Bandung Independent School
The PYP enhancements are continuing to roll out these next few months, all of which have helped me stop and think about my students, my classroom, and my school. But one change in particular has had me reflect and question my role as a teacher; that change is the inclusion of the new PYP Learner model, and how our students will grow through their sense of agency.
In the new document “The Learner in the Enhanced PYP,” the IB defines agency as a power to take responsible action, through voice, choice, and ownership. But what is agency? Agency is not something we give students. And it’s not something we as teachers plan for third period on a Thursday, or the last week of a Unit of Inquiry. It’s an innate characteristic that students already have, and we as educators recognize, celebrate, and honor. Awakening agency is recognizing students as leaders in their own learning processes. According to the IB, “agency is present when students partner with teachers and members of the learning community to take charge of what, where, why, with whom and when they learn.”
Okay, but what does that actually look like? How do we as educators actually honor student agency? How can we change our practice to support students and empower their sense of individual voice, choice, and ownership? To start, I began taking a risk in my classroom, and handed over the reins to my students.
Our current Unit of Inquiry fits under the transdisciplinary theme of How the World Works, with the following central idea: life on Earth is dependent on Earth’s position in the solar system. After a trip to a local museum and a little bit of research, students showed interest in the Moon and space travel. Normally, at this point in planning an inquiry, I would use the key concepts, lines of inquiry, and student questions to plan learning engagements. But trying to honor their sense of agency, I did something a little different. I gave the concepts and lines of inquiry to the students, and let them plan our week.
I gave students teacher resource books, and showed them Teachers Pay Teachers. I showed them different tools we have at school. I even let them plan a shopping list (with the understanding that they stick to a strict budget). The only expectations were that they had to choose activities that answered their research questions and helped them deepen their understanding of form, connection, and function through the LOI Earth’s relative position in the solar system. And off they went.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Katie, are you insane?! These students are too young! How do you know they get the “right” knowledge, build the “right” skills, etc.? Well, these were the questions I was thinking about… But guess what? They took their time, and chose several activities that were better than my original thoughts. They critically compared different engagements, discussing which would help them better understand the CI. One student found a coloring activity, and said “this looks fun and cute, but I don’t think we will learn much from it.” And she chose something else. After they planned and led their chosen engagements, students reflected on their evidence of success. Here are some examples:
I know that this is only a step in honoring student agency, and no, not every activity went as well the ones listed above. And if I’m being honest, the health food advocate in me is still a little upset that I bought Oreos for my students! But instilling this sense of responsible action is worth a few bumps in the road. It’s worth the uneasy feeling that I’m completely letting go. It’s worth throwing my whole planning process up in the air, and trying something new – even if it completely fails. Why? Well, it’s not because the IB says we “have to” now. It’s because by co-constructing our investigations, we are naturally personalizing education, and cultivating independence, trust, and a love of learning.
So I encourage you all to take a deep breath and try. Give your students a chance to plan a week, a day, or even an afternoon. Give them the outcomes, and see what they come up with. And if it blows up in your face, try again. If education is about bettering our students, then they should have the right to be a part of the planning and decision-making. As PYP educator Taryn Bond states, “who better to know what learning is personally relevant than the students themselves?”
by Katie Stone
Grade 3 Teacher
Bandung Independent School
Sources: International Baccalaureate Organization, 2017. “The Learner in the Enhanced PYP.”
Leading up to our Unity in Diversity Day and as a part of our yearlong Who we are unit of inquiry; our current inquiry into How we organize ourselves; and our language focus Writing to Instruct/Explain, we read Jon J Muth’s version of Stone Soup. This is a story about three monks who try to understand what makes one happy. During their journey, they visit a village with frightened villagers, who keep their doors and windows locked. When they cleverly entice the villagers with making soup from stones, the villagers discover how much they each have to share and what they can gain in return. The story ends with a big feast and offering the strangers a place to sleep.
Our initial reading session focused on creating curiosity about the story (and print in general); using illustrations to predict and respond to the story; making links to the students’ own experiences; the structure of the story (how information is presented); the information shared (e.g. how to make Stone Soup); and the big question ‘What makes one happy?’
In order to address our inquiry into how information can be gathered and sorted and how it can be documented, we introduced a new graphic organizer. We explained that T-charts can help us to examine two facets of the monks’ inquiry into what happiness is? The students were invited to use Post-it notes to brainstorm about happiness. They made ‘draft’ drawings and in a quick personal teacher-student interview, comments to these drawings were documented, before the students sorted them using the T-chart. The students had a lot of ideas about what makes them happy, e.g. “Thinking about school”; “Playing together” and “She is at the playground. She is so happy”. Although they concluded that there were less ideas posted about what doesn’t make them happy, they thought that these few thoughts matched their personal experiences very well, e.g. “She pushed the boy” and “Somebody doesn’t want to share”.
With the older students of this combined Early Childhood class (4-6 yr.), who stay after lunch, we read a much older version of Stone Soup by Ann McGovern. After revisiting the Chinese version we read in the morning, we compared the content of the story, the message and the symbols used by the illustrators. The students noticed the bright yellow color of the little girl’s dress versus the poor clothes of the young man. They compared the black cat with the black bird. And they thought that the young man had taken advantage of the old lady (old version), but that the monks had brought happiness by teaching how to share.
After reading these stories, the students initiated to use elements of the Chinese version of Stone Soup for their play. They collected stones from our Sensory Path and started a lovely cooperative play elaborating on the books’ ideas. Their play expressed the desire to make real Stone Soup.
Our upcoming Unity in Diversity Day, with a focus on Food Sustainability, offered an excellent opportunity to make this cooking activity a more meaningful experience while including all the Early Childhood students. As a provocation, we took all the food items from the home corner and asked the students to think of criteria to sort them. Two sorting circles were formed one for possible Stone Soup ingredients and one for ‘others’. The students were invited to think about ingredients they might be able to find at home and using this sorted ‘data’, the students created a visual reminder to take home. We discussed and compared the pros and cons of each student bringing something from home, which helped the students to understand sustainability. It was fantastic to observe how the students’ thinking evolved into thinking about “pollution if you go shopping by car” and comparing it with more sustainable ideas like “you have to take your bicycle” (Dutch student) to “using an electric car”.
We invited the parents to collaborate by respecting the children’s thoughts re. shopping and our intention to focus on foodstuffs that do least harm to the planet. The children concluded that they should all “bring just a little bit” so there “we don’t waste food” and that “we need to share if a friend brings no food to wash and cut”.
The morning of the Unity in Diversity Day, the students proudly presented their ingredients. After the flag parade, assembly and photo shoot, we started with addressing the expected learning outcomes for the actual cooking activity:
- personal hygiene
- fine motor skills
- food choices can affect our health
- cooperate with others (share and take turns)
- celebrate the accomplishment of the group
- understand the impact of their actions on the environment
We labeled the ingredients and discussed how to wash and cut them. We revisited the instructions on how to cook Stone Soup and explained which areas to use for their cooking activities. We included the youngest Early Childhood students and together they created a very rich, sustainable Stone Soup which they ate together with their teachers.
Here are some comments the EC3 students shared about our ‘sustainable’ community vegetable soup:
JA: “We made our own ‘to do’ list.”
All: “We made the soup together … EC1, EC2, EC3.” LE: “Eating together!”
CH: “Everybody (brought the ingredients).” LE: “We don’t get pollution!”
JO: “It was fun, we could cut our own food.”
JA: “It makes us happy, because it is so yummy when you make it together.” LE: “Happy, because your heart is GOOD!”
LE: “IF you go to the shopping (mall), the smoke (of the care) is not good for your heart or your body.”
JA: “Or you can go on your bike.”
LE: “If you want to go shopping, you need an electric car … no pollution!”
Nicolette Brata-Coolen MA Childhood Studies & Early Years
SENCO & PYP Early Childhood Teacher
Bandung Independent School
In Indonesian studies class, Grade 2 students learned about coconut properties and their use in Indonesia as a connection to the unit, ‘How the World Works’ .
Coconut, as a connection to properties of materials, was chosen because Indonesians use all the parts of the coconut (from the root to the leaves) in cooking, as housing materials, musical instruments, decorations, medicine, etc.
As a part of our inquiry and as an opportunity to show our understanding, we invited the Bandung Independent School community to our Indonesian studies session on Tuesday 15th November.
This is the food made of coconut leaves for the ‘ketupat’ and the soup was made with coconut milk.
Joshua is showing his mum how to create decorations from the coconut leaves.
In Indonesian language class, Grade 2 students made connections to procedural texts by learning how to cook ‘Kue Bandros’. The meals were made from grated coconut and coconut milk, along with some other ingredients. Oliver and Joshua had an opportunity to explain their learning in Indonesian. They shared their insights with the parents and explained how they worked on these materials, used tools for cooking and the procedures of the cooking method.
We also invited Mr. Brooks, our Head of school, to taste some of the food and, of course, to see how Grade 2 students shared their learning and understanding.
I hope that you have all had a successful start to the new school year! One thing that we want to focus on this year at Bandung Independent School is our new Guiding Statements, approved by the School Board in May 2016 after a lengthy process of review involving all community members, including a Vision Mission Values review committee made up of teachers, administrators and parents. Throughout the process we were mindful of IB Programme Standard A: ‘The school’s published statements of mission and philosophy align with those of the IB.’
Yesterday, on 19 August we all enjoyed the first assembly of the year. After welcoming new students and staff we focused on our new Vision – ‘At BIS, it is our vision to nurture individual potential and be an internationally-minded school of excellence.’ In mixed level groups, students decided how we meet our vision through the PYP attitudes. Each group was given one attitude and prepared a short skit to demonstrate how we work towards our vision through their particular attitude. What does it mean to nurture individual potential? How can we be internationally minded? What exactly is a school of excellence? Next week’s assembly will focus on our new school values.
It is very important to us that students as well as staff and parents understand the new Guiding Statements and can connect them to their own role in our school. We will be thinking of ways of creating a sense of ownership of and commitment to our new Vision, Mission and Values. We would be interested in hearing ways in which other schools have ensured that community members understand their vision, mission and values.
Mary Collins, Elementary Principal and Deputy Head, Bandung Independent School