Introduction to ATL Skills in the MYP
What is the ATL framework and why is it important?

Lisa McKeon Joassaint & Pallavi Dhody
4 min read
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What are the approaches to learning skills? 

The IB’s approaches to learning (ATL) skills framework outlines skills that are deemed important to students’ learning and are interwoven through all of the IB programmes. In the MYP, students build on the skills they began developing in the PYP, demonstrating progression through each year of the programme. ATL skills are divided into five major categories: 

  • Thinking 
  • Social 
  • Research 
  • Self-Management 
  • Communication

These categories are further divided into clusters and skill indicators. The indicators clarify expectations for each category and outline specific ways that students can show mastery in each of these areas. This can be better understood with the visual below: 

Why are ATLs important? 

ATL skills are important for the development of autonomous, engaged, lifelong learners. In an increasingly unpredictable world, as Margaret Heffernan suggests, we need messy human skills – imagination, humility, bravery – to solve problems. Teaching skills, then, is not just about helping students develop disciplinary or functional competence; it involves shaping students’ attitudes to become proactive changemakers. Here are four key reasons why ATLs play a significant role in teaching and learning in the MYP.

Click on the cards to know more!

Subject objectives:
In the MYP, ATL encompasses both general and discipline-specific skills. Every MYP unit identifies ATL skills that students will develop through their inquiry and demonstrate in the unit’s summative assessment. While ATL skills are not subject-specific, they serve as ‘tools for learning’ that can be tailored to meet the specific needs of students and subjects. ATL skills empower students to succeed in meeting the objectives of MYP subject groups. For example, in math, where students should be able to justify the appropriateness of their solution for a given real-world context, reflective skills help students achieve said objective.
Transfer of skills is important not just in school, but for life - being able to apply skills in unfamiliar situations is vital in our ever changing world. Given that ATL skills are not specific to any one subject group in the MYP and often overlap, they promote transfer of learning from one subject’s context to another, and also outside the classroom. For example, organisational skills acquired during writing essays in language and literature lessons may be applied in science or individuals and societies.
ATL skills play an important role in helping students learn about how they learn. Over time, students are able to develop clear and sophisticated understandings of how they learn best and how they can evaluate the effectiveness of their learning. This further helps students:
  • reflect purposefully on their learning
  • evaluate and provide evidence of their learning
  • share responsibility for creating productive, cooperative and safe learning environments
  • develop the confidence to try new strategies and explore new concepts and contexts for learning
  • prepare for further study and responsible participation in local and global communities.
Common language:
When ATL skills become a part of the everyday language in the MYP classrooms, students are able to talk about how they learn and what helps them to succeed. This further supports teachers to tailor learning to the specific individuals and everyone in the community is able to encourage success. Though ATLs may look different in various contexts, the skills can be developed and applied by the students to take ownership of their learning and take active part in their school community.

Introducing students to ATLs using interactive posters

As suggested above, including ATLs in our everyday classroom language helps students become more attuned to the skills they are building, define their own processes, and set their own goals. We’ve created this packet of posters to help you introduce your students to ATLs and bring skill-building to life in your classrooms!

These posters are not designed as mere decorations for the walls. They are meant to be integrated into the activities taking place in each classroom to further the conversation and the application of skills in the learning environment. Here are some activities that you could do in any classroom using these posters to get talking about the skills:

1. Connecting skill categories and indicators

  • Cut out the ATL skill indicators listed in each of the posters and divide them between your students.
  • Students can work in groups to decide which of the categories/posters the skills belong to.
  • Once done, they can pin up the appropriate skill indicators on each poster.

This is a great opportunity for students to develop their understanding of each category and the components that they might want to focus on for a given class, unit, or activity. 

2. Skill development

  • Cut out the ATL skill indicators and put them into envelopes
  • Students can examine the skills that they think they will develop during a given unit or assessment. 
  • Once done, they can tack the skills they’ve identified onto the posters to create a visual reminder of their focus.

This activity can be used at the beginning of a unit to look at skills that students believe will be useful to complete their work during a unit. They can revisit and modify/add to the skills that they find themselves using through the course of the unit. The posters will not just provide a focus for the students but also remind teachers to refer specifically to the identified skills during the unit.

3. Skill reflection

  • Students can identify an area of focus for a unit by sticking their names on one of the posters at the beginning of the unit. 
  • They can post a brief reflection on their progress against their targeted skill at the end of the unit

This allows students to target specific skills that they feel they need to work on. The visual representation of their focus and their reflection on progress holds everyone accountable, including teachers who will be able to create activities to help students meet their targets.

Using I can” statements for ATLs

It is always interesting to see how the students evaluate their skill development and discuss their goals to move forward. This is key to students creating specific and detailed goals both academic and personal. This poster pack also contains a set of posters with “I can” statements that can be used by students as reference points for skill proficiency across MYP subjects. The statements have been designed using the four criteria in each subject area, showing how ATL skills and the subject objectives are linked.

The specificity of the statements allows for a clear understanding of what skill targets can look like in a given subject. Students will be able to reflect on how the class activities and assessments allowed them to develop a particular skill as well as set goals for continued improvement moving forward. The posters can also be used in conjunction with a table like the one provided below. This table gives students a chance to think through a range of skills and decide whether they are rarely, sometimes, often, or always implementing the skill indicator. From there, they can identify areas of focus and set some goals for their growth and development.

These statements are not meant to be prescriptive; they are simply one way in which to interpret subject-specific skills. You can also invite students to create their own “I can” statements as a part of their goal setting process. Or add your own to the mix!

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Lisa McKeon Joassaint
Lisa McKeon Joassaint
Lisa has been teaching MYP Individuals and Societies since 2008. She has taught for 16 years in American and International schools in Haiti, Sri Lanka and currently teaches at the ACS Hillingdon International School, London. Trained as an intermediate/senior French and History teacher in Canada, Lisa is a secondary school Social Studies and DP History teacher and Head of Grade 10 currently. Shae has been an IB workshop leader since 2013, and has previously held several leadership positions including MYP Coordinator, ATL leader and Head of Department for her school. She enjoys working with curriculum across levels and the flexibility of the MYP.
Pallavi Dhody
Pallavi Dhody
Disclaimer: This resource has been produced independently of and not endorsed by the IB. Toddle’s resources seek to encourage sharing of perspectives and innovative ideas for classroom teaching & learning. They are not intended to be replacements for official IB guides and publications. Views and opinions expressed by the authors of these resources are personal and should not be construed as official guidance by the IB. Please seek assistance from your school’s IB coordinator and/or refer to official IB documents before implementing ideas and strategies shared within these resources in your classroom.