8Hr+ of Reflection about the MYP Evaluation Process

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In my last school in China, I had the opportunity to lead the orchestration of two important processes: CIS accreditation, and MYP Evaluation. Having participated in evaluation processes as a teacher and head of department, I had notions of what was needed in order to experience ownership of the outcomes and to begin to imagine future pathways.

In order not to forget ideas, challenges, and reflections during my preparation for these two experiences, I wrote two blog posts, one about the meaning of the journey and its different stages, and another about the school climate, the roles, and the reflection process. As I commence to collaborate with my fellow program coordinators in my current school to design the pathways for evaluation, I am reminded of the 8Hrs+ reflection I experienced upon reading Dr. Aloha Lavina’s ‘The 8-hour Action Plan’, and how the system(s) she proposes encouraged me to reflect on the effectiveness of the ones I put in place in my former school.

Screenshot 2019-11-23 at 5.31.23 PMDr. Lavina’s work keeps my thinking focused on four main dimensions: roles, space, strategies, and time; how I navigate each of them as a coordinator, and how I ought to address each them, considering my teammates as essential cogs in the overall system. I have attempted to illustrate how Dr. Lavina’s expertise causes me to put myself in the shoes of an orchestra director and think of ways in which I will make every member of the orchestra understand that while each produces a very specific sound, the melody we all produce should unite the best of each of us, should synthesize our essences, and be one.

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As I think about different ways to harmonize understandings when designing evaluation pathways, I cannot think but think of the way farmers work the land, how they keep track of the weather to decide when the best time to begin is, to assess their readiness, and to commit to the relationship they will have with the plants that will be growing. Farmers do not plant seeds without keeping the harvesting time in mind, and they understand that the people they were when they began the planting process will not be the same compared to who they will be when they harvest the land and prepare for the next cycle.

Dr. Lavina’s The 8-hour Action plan has helped me enrich and strengthen the systems I have previously used as a coordinator, and has reaffirmed the importance of not underestimating the socio-emotional aspects of the process, in which the evaluation of our work and aspirations is the drive that will keep us going.

I look forward to the reflections I will be writing once the pathways for my current school are designed and ready to be walked.

Posted in Collaboration, Curriculum, IB MYP, Program Evaluation, Reflection | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Removing Barriers in the Language Classroom


A recent conversation about inclusion, made me reflect on how, rather than differentiating to support learning, I am removing the barriers for learning in the decisions I make as a teacher. Differentiated teaching was not invented last year. Not only is it a practice that reveals the observant and caring attributes of a teacher, but also a behavior that demonstrates how the teacher handles and manages the knowledge and skills in his subject. I remember what one colleague of mine once said to me: not knowing how to generate flexible learning scenarios for developing a specific understanding is living your teaching life in a tunnel-vision-like manner.

One thing is true about inclusion: it will never be impactful and meaningful if we do not know our students; if we do not know their challenges; what makes them lose focus; what processes stimulate them; and if we do not know the kind of chemistry that will result from having student A working with student B in comparison to having student B working with student C.

Comprehensible input in the classroom occurs through various means, and from different sources: the teacher, other students, a video, a book, and audio, among others. These different sources of input already give us an idea of possible systems we can put in place to support students’ learning.

I wonder if

– You have tried recording instructions or the steps of a guided task for those students that have strong reception skills but struggle processing.
– When working in teams, you have asked students to take turns to read out loud, for the students whose listening skills are stronger than their reading skills.
– If you have modified readings by changing the order of information, adding pictures, including diagrams, mini-tasks or tables, to help students read in steps without missing out on the big understandings in the text.

Metaphorically speaking, if some cultures use spoons, others chopsticks, and others their hands, why should we assume that all learners will be happy eating with a fork?

Nonetheless, many times differentiation is mostly needed when we want students to engage with information and produce something; when we want to observe their output. So let me share ideas that have worked for me when working on ‘products’, keeping in mind the process at all times.

You can see an example of this modification here:

Original Text | Modified Text

Let’s classify texts in four categories:
– Instructive.
– Persuasive.
– Informative.
– Descriptive.

Now let’s wonder:

  • What kind of texts do I normally ask my students to write?
  • What is the most appropriate text for each of the big conceptual understandings in my subject for which I would ask students to write?
  • What kind of skills are involved in each kind of text? Have I taught them?
  • What are the elements that help us create meaning in each text type? (diagrams, tables, figures, etc)
  • In which type of media would each category of text appear?
  • Is that a type of media that I ask students to read? (To make sure we have given them an example/pattern to follow)
  • What kind of language is needed to produce each type of paper?
  • What challenges do the conventions of each text type represent for students?

Clearly, if we are aware of the kind of language and skills needed to produce a certain kind of paper, we will know which one to assign to each kind of student. Different kinds of paper allow us to convey the same meaning.

Let’s classify oral activities in five categories:
– One-on-One Speaking (Student-Student or Student-Teacher.
– Small-Group or Team-Based Oral Work.
– Full-Class Discussions (Teacher- or Student-Led).
– In-Class Debates and Deliberations.
– Speeches and Presentations

Now let’s wonder:

  • How can each type of oral activity help students specific practice vocabulary, skills, and address concepts to develop new understandings depending on their needs?
  • How can different contexts, topics or expected communicative outcomes help us ‘manipulate’ each category?
  • What kind of language and skills that are essential in my subject can each category help me address?

When it comes down to collaboration, there is an endless list of strategies for collaboration that can be used to differentiate learning. From pair work to small group work, and whole-class; to interactions whose layers help students learn at their own pace. However, I have had very interesting successes with the following routine in the language class, as I have students work in groups according to their level. Students engage in activities whose outcome will be used by the other groups.

A sample table that maps how I run the routine is shown below (Example of a Language Acquisition class).
Multilateral collaboration

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We teach students to write cohesively and produce pieces of written work that ‘feel’ like one unified piece. Do our units feel like that? Or are they more like a collection of random, disengaged items that help students explore facts, and practice basic skills, but do not enable them to make connections or give them the opportunity to take learning (despite their level) to a different plateau?

After years of collaboration with brilliant teachers and creative minds, I have become fond of the idea that teaching that is absent of differentiation is careless, and learning that is absent from inquiry and personalized opportunities is thoughtless.

For me, the most valuable aspect of differentiation is that differentiated teaching allows us to collect an incredibly diverse kind of data about the way learning is happening, and this is a gift we should not jeopardize with. At the end of the day, our planning and teaching should be informed by evidence of learning, and only by seeing different scenarios and what happens in each will we know how effective our teaching is.

To end this post, I would like to share some accommodations that I have made with struggling learners and to challenge advanced learners.

Scaffolding for Struggling Learners

■ Reteaching with a different method: I made sure I had an audio file in case I wanted to re-enter the process through listening; if using a text; I made sure I had a version whose sections had a task each and, hence, contributed to help students connect ideas; I also had images and graphic organizers ready to be used in case students needed to look at information differently.
■ I asked one of my students to be a reading partner if needed. Since reading aloud also helps him focus, this was a win-win situation- This provided peer support for collaborative learning.
■ Throughout the unit, I asked students to take notes in different formats. I knew exactly how new information was going to be useful in future tasks, so by taking notes in one way, students were generating tools for the future- their notes became classroom resources to complete future tasks.
■ I made sure there was a model or exemplar that allowed students to see a pattern, which they could replicate.
■ Breaking down the task in order to furnish step-by-step directions was also part of my repertoire. This helped students wrap up learning cycles and be able to continue with what was not finished.
■ I made sure I included hint bubbles to information or past lessons that could support their work.
■ I color-coded different elements; highlighting specific focusing; including mini-processes that helped students process information more rapidly without noticing.
■ Provided sentence strips or sticky labels with useful, categorized terms, or manipulatives that could help students visualize possible formulas or combinations.
■ Although this was not one of my favorites, a couple of times this strategy did rescue students from not being engaged: a partially completed graphic organizer or outline.
■ Since we had a growth mindset that students used as a learning path, out-of-sequence steps were provided for students to sequence their thinking and also to check their work.
■ Since I had recorded a text on some occasions, I transformed the text/script into a cloze (fill-in-the-blank) series of paragraphs for students whose language is extremely limited (I think this could also work for those who struggle with graphomotor skills).
■ For encouraging rich ideas in the writing process, I gave a framed format with ‘checkpoints’ or ‘standards’ to help students organize their writing and use a variety of language and ideas. These served as labels for students to simply place information appropriately.
■ I prepared slips of paper with guiding questions for work at different stages or in different sections of a long task.
■ Established a direct connection to assessment criteria, supply a word bank that students could use to be successful.

Challenging Advanced Learners
■ I designed activities in various formats: more complex, abstract, independent, and/or multistep. This also encouraged me to ask students to choose the challenge for the day.
■ I had a series of extension questions as a challenge or task that requires them to think beyond the concrete and obvious to more abstract ideas and new use of the information. This represented an opportunity to practice transfer to and from other areas of knowledge/subjects.
■ I included more detailed question items, asking for more complex expression of ideas: different types of sentences, more than two adjectives or type of verb (action or stative) to describe what’s happening. Students are used to generative grammar patterns, so they knew what challenge each pattern represented.

■ I encouraged them to use metaphors and/or similes, idiomatic expressions, or specific literary elements to be included in their writing, instead of responding in what would be a more natural answer.
■ I asked students to note relationships and point out connections among ideas: compare and contrast; cause and effect; problem and solution; sequence; advantages and disadvantages; benefits; past lessons; information covered in other subjects, etc.
■ I used the visible thinking routine ‘circles of perspectives, in order to have students tell the story or ask questions (and interact) from a different point of view.
■ I asked students to practice empathy and place themselves into the story or time period and write from the first-person point of view, choosing one character that is the least similar to them (when there are multiple characters).
■ I encouraged students to consider and prepare “What if?” scenarios and exchange them with other (advanced) students.
■ My favorite strategy was providing a problem or model that did not work so that students could solve it.
■ Presented different choices of work for students to choose from. These options had to do with using information in a completely new way (Design an awareness campaign about … ; Create a flier to inform …; Write/give a speech to convince …; Write an article to educate …; Write an ad to warn others about …; Design a program to solve the problem of …. )
■ And finally, this is something I never truly had the chance to do, as I think this was the ultimate challenge for my most advanced students in this class: asking students to suggest tips or hints that would help others who struggle to make sense of the information.

Other posts I have written on differentiation:
The things I think about when I differentiate
Entering the differentiated world

I would like Language eductors to check the work of Deborah Blaz, which focuses on language acquisition and provides extraordinary and practical advice on how to remove the barriers for learning in the language class.



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Making the Walls Teach

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During my summer holidays, I had the chance to meet with a friend of mine who is a stage director. When I arrived at his place he was in the midst of finalizing the design of the stage that where the universe of his next play would be born. He asked me to give him a few minutes while he assessed whether the decisions he was making in terms of the visual information he was sharing with the audience made any sense.

His words made me reflect on the classroom as an equivalent of a stage, and whether we, teachers, think of its design with a sense of audience. This realization made me think of the following questions:

  • Do we only put up posters to occupy space or to fulfill standards of different boards?
  • Do we put up displays because we will intentionally be referring to them throughout the year?
  • Do we make choices thinking about how much we can use our displays to teach and support students?
  • Have we produced the resources with a sense of audience?
  • Is the information in our displays presented in a way our audience will understand?
  • Are our walls teaching?

I am happy to be teaching Spanish again after a long time, and I must say that seeing my friend turned out to be a brief yet very powerful PD summer session for I am trying to be a lot more intentional with what I display in my grade 9 Spanish classroom these days.

Below are a few resources I shared on different social media.

Dual Coding MYP Assessment Posters

Concepts in Action in Spanish

Examples of Command Terms in Spanish

Posted in #MakeGrowthHappen, ATL, Concept-Based Foreign Language Instruction, Concept-Based Teaching and Learning, IB MYP, Resources | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

IB Continuum Transitions: Parents

This is the first installment of a series titled IB Continuum Transitions. This entry focuses on parents. There will be two more installments: PYP-MYP students; and MYP-DP students. The experience described in these installments is based on my experience as MYPC at Qingdao Amerasia International School, in Qingdao, China.

J. Rafael Angel

PYP-MYP Parent Transition at Qingdao Amerasia International School.

The objective of the PYP-MYP parent transition is to support parents whose children have concluded PYP at QAIS to become aware of the connections between PYP and MYP, as well as the most significant differences between both programs. For parents whose children are not part of QAIS PYP, a differentiated IB jargon-friendly session is planned.

Historically, QAIS PYP-MYP parent transition was conducted by the MYP Coordinator and is orchestrated in collaboration with the PYP Coordinator and the PYP5 homeroom teacher. Organizing this process in this manner allows all stakeholders to be aware of goals, dates, and necessary arrangements that may be needed.

A key takeaway, if not the most important, is for parents to finalize this session with the understanding that both PYP and MYP are similar in essence. Parents should become aware that, at the core, both programs, focus on the student, are implemented by placing special value to approaches to teaching and learning, as well as service as action. Likewise, it is important to help parents understand how while instruction in the MYP will move towards a more subject-based approach, explicit instruction and demonstration of skills for success, conceptual understandings, and service as action learning outcomes, and IB LP-related dispositions will still be at the chore of the learning experience.

For this reason, as the MYP Coordinator shares information with parents, s/he will need to help parents understand that ATL skills, Service as Action Learning Outcomes and the IB Learner Profile Attributes are all brought to life through the curriculum, which constitutes the one element that differentiates the MYP from other Middle School Frameworks. Similarly, it will be important for the MYP Coordinator to help parents begin to understand that the MYP believes in assessment for learning; that assessment in the MYP is criterion-based, that each subject has 4 different assessment criteria with specific demands, and that, therefore, assessment across MYP subjects will look different.

Since the academic year 2016-2017, parents are invited to attend a presentation that showcases the similarities and differences between the PYP and the MYP. This presentation is supported by as a set of slides that includes purposefully targeted translations in Chinese and Korean in order to support parents’ understanding, and so that they do not have to solely rely on the live translation.

The items parents are provided with during this presentation are cited below:

  • A folder that provides information about the MYP model. The information printed on the folder is printed in Chinese to provide access to Chinese-speaking parents.
  • A document (in English and Chinese), which presents the findings of MYP research conducted by the IB. This report presents successes in implementation and successes in the transition to DP and university.
  • A handout with the slides, so that they take notes as they participate in the presentation.
  • A document (shared electronically) titled: Understanding the MYP: A guide for QAIS parents, which is available in English, Chinese, and Korean.

The table below shows the suggested timeline for planning the PYP-MYP parents:

Screenshot 2019-06-28 at 9.35.57 PMAn excerpt of the MYP Parent Ed Institute Calendar for the Academic year 2018-2019 can be seen below, as an example.

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Posted in Collaboration, IB Continuum Transitions | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Approaches to Scaffolding the MYP Personal Project

While the MYP Personal Project as the culminating task for the MYP takes place in the last year of the program, nothing prevents us from providing students with experiences through which they achieve mastery of the skills necessary to succeed in this major task. For the last 4 years at my current school, we have been exploring different ways to design a Personal Project journey that truly responds to the need of our context: a population of students in which more than 70% of them are English language learners.

This exploration has encouraged us to think of different learning involvements that we can introduce in different years of the MYP, in order to gradually help students to arrive in MYP 5 with a series of experiences that we can cite so that they know what process we are talking about. In other words, just like one needs to provide comprehensible input to language learners, we wanted to sensitize students to jargon, protocols, processes, design of criteria for success, and the plethora of considerations they needed to think about when choosing a project.

The first decision we took was to design unstructured experiences in MYP 1-4 for students to become familiar with the explorations in the Global Contexts; to practice articulating concepts in statements of understanding; so they gradually master their skills in producing criteria for success; and for them to become familiar with process writing constructing a report for their outcomes. The screenshot below captures the report an MYP1 student produced for an IDU between language acquisition and visual arts.

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While we always introduced the MYP PP experience in MYP4, we wanted to engage MYP students in a more tactical way, so that they became an active part of the process to design the personal project journey that truly catered to their interests and strengths. At all cost, we wanted students to avoid starting the process with a sense of deficit, and to actually consider possibilities.

Therefore, we involved MYP4 students in a dialogue with MYP5 students during their Personal Project Presentations. MYP4 students were given the following questions, for which they had to record answers from their interactions with MYP5 students:

  • How did you develop an interest in this topic?
  • When did you choose your topic?
  • What other choices did you consider?
  • What helped you make up your mind?
  • How did you narrow down your project?
  • How did you learn your project was challenging?
  • What was important about the conferences with your supervisor?

Students submitted their responses and the MYP PP Coordinator and I produced a report with survey findings. These results were presented to MYP4 students in a collaborative session in which they inquired into the reasons behind the choices their peers in MYP5 had made. The screenshots below show the results we presented to students.

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In order for students to truly focus on the “personal” part of the personal project, and to invite them to start their journey considering their strengths and passions to seek challenge, we presented with a ‘passion and ability’ quadrants diagram that Dr. Zhao talked about in the IB Global Conference in Tokyo, 2017. With this very simple visual aid, students used a series of skills, habits, and behaviors that we had previously brainstormed to place them at the point in the quadrant that allowed them to identify in which they could employ they strengths and pursue their interest to the fullest potential. The images below were taken during this session.

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Another aspect of this exploration was to find more opportunities for MYPC and PPC to collaborate and enrich the PP planning journey with dialogue that moved us beyond steps and deadlines and gave us the opportunity to explore our creativity to design a pathway that truly focused on what the cohort desired and hoped to experience. As we looked at the interests that students shared with us, we used the visible thinking routine SEE-THINK-WONDER to synthesize what students had shared with us.

We know that this is not by any means a perfect protocol to support students in the MYP PP journey, but we are happy to acknowledge that this is one that truly responds to our context needs, and to the culture of thinking and learning we want in the MYP.

Posted in Collaboration, IB MYP, Personal Project | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments


On April 21, 2019, I made an announcement on Facebook and Twitter about my intention to offer Professional Development free of cost to any public school or group of public schools in any of the non-OECD countries (except Mexico).  This blog post is a follow up to that publication.

In this blog post, I have included the terms for my endeavor.

Terms and conditions JRA

El 21 de abril de 2019, hice un anuncio en Facebook y Twitter sobre mi intención de ofrecer Desarrollo Profesional sin costo a cualquier escuela pública o grupo de escuelas públicas en cualquiera de los países que no pertenecen a la OCDE (excepto México). Esta publicación da seguimiento a tal anuncio.

A continuación he incluido los términos en español de esta iniciativa.

Condiciones JRA

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Concept-Based Foreign Language Instruction Strategies


I have put together this post which includes most of my posts on concept-based foreign language instruction strategies.

If this interest you, subscribe to it as I will be updating it constantly.

Miscelaneous strategies for Concept-Based foreign language instruction

Previous blog posts related to Concept-Based Foreign Language Instruction

How can we help students achieve a conceptual understanding?

Inquiry-based learning is a lesson on humility.

Approaches to amplifying the Interdisciplinary Experience in MYP.

A Service-led Unit: A Triathlon of Learning.

The Language B HL Individual Oral: An avenue to allow students to express their conceptual understandings.

A Spanish as a foreign language Concept-Based Unit of work (narrated in English).

Focus on thematic concepts.

Spanish Language and Literature strategy
¿Cómo se grababan las radionovelas?

Chinese as a foreign language resources

An example of how to create (and model) the creation of effective “texts” for beginners in Chinese as a foreign language.

Youtuber Video

Example of a teacher-designed Chinese as a foreign language text based on a real-life item

Chinese as a Foreign Language Reading Beginner- Real life text


Posted in Concept-Based Foreign Language Instruction, Concept-Based Teaching and Learning, IB DP, IB MYP, Resources, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment