Learning Continuums


In PYP schools there are six units of inquiry over 6 ‘grade’ levels from PREP to Grade 5. That equals 36 units of inquiry. That’s 36 opportunities to analyse and synthesize the learning at the ‘conclusion’ of a unit of inquiry. Yes, I’m fully aware that formative assessment is happening all the time. But as far as the summative assessment goes, we do this only once at the ‘end’ of a unit. This is a way to gauge what a student’s understanding of the central idea is after 6 weeks of learning and inquiring.

How can we effectively capture all that learning and understanding? 

For years we’ve been creating rubrics. They take a long time to design and develop. This process does allow the people in the same room to not only deepen their understanding of the learning and make connections to the central ideas and lines of inquiry…….this approach also creates a common language and sets clear expectations on the possibilities and the potential that may come out of those learning experiences.

Is the investment (time, effort and energy) worth it when developing a rubric to assess students’ understanding and knowledge? Does this process add value?

In short, yes. Taking teachers through this process requires a lot of constructing and it is through that process we are able to share, defend, explain and talk about student learning. That in itself is pretty exciting stuff. While it does take time in reaching consensus… only then can we achieve clarity. It helps us see how to measure progress of learning and evidence it alongside of the rubric. Students still can choose the best way to demonstrate their learning, it is the rubric that anchors how student’s represent what they have come to know and do.

We’ve changed the branding of ‘rubric‘ to ‘learning continuum,‘ which has created a positive spin on developing robust, relevant and authentic learning expectations.

Our goal as a school is to develop 36 learning continnums, just like a POI. We can critique these, challenge them, build upon them, just like we do with all central ideas, not only as a POI review, but at the start of each unit. We are finding that we are getting better at writing these over time too. Yes, at times we hit walls and get stuck, but it is the fighting through it that we have the best conversations which leads to better ideas, resulting in better teaching.

Personally, I feel that most assessments fall short and teachers end up doing another reflection as their summative assessment. This is not good enough and it touches on Sam’s previous blog post of salmon swimming up stream…. teachers just run out of time; therefore, well put-together, thoughtful and meaningful assessment tools take a back seat! The unit simply fizzles out and doesn’t become much for student’s to engage with it and look for way they can transfer this into other areas of learning.

So why am I writing this? Well, there are a few reasons… the main one is that through the self-study process, I’ve come to realize that section C4 (Assessment) is an area that we need to challenge. We don’t have a clear approach or expectation on what that is or can look like. If we are to be true to the teaching and learning then we need to honor it with a rich and authentic learning continuum – it is all in the feedback we give to our students. Finish the unit well by taking it all the way! Do more than notice the learning, embrace it and set goals with your students, so that the next unit is a continuation from the previous one. How can our students improve from unit to unit, not just wait for the next ‘Sharing the planet’ unit in a year’s time.

What do you do to capture your students’ learning?

Let me know if you want to take a look at some of our Learning Continuums. We need to share these more with one another, so we can adapt them and design powerful assessments – together.


  1. Christopher Carlyle

    I would love to peek and help. I am currently working with teachers who use a website to create the rubrics and don’t understand why I want to invest the time you are discussing. Feel free to drop me a line at teacher_boy@hotmail.com

  2. Pingback: Summatively Speaking… – sonya terborg
    • Lindsay

      Dear Chad,
      We are also in the process of self-study and have been reflecting upon standard C4. In particular we have been discussing how best to collect evidence on all the five essential elements of the PYP. At the moment we are using a rubric as an assessment tool but want to inquire more deeply into the best way to create a ‘photo album’ rather than a ‘snapshot’ of student learning. Would love to look at the learning continuums and contribute some feedback. My email is: lmcquattie@jpc.qld.edu.au

  3. kathmurdoch

    Hi Chad. I am in the process of developing something like this with one of my schools – with an emphasis on ensuring that we include a focus on skills and dispositions ( approaches to learning) as well as the conceptual understandings. would love to see what you are doing and happy to share mine. kath@kathmurdoch.com.au

  4. @rozzuell

    Hi Chad,

    Hello. As always, I would love to have a look at the work that you have done with learning continuums. It is a process and currently our school is working on creating conceptual rubrics, but this is a very good idea to transition into. Here is my email address lmagsalin@chadwickschool.org.


  5. Jacob

    im a scientist that is finishing Einsteins work. My story is a little like Cinderella. Im a at home scientist that only had a highschool diploma. In Arkansas “where im living” the people here dont look past what they can see. I have been steadily learning gravity, time, and space for the last 2 years. I am currently reworking our atomic chart. If i seem lacking in either my language or appearance its because of my lack of a formal education. Anyway i can already prove time/space as we display it is off, time is repitious, space is actually a solid in a constant state of motion, that gravity if properly understood is why you can see galaxies still forming, and that you need a minimum of 2 super massive black holes to generate time.

    Im working on a full redefinition of our universe complete with a working display to take the theory out of it. Im litterally starting from scratch and i was wondering if there is a place or website i can study to learn how to teach people what i know. The hardest part about this is im going to be dealing with very touchy subjects. Ones that involve religion and throwing out the big bang. I dont expect anyone to understand just yet. I just need a little help finding a way to teach.

  6. Sarah

    I would love to take a look at your continuums. We use continuums at our school for reporting on reading, writing and math. One continuum can be used right through the grades so the children, parents and teachers can see how each child has changed over time. svincent@aspengroveschool.com

  7. mirandarose14

    Hi Chad – We are inquiring into assessment this year and looking forward to exploring different examples of continuums and UOI assessments, if you are still sharing… mrose@aswarsaw.org

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