A more student-centred MYP: Drawing inspiration from TEDed chattersĀ 

A few days ago, I was able to participate in a TEDed chat that was inspired by this TED Talk from the venerable Sir Ken Robinson

Participants spent about an hour discussing the following four provoking questions, based on Sir Ken’s ideas: 

1) Linearity is evident in the K-12 education system. How can we revolutionize this? 

2) Do you believe education today dislocates students from their natural talents? If so, how? 

3) What are your thoughts on school reform? 

4) How can we transform what we’ve always done? 

The participation was robust, but throughout the chat I noticed one common theme – a call for schools to be more student-centred and more concerned with honouring student voice and choice. Here are a few sample responses from the chat (you can check them all out by reading this Storify couristy of @makingoodhumans:  

This chat got me thinking about the MYP unit planning process, at least in the way I am familiar with it, and how teacher-centred it tends to be. As teachers, we collaborate to select Key and Related Concepts and Global Contexts. As teachers we write the Statement of Inquiry. As teachers we decide how students will demonstrate learning and select the criteria by which students will be assessed. As teachers we create task-specific clarifications for our assessments. All of this goes on behind closed doors – albeit with best intentions – but behind closed doors nonetheless. 

I know at our school, our teachers work tirelessly through a rigorous unit development protocol to try to design units that are going to excite, engage and energize their students. We have also found great benefit in inviting students into the unit planning process. However, no matter how student-focused our unit planning sessions are, in the end, this is still learning being done to students, rather than learning that is a reaction to student voice and choice. In light of this, I wanted to make a few suggestions of how we, as MYP teachers, can shift our processes to honour our students’ autonomy, interests and agency. 

Please note, many of these suggestions run contrary to the MYP framework and are meant to challenge not only MYP teachers, but the programme itself.

1) Inquire into the MYP itself – both the what and the why: 

Starting in MYP 1, and scaffolded each year thereafter, students should have the opportunity to critically inquire into the MYP. What is the Middle Years Programme? Why was it created? What are its underlying philosophies? What are its strengths? Its weaknesses? How does the MYP unit development process work and why do we use it? Once students are able to construct their own understanding about why the programme is the way it is, they will be better equipped to take advantage of its benefits and understand the reasons behind what is going on in the classroom. This inquiry begins to shift the narrative from school as something that is done to the students to school as a participatory experience for the students. 

2) Have students create an ATL inventory that they monitor and take responsibility for throughout the programme: 

The development of ATL skills is something that is seen as a major asset within the MYP. By encouraging students to take inventory of their ATL skill development throughout the course of the programme, they can develop a personalized plan for developing the skills that are relevant to them, as they become relevant. This can look as simple as each student choosing an ATL skill they wish to develop during a certain period of time each year and creating a plan for monitoring their own progress, to students identifying their own ATL skills for development in each unit, in each subject. I recognize that this would mean a departure from the typical unit planning process whereby teachers choose the ATL skills for each unit, but I think if we are truly honouring our students as capable learners, we need to support them in making these decisions on their own, based on their needs and interests. 

3) Have students decide how they will be assessed: 

Along the same lines as having students identify their own ATL skills for development, we need to allow students to decide how they would like to have their learning assessed in each unit. I see teachers work incredibley hard to try and come up with creative and authentic assessment opportunities for their students. While they have the best interests of their students in mind, this type of planning is still external and does not honour student voice and choice. There is a body of research which points to the merits of students developing their own means of assessment – not only will this save teachers from the struggle of guessing what type of assessments will engage students, it puts the onus for learning onto the learners’ shoulders and shows our students that we trust them to demonstrate learning in a way that acknowledges their interests and strengths. 

4) Allow students to create individualized task-specific clarifications: 

If number three seems like too much of a stretch, having students develop their own task-specific clarifications for assessments is a great way to encourage student participation in the learning. Again, there is a body of research that suggests student development of assessment criteria to be beneficial to the learning process. At our school, many teachers work with their classes to co-develop task-specific rubrics that are used for each assessment. While this is an excellent practice, it still creates too much standardization to really be considered as honouring student voice. If we truly want to honour our students’ voice and choice, we need to move away from standardized one-size-fits-all rubrics and move towards individually created rubrics…or ideally, towards no rubrics at all – but that’s a subject for another post

5) Create units with your students, from top to bottom: 

If students have been given the opportunity to inquire into the MYP and its processes, a great way to honour student voice and choice is to develop a unit, with your students, from top to bottom. Not only does this involve students directly within the planning process (moving away from “secret teacher business“), but it allows teachers the opportunity to model and discuss democratic decision-making processes as students work together to plan the unit. We have tried this on a small scale, but I am interested to see how it might work on a larger scale. 

6) Have students create their own, individualized units:

My final suggestion comes with the acknowledgement that this runs completely contrary to the type of internal standardization that the MYP looks for in its unit planning process, however, I think it is a necessary step if we are serious about respecting and honouring student voice and choice within the MYP. I would like to see students given the autonomy to create their own individualized units. Using their inquiry into the programme, their own personal interests and curiosities, their ATL skills inventory and support from their teachers, students would certainly be able to create their own units that are based on their natural, intrinsic curiosity and creativity. For schools using state or national curriculua, this would mean further inquiry into the required standards prior to engaging in this process, which would again allow for incredible conversations surrounding the orgins of curricula, who creates curricula, for what purposes and why certain learnings are deemed “important” while others are not. 

This to me would be the pinicle of balancing the frameworks and goals of the MYP, with processes that truly honour our students as capable, independent and valued learners. It would require the IB to re-write some of its frameworks in order to make these processes possible, a step that I see as necessary in order to make the programme more inclusive. 

Right now, too many decisions regarding the what and how of the learning are in the teachers’ hands. If we are going to participate in the type of educational revolution that many are calling for, this will need to shift and students will need to be given more (and I would argue all) of the control over their own learning. 

The encouraging part of this conversation, is that much of this honouring of our students’ voice and choice starts with you, this upcoming school year and the decisions you make to involve your students in their own learning. Open up these conversations with your colleagues, administrators and students and see the amazing places you can go together. 

How are you planning on honouring your students’ voice and choice within your classroom? 

What else does the MYP need to change in order to be more inclusive?