Inquiry holds a special place in every PYP school! To be truly inquiry-driven, a learning community must constantly investigate, reflect and take action to improve their teaching and learning practices. In this blog, two schools share how they achieved their goal to build an inquiry-driven community – within and beyond their classroom walls. Dive into their strategies to get insights on how they approached this challenge and take-away ideas and tools to begin your inquiry journey!
Crossroads International School (CIS) is the first IB school in Udaipur, India. Over the last few months, our teaching team has been gearing towards the IB authorisation visit. While gearing up for a consultant visit, we identified inquiry-based learning as one of our key growth areas. And that’s where our journey into strengthening this practice began. To ensure that our community has a shared understanding of inquiry, we focused on creating opportunities for collaboration and deepening our understanding of inquiry in the PYP. We also looked for ways to make our thinking visible and used Sketchnoting and Visible Thinking Routines to help teachers and students. By sharing our journey, we hope to provide ideas and inspiration to any new school starting on this exciting journey.
Click on the tiles to explore each strategy
So how did we know it was a huge success? When most of our students exercised their agency and created sketchnotes to showcase their learning during the virtual ‘Three Way Conference’. Many of them managed to keep it a ‘secret’ despite learning from home, to surprise their parents as they presented these during the conference. We watched our students become thinkers and balanced as this strategy helped them regulate their emotions during these unprecedented pandemic times.
These practices have largely been responsible for a drastic change in the way teachers and students think and learn. They have made online learning a little more tolerant as we managed to use them efficiently to increase learner interest and engagement. We do not consider ourselves experts in Inquiry or making thinking visible, but we are developing our own understanding bit by bit. It has been a fairly long journey that we undertook when we decided to commit to the Primary Years Program pedagogy and philosophy. As lifelong learners, we know we have a long way to go and these practices will stay with us as we move toward focusing on learner autonomy and self efficacy.
The International Community School of Addis Ababa (ICS) is an IB World School, offering the Primary Years Program and the Diploma Program. Over the past few years, our school community has focused heavily on improving its practices through the implementation of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). We believe in the power of inquiry and have found structures to support a more rigorous implementation of this method to meet the unique needs of our school.
There can, however, be challenges associated with effectively implementing this model. Over time, one of our biggest challenges was the struggle to understand how to allow for agency in an inquiry-based classroom while still ensuring our learners experienced rigour that pushed them to deeper levels of learning. Our teachers also grappled with how to allow for personalized inquiry in a standards-based school. We continued to think about how we could follow students’ questions and interests while also being held to expectations around specific learning outcomes. These challenges have led us to implement strategies that have contributed to our overall effectiveness. We have found three significant strategies that have improved our program: the PLC process for responding to our unique learners, collaborative planning retreats to project units, and the use of a digital mind map to guide and document the learning journey. We hope to connect with you through our journey to inspire your own thinking.
Click on the tiles to explore each strategy
- What do we want students to know, understand, and be able to do?
- How will we know that they know it?
- What will we do if some students are not learning (the learning identified in Question 1)?
- What will we do if they already know/understand/can do it?
One of the boxes on the PYP planner is “Learning Goals and Success Criteria”. Prior to our realization detailed above, we struggled to understand how this box differed from the lines of inquiry, ATLs, and other bits of information detailed in a unit. PLC Question 1 helped us focus on what we want our students to know, understand and be able to do. This helped us really zoom in on the concepts (both key and related) that are critical to units and get clear as educators about the goals of the unit. In the past, we found that inquiries tended to go off in all directions, resulting in more shallow learning as educators and students were unclear about expectations. This is not to say we don’t value voice and choice; in fact, agency is a core belief of our school and we believe in providing a personalized approach to learning. The PLC model has provided more intentionality around this voice and choice.
As we came to understand the power of answering PLC Question 1 (What do we want students to know, understand, and be able to do?), we still found ourselves struggling with understanding how to use the four critical questions to guide us in supporting students through a learning model (inquiry) that sometimes felt was less quantifiable. This is where PLC Question 2 (How will we know that they know it?) came in. We realized that we collectively lacked understanding around the importance of assessment tools. We wanted to ensure our students had agency in how to demonstrate their learning, but in doing so we often lacked a consistent tool that could help us measure growth. Taking time to frame discussions around answering this question helps us determine which evidencing tool we will use throughout the unit to gauge students’ conceptual understanding, regardless of the way in which students choose to demonstrate their learning.
Using PLC Questions 1 and 2 to frame our thinking and discussions before units begin was powerful to see unfold; holding us back though was the challenge of finding the time to fully engage in these important discussions. This led us to designing another important practice: collaborative planning retreats.
Collaboration is a core belief of ICS. Our planning retreats have been instrumental in ensuring we come to a consistent understanding of the unit across the teaching team. The time we spend together has been invaluable in helping improve our collaboration to implement stronger units. Taking time to identify diverse contexts through which to explore conceptual understandings has had a positive impact on student understanding. In grade 4, for example, a unit under Sharing the Planet seeks to help students understand the connection between limited resources and peace and conflict. During the planning retreat, we identified contexts around the world that would connect with students and expose them to this understanding in new ways, such as access to water in Ethiopia, the perspectives of various countries regarding the Nile River, as well as how the COVID vaccination is distributed around the world. Identifying contexts for guided inquiries, while also planning for opening the unit up to allow learners to explore these concepts through contexts of their choosing, has provided rigour through an agentic, inquiry-based approach. After implementing these retreats, we found they provided a solid base; however, we struggled with how to document and respond to the many different inquiries students were taking as the unit continued. This struggle led us to seek out a tool that could guide us while also documenting the journey.
Our journey of implementing the PLC process through a PYP framework is surely not complete, but we have made many steps in the journey. We have learned from experts and practitioners along the way as we have improved our effectiveness as inquiry facilitators. Toddle has been instrumental in supporting our collaboration both within our school and in connecting us with the greater community. It is through these collaborative networks that we can continue to grow. We hope that by sharing our journey, we are able to assist others on their paths.
Wondering how you can create a culture of inquiry in your school community? Here is an observation tool that will help you identify actions taken by learners, teachers and the learning community in an inquiry-based classroom.