I have been to two planning sessions with Year 1. The aim of the sessions was to use the PYP Language Scope & Sequence document to identify the receptive and expressive language that could be used and developed during their next unit of inquiry.
The unit looked pretty tough at first glance because the central idea seems pretty complex and also a little strange to be doing with Year 1 students!
One thing that struck me when I looked at the planner was that it didn’t seem to have a clear purpose and the understandings the team were hoping to illicit from the students were also not that clear. This is not the fault of the Y1 Team as this was a unit they hadn’t created themselves and was also one they really struggled to get their heads around last year. However, they did say that it turned out to be one of the best units of the year!!!
I have found that, unless we are very clear about where we are trying to take students it is very difficult to plan for the language that will be used and developed in the unit. This quote really helped me to understand that:
My interpretation of this proverb is that, without a clear sense of where a unit is headed teachers could just pluck at any seemingly relevant, random activities. How often have you sat in planning meetings where enough time hasn’t been devoted to clearly establishing the understandings you’re hoping for, and where loads of time is spent coming up with random activities that may or may not take understanding further or deeper? I have sat in hundreds of them!
I asked the team if we could use a strategy I learned from Chris Frost, now PYP Coordinator at Tokyo International School.
Once they have checked out the central idea and chosen their key PYP Concepts, Chris gets his teaching teams to write simple sentences to explain why those concepts are so useful. The sentences start with
“We want the students to understand that…”
Here’s some examples from planners created at Chris’ former school:
Here are the sentences that the Year 1 Team created for the concepts of form and perspective:
“We want the students to understand that images can highlight different features of Thailand.”
“We want the students to understand that tourists and residents see places differently.”
By identifying these conceptual understandings, we really had a strong sense of what the unit is all about, and also where language fits into it.
The next phase was to look at the Scope & Sequence document to identify the receptive and expressive language within the unit. I left this display on the wall of their meeting room for a week:
During the week, they highlighted the conceptual understandings and learning outcomes that they felt were within the unit. The strand of language that dominated was Viewing & Presenting, so we focused on that in our next meeting. These are the things they highlighted:
Phase One: “We can enjoy and learn from visual language.”
Phase Two: “People use static and moving images to communicate ideas and information.”
“reveal their own feelings in response to visual presentations” and “make personal connections to visual texts.”
“attend to visual information showing understanding through discussion, role-play, illustrations”
“talk about their own feelings in response to visual messages; show empathy for the way others might feel”
“show their understanding that visual messages influence our behaviour”
“connect visual information with their own experiences to construct their own meaning”
“observe and discuss illustrations in picture books and simple reference books, commenting on the information being conveyed”
“become aware of the use and organization of visual effects to create a particular impact”
“observe visual images and begin to appreciate, and be able to express, they they have been created to achieve particular purposes”
“discuss their own feelings in response to visual messages; listen to other responses, realizing that people react differently”
“view a range of visual language formats and discuss their effectiveness, for example, film/video, posters, drama”
At this point the connections, the teaching ideas started to flow very naturally. The ideas were so good and so powerful that I really wanted to stay in Year 1 for a while to help them teach it!!!
Using the distinction between receptive and expressive language that is outlined here…
… the Year 4 Team and I looked at the language within their next unit of inquiry. The photo above shows the simple way that we collected our thoughts. The document below shows the information after a bit more work after meeting. It’s a great overview of the richness of language learning that will take place in the unit.
The main aim of the language arts presentations was to get a good understanding of our current beliefs and practices about language teaching and learning so that we can look at how they compare with PYP philosophy.
One of the main constants in every team’s presentations was a belief in “integration”, “transdisciplinary teaching” and “language as a vehicle for inquiry” (see the images below).
These beliefs are clearly aligned with the first two sections of the incredibly helpful chart on p. 71 of “Making the PYP Happen:
So, the next step is to see if our practices are just as aligned as our beliefs. The plan is to do this through planning sessions using this diagram from page 4 of the Language Scope and Sequence Document:
We will do this in the planning session following the initial planning of the unit of inquiry by which the following would normally have been covered:
- Cross-examination and clarification of the central idea
- Outlining desired conceptual understandings
- Consensus on assessment tools and/or strategies
At this point, it is appropriate to look at what receptive language will be needed/developed in the unit for students to receive and process information, and the expressive language that will be needed/developed in the unit or students to express their understanding. The outcome of this should be:
- Clear transdisciplinary links between the unit and language, i.e. language as a genuine “vehicle for inquiry”
- Clear areas for stand-alone focus
- Clear direction for skills development
- Clear focus for Learning Support and ESL Teachers