Making the Walls Teach

Screenshot 2019-09-09 at 11.16.37 AM

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.

MYP Language Acquisition Criteria with Icons

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 , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Screenshot 2019-06-28 at 9.34.07 PM

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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.

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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

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

IB DP performance assessments that occur towards the end of the learning journey provide educators with opportunities to identify the skills students will need to demonstrate in order to demonstrate the application of their skills and knowledge by responding to a literary extract. Likewise, knowing what the goal and the objective of these tasks are, should help educators to design the architecture of their courses by considering the skills that they will employ in order to help students find relationships among the concepts in the story, as well as the concepts in the process of speaking.

The objective of the individual oral is to measure the student’s ability to understand and produce communication in the target language, and to participate in a successful interaction. This suggests that a big part of the guidance we need to provide should aim at helping students to construct their own meanings by engaging in dialogue with the text, and to monitor their reading and “the conversation” they establish with the story.

The constraint of time is a variable that causes students to rush, hence affecting the quality of their response. For this reason, I feel it is important that throughout the course, we help students to achieve mastery in responding to texts by engaging them in response activities emulate the steps of the individual oral. In the design of these learning experiences, we must ensure to get students to do the natural things one does with texts that have been viewed or read, so that they relate what they have experienced and felt to the text and, consequently, develop deeper understandings.

The following statement in the guide helped me to think of a note-taking routine that may help students organize their presentation and be fully aware of the big ideas that may trigger meaningful dialogue with the teacher.

*The student may place the extract in relation to the literary work, but must spend the majority of the presentation discussing the eventsideas, and messages in the extract itself.

The first thing that I did as I explained this routine to students is to understand how these 3 concepts (eventsideas, messages) grow in complexity when we read them next to one another in this order. Once this understanding was confirmed, the next steps followed:

  • We read a literary text.
  • We identified the events in the literary text after reading it.
  • We looked at the series of events we identified and wondered what ideas the writer wanted us to understand through the experiences characters lived in those events.
  • Students framed their responses to the question as follows:
    The writer wants to understand that “individuals use language as a negotiation, mediation, and persuasion tool”.
  • All of the students’ ideas were listed.
  • Finally, I asked: if we read all of these ideas, what is the message or messages in the story; and students replied by synthesizing the concepts the ideas captured.

One of the pedagogical goals of concept-based instruction is that by recognizing the concepts being studied, learners find a relationship among them and state such relationship in a generalization. The strategy that I propose above allows students to achieve this when they talk about the ideas the writer wants us to understand.

What is more, since they will have identified a variety of concepts in their notes and may address them in their presentation, the questions the teacher will ask may help students to further express their understanding of the concepts they mentioned.

Below is a photo of the notes a student took after reading “Story of your Life” by Ted Chiang. The presentation these notes empowered the student to produce was rich in meaning and offered ample possibilities to ask questions to create a meaningful interaction.


* From IB Language B guide (first assessment 2020), page 50.

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The Relationship Between MYP Criterion B and literacy

For the last year, my MYP mathematics team and I have been inquiring into the nature of MYP Criterion B assessment design. The goal of our exploration was to produce guidelines for Criterion B assessment design [similar to the MYP Language Acquisition Teacher Support Material (TSM)], and to identify what concrete ATL skills needed to be explicitly taught in order to guarantee success in this criterion.

Our first step in this inquiry was to take a look at different Criterion B assessments developed by teachers in different IB MYP schools. With the generous help of Alison Yang and Katie Wellbrook, my team and I collected a substantial amount of assessment samples that, along with ours, would help us find patterns in the design and skills demanded- totally emulating a Criterion B task if you like.

Our conversations revolved around the emphasis on designing learning experiences through which students experience discovery, and through which they develop their ability to inquire in the MYP mathematics classroom. Likewise, teachers agreed with the idea that effective learning experiences in MYP mathematics should allow students to select a problem-solving technique, and to eventually be able to describe a general rule consistent with incorrect findings. Therefore, the team concluded that, not only do MYP mathematics teachers need to give enough direction, and help students construct understandings, but also equip students with strategies that students are able to name and grab from their “mental toolbox” when needed.

A pattern that we found is that most Criterion B assessments are reading comprehension tasks in nature. So, clearly, we started wondering about the differences between good readers in the language class, and good mathematicians (when reading). These were some of the ideas we concluded.

  • Mathematicians call upon prior knowledge to understand concepts and solve problems.
  • Mathematicians are procedurally fluent.
  • Mathematicians create multiple representations of mathematics concepts and problems.
  • Mathematicians use multiple strategies to understand concepts and solve problems.
  • Mathematicians monitor their understanding as they solve problems.
  • Mathematicians clearly explain their mathematical thinking to others.

For this reason, in order to support students to be good readers in mathematics, we started putting together a set of strategies for pre, during, and after reading that will support students to understand what a word problem is about, what is asking of them, how they have to answer it, what mathematics they need to use and why. More details about this in a future post.

Nonetheless, when we started thinking about how we could turn this finding in a consistent practice in the classroom; when we began to think about the characteristic features of the routines we needed to put in place to help students enrich their learning habits, and to eventually achieve “flow” (I am referring to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of flow). We had explored a variety of scenarios, and the answer was not easy to find.

It is funny how many times inspiration comes from places and sources where we haven’t looked, and I was lucky to have my 5 senses on when Cecilia Flores (@educolitas), a PYP educator, showed me how she was training her students to organize their notes, to solve problems, to find patterns in the solutions they worked out, and to define mathematics concepts (including examples and non-examples) in their own words.

I tweeted the images below, which show the examples of work that Cecilia allowed me to take of the notebook where she models to students and a couple of students’ samples. Credit for the strategy and the work reflected on the images goes all to her.

This is not the first time Cecilia impresses me with the rich learning scenarios she has the ability to design; however, this time I am glad I was in the right place at the right time; for thanks to her, now we have realized how we can best build a bridge between mathematics in PYP and MYP. The next blog post in this “MYP Criterion B Investigation Series” will include a podcast in which she will be featured as a guest”.

Posted in Concept-Based Teaching and Learning, IB MYP, IB PYP, Language Support, Strategies | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments