Creating a course outline? Don’t go it alone…

As we all look forward to the start of the school year, many of us single-subject teachers’ thoughts drift to what our course will look like. Where do we start? Where do we end? What are the key skills we would like to include in the year and how will we assess our students’ acquisition of these skills? A lot of time and energy goes into creating these outlines and they are designed with best intentions. The only issue? They are often designed for students, rather than with students. This has potential challenges, as it can frame learning as something we do to our students, rather than something they take control of for themselves. 

In this case, I am suggesting an approach by which we work together collaboratively with students to design the course. Here, we often need to take a balanced approach as most schools have external requirements that they need to meet that students might be unaware of. One approach that I used with my MYP 4 Media class was to create a draft course outline – one that contained a range of skills and concepts that I thought might be important for students to inquire into over the course of the year and that took into account external requirements. Then, during our first class together, I presented students with this draft course outline and asked for their feedback, in the form of a Compass Points VTR. 

A simple activity like Compass Points can really empower learners.


In less than 15 minutes, I had valuable data on what students saw in my draft that interested them, what they already knew how to do, what they were not interested in and things that didn’t appear in my draft that they wanted to learn. By providing them with a draft framework, I was able to provoke their thinking and open their minds to possible inquiries that they might not have thought of, while at the same time keeping my own mind open to their interests, experiences and opinions. 

Right off the bat, this helps establish an environment that is based on a collaboration of learners, rather than the typical “teachers knows best” dynamic that we can all fall victim to from time to time. Further to this, the practice of planning with students suggests, “this is your learning” and empowers them to be active participants in the entire process of learning – from planning, to skill acquisition, to assessment, to reflection and celebration. 

How will you work with your students to plan your courses this year? 

Do you have another model of collaborative planning that you have used with students? 

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