be connected to things you already know. This is one reason it’s great to keep referring back to overarching concepts; then you can apply your knowledge, skills, and understandings to new contexts because you can attach them to the old ones.
- Help the students to develop skills specifically for collaboration. They will need to share ideas respectfully, debate and discuss, ask clarifying questions, take on different roles, and many more things that they may never have learned to do.
- For your first unit, start with something that naturally invites inquiry, and limit yourself to that. Don’t expect to overhaul everything you do at once.
- Be transparent about everything. Help the students to have ownership, and therefore responsibility, of their learning. What are the learning goals for the unit? What are we aiming to achieve today? What will that look like? How will we assess it as we go, and how will we assess it at the “end”? Involve the class. Let them generate questions, make connections, and think about what is important as a learning outcome. Obviously you will need to guide them, but it needs to be collaborative here too.
- Make use of the technology you have at your disposal. There are so many online tools available for free. Create a class wiki or blog where you can share videos, articles, photos, etc. that prompt questions and dialogue. Encourage students to respond or ask further questions. It’s also a great place for students to share resources they find. Google Docs are great for collaborating with other students and getting comments from each other.
As a final note, always keep in mind the reason for it all: How will our learning change the way we do something in the real world? What implications does it have for action we might take in our own lives?
You may wish to download this free Inquiry Planning Checklist to help you think through your approach.
What are some of the inquiry-based units you teach in your specialist classes?