Yes, This is it!


Original entry – March, 2007. I have the feeling I will have to come back to this post on many occasions for as long as I teach in the IB. Baptizing it with the exclamation ‘This is it!” is only a spontaneous sign after realizing that I have landed in a teaching and learning paradigm where the exploration of the ‘how to teach’ and ‘how to learn’ will be at the heart of my praxis and it will generate opportunities for creation, debate, inquiry and challenge, altogether significant and meaningful. Thus, possibly, ‘this is it!’ might as well just mean the beginning of a series of iterations. In October of 1999, when Carol Lethaby, forever my favorite teacher and mentor, and David Nunan lead a session on situational and experiential learning, I realized that allowing our / learners’ skills to emerge in class and to serve a purpose through the activities that we / teachers generate is one of the best ways through which one will develop the automatic notion of: learning in order to create new things. Carol and David, spoke about the value of experience, about how important it was for teachers to acknowledge them and, most importantly, about how it was teachers’ job to know what kind of students they have and what the collective experience of theirs looked like in order to turn the class into a lab, into a workshop, into a place of multilateral learning. After nearly 8 years, these words haven’t ceased to hunt me, and I still believe in them. Today, Diego Monroe led a workshop on Approaches to Learning or ‘learning to learn’ in the IB, and the opportunities teachers have to generate learning scenarios where their student put the knowledge and skills they discover in the IB DP to practice, so that they do not become collectible items that they might never use. Monroe made a point when he stated that ‘IB DP was not what it was because of the rigor of its exams and the challenge in its curriculum, but because of the readiness for action these created’, and I could not agree more. As a language teacher, in these 7 months that I have been teaching language A and language B, I have finally understood how linguistic competencies flow; what the bridge between each subject connects and what it takes for one to walk from B to A. I have become aware of the importance of scaffolding, of truly thinking what to teach first in order to generate future opportunities in which ideas and information can be recycled, reused, re-polished and improved. And while in Language B it is often more difficult to challenge ideas and explore understandings due to the level of language students have, in Language A, learning is in the air and its texture can be felt through the dialogue that takes place through the questions that orbit in the air and claim a response, and through the journeys teachers and students walk. I certainly hope that teachers of other subjects feel this way and be smart to maximize the potential of the subject matter they handle. I am just a little envious and feel like I could do a kick ass job teaching humanities. So this is it! It’s show time!

First iteration, October 20th, 2007

Said and done! I am back on this post and I know I will be back again! The fact that unit planning in DP is underestimated is kind of a pity! Many colleagues of mine would raise their voice if they heard me say this, but the truth is that I feel that anecdotal learning is an essential part of how teachers acknowledge their new understanding and of how they build their repertoire. I have started teaching MYP this year. We just had a session on the Areas of Interaction (AOI) and I now I am fully convinced that Approaches to Learning is the heart of the IB pedagogy, and this is justified by how learners’ are placed in the core of the model. Yet, one thing intrigues me, even though it is the one AOI that needs to be present in all unit planners (since we can only choose one of the others), it is not discussed as much as it should. I attended an AOI workshop and since I feel I have done quite a good job understanding how content and contexts can be customized according to AOI other than ATL, I felt the workshop leader avoided most of my queries about those approaches to learning. I was curious; I wanted to know if the IB had devised a few basic ones, or if there were a series of approaches that I needed to implement mandatorily, but no answers. As a foreign language teacher I am trained to utilize a variety of methods and approaches in order to make learning happen, in order to develop different competencies and in order to maximize the substance in the resources I use, and it therefore makes me wonder how come this is not discussed in this AOI (ATL) at all. I am more than convinced that teachers will always need to explore different teaching scenarios for even the most boring and lazy ones will eventually get tired of teaching from the front of their classes or from the chair behind their desks. On my way back home, I had a revelation when looking at the inquiry cycle. Maybe ATL were not expressively because we had to inquire and explore on our own, be what we want students to be. And yes, this is the romantic teacher in me.

 Second iteration, April 30th, 2008

 A bit more than a year ago I wrote this entry, and I am now sure that I meant every single phoneme in the expression: ‘I will be back to this post’. Exploring different ways of doing things has become a habit- and a good one! And while on many occasions I have faced the dissatisfaction of outcomes that were not as I desired, I have learned that they are stops in the journey. What is true, however, is the fact that students always appreciate my (or our) attempts to try to do things differently. Our Coordinator has had us work on student learning expectations (SLE), and it has become both a ‘hot topic’ and a ‘don’t go there’ to compare MYP and DP. The resistance of DP teachers to try to modify their ways impresses me, and what impresses me the most is how some colleagues who teach MYP and DP are different people in both programs. A few colleagues and I, those romantic dreamers who believe in dialogue and in the creation of experiences in the classroom, put across a series of ‘activities’ that would be a good idea to turn into mandatory ones so that the fulfillment of our SLE be within our curriculum, integrated and so that covering them does not seem a fabricated attempt. Yet, our attempt at being innovative turned out to be the spark that ignited fire. I just could not believe that some people were not creative enough to know how to paly with the order of their content so that connections could be built. I mean we were not asking to change the rotation orbits of Jupiter and Mars. Yet it seemed like an impossible task. It is clear that I am writing this entry with frustration, but I firmly believe that in order for the learning to become a journey from grade 1 to grade 12, a series of core experiences must exist in each year so that every skills and competency, along with the information that students acquire in each year is tested. Children would become their best evaluators if they have these opportunities; there would be more opportunities to discuss reflection and it would feel real. And most importantly we/teachers would be demonstrating that there is a forum in the real world to try what we learn. Saddened but not defeated, we, the 6 musketeers, will be giving it a go. After all, we want to try, we want to explore, we want to enjoy with students. Like Anne-Catherine, the French teacher said, ‘this is it! We are la resistance!’

 Third iteration, May 5th, 2008

 Today is a day of pride! We had our culminating activities show in the languages department and 4 of the 6 musketeers were able to demonstrate how SLE such as media literacy, research and collaboration can yield wonderful results. As the original musketeers said, ‘all for one and one for all’, and these skills acted as such. And the best part of it was that the whole closure project was student-initiated. We joined forces with grade 10, 11 and 12 literature students and teachers joined forces in an exploration of how Revolutionary Attitudes either remain or have disappeared in Guadalajara, Mexico. Since many of the literature items grades 11 and 12 are studying belong to the Mexican Revolution genre, we thought it’d be a good idea to explore whether adults of various age groups were still able to observe specific attitudes of that time: machismo, anti-American/European feelings; defensiveness; and the guerrillera effect on women. We conducted brainstorm sessions; round tables to discuss the main ideas in novels; how we could generate questions to ask people and generate dialogue. We also evaluated the power of questions, which would allow us to obtain data in our attempt to reach a consensus; and we also considered different ways of collecting it, collating it and analyzing it. Data findings debate sessions were a highlight in the experience, for we were both entertained and intrigued by the ideas people shared. With the information we collated and analyzed, we decided to ask students to look at it and transfer the main ideas in the book to the modern times so that we could contrast the extent to which they were similar. Moreover, once the pathways could be traced, students were to generate a product: video or play, in which they portrayed those pathways and emphasized their big ideas by utilizing the data that they found. We also decided to make a documentary of our journey, for this would be a living proof of everything we experienced. Students’ fulfillment of their own expectations, the most important thing, was obvious, and for that we were happy. Particular skills of other subjects were utilized in literature, and we proved that reading novels truly transcends the time when they were written for there will always be opportunities to assess how intensely we continue to learn from those ideas that inspired great works.

Fourth iteration, November 2009

 This is the first iteration that is written outside my home country, Mexico. I am writing from Jordan, from the International Academy Amman, where I have had the opportunity to become involved in the development of social and emotional learning resources for the transition from PYP-MYP. Needless to say, my excitement finds its source in the fact that both PYP and MYP coordinators understand my vision of doing it through the lenses of the ATL. Thinking what skills are needed in order to generate a learning experience in which grade 5 students become ready to start the MYP at their fullest potential, and how they can realize what they already possess so they can operate in new challenges has become one of the most stimulating experiences in the school. Transitions are opportunities in which learnings that have been consolidated need to be targeted in order develop them further. We do not want them to go dormant, but to stay active and alive. With a focus on collaboration and communication, a series of tasks have been generated in order to allow 6th graders to remember what it felt like to go from grade 5 to grade 6 and to instruct their classmates on it. For grade 6 students, this will grant them with a feeling of ownership, and we/teachers will witness what has already been enhanced, what needs further support, and who needs new challenges. I am hoping this experience gives us the opportunity to streamline ATL development from PYP-DP.

 5th Iteration, April 2011.

 I think this is the last time I edit this post. Soon it will look either like a Personal Project report of an Extended Essay. I come back to this post for the original idea that made write the entry was present at school today. The DP coordinator, who previously was the MYP coordinator, has started a movement that he has entitled: what do Areas of Interaction (AOI) become in DP? As it was expected from someone like me, I automatically reminisced my wondering and wanderings on ATL in DP and stated that I was most interested in seeing how IB DP work truly validated the ATL that were fostered in PYP and DP. As someone whose background is MYP and understands the importance of ATL in DP, Mr. Thompson had us participate in an inquiry in which we looked at our subjects’ curriculum and the way we delivered added a new step to the skill and competency scaffolding that was done in MYP. Interestingly enough, the discussion was ardent and fervent, but focused. Possibly the observation that drew my attention the most was the way DP teachers (who did not teach MYP) were fascinated by the way inquiries took place and evolved. Needless to say, I think that they experienced the Aha! Moment students undergo when they realize how one’s ability to evaluate, assess, and challenge the ideas put across is possibly the best way to manage information and construct with and on top of it.

November 6th, 2014 Iteration.

While I promised that I would not come back to this post to re-edit it, after finishing the ATL Workshop training, I truly feel I need to pay tribute to this journey of mine in which my passion for ATL in the IB, especially in DP, is now a fact, and, most importantly, I get to learn about it with other experienced educators. THIS IS IT!


About Rafael Angel

Concept-Based Curriculum and Instructor Independent Trainer. Concept-Based Foreign Language Curriculum and Instruction specialist. Teaching and Learning Director; lives for traveling, reading, learning and tasting new flavours; culture and art lover; passionate about cinema and music. IB MYP, DP Workshop Leader. Mexican YouTuber and Soundclouder.
This entry was posted in ATL, IB DP, IB MYP and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Yes, This is it!

  1. Christi says:

    ¿Que ha sido todo esto? ¿Una realista respuesta a infinitas preguntas respondidas por un hombre maduro de 29?…mmmm, sería extraño decir que con solo con yu autodescripcion has creado en mi una sensación de una vieja y sólida amistad, pues si es verdad la edad que anuncias, errante el mundo que te ve ahora, pudiste ser un gran escritor romántico, si si si con un humor tan negro que no saca risas sino dudas de la verdad que contiene….
         Fue un placer…  ATTE: Méllitta

  2. Joshua Duarte says:

    Very interesting journey!
    I loved the anecdotal way in which you narrated the evolution of your perceptions and understandings in the field of ATL. It is interesting that the documentation of your own process has caused you to experience ATL both as a teacher and as a student: you have become a student of your own passion.
    Teaching is a challenge nowadays, and the more equipped and sensitized we are regarding how we need to go about the delivery of specific content in any subject will determine how learnable and applicable it will be. I think students nowadays are hungry for discovering ways to create: they like learning, not studying, and if we are not able to see that as teachers, we will not be contributing to their journey.
    What I gather from your experience (after reading other entries) is the intentionality of your desire to learn as a teacher, which is often translated into environments for inquiry; and I think students are able to see that. Maybe that is what we need to do nowadays: to keep learning from attitudes and ways of learning in the present in order to empathize with students, for the teacher who has stopped learning and experimenting can only recall ideas, not cause impact.
    Thank you for sharing your reflection.

  3. I think a good backward planning Grade 12 to Grade 1 could actually develop the right teaching-learning experience. With changing times if we look for a situation after 12 years our present Grade 1 students will be looking into a completely different world. Question is will they be ready for this change. Appropriate Unit Planning plays a vital role to ensure the effective teaching-learning process. We in our school days had the least use of technology than the present generation. The demand and use of technology has changed drastically. The challenges put in front of human race by nature is critical (though we are partially responsible for this). New diseases / virus / germs rising every year is putting us into a situation where we cannot survive without critical thinking (SOS). Our journey from teacher centered to student centered classroom has shown some good results but not enough to ensure that the present generation can take care of their future challenges. The world needs to go ahead together. Every individual will need to share and create combined effect of their skills and intellectual judgment abilities (critical thinking). You have placed very good resources and ideas. Thanks. Sudipta.

    • rafangel says:

      Dear Sudita,
      thank you for sharing your insights. Backward planning will always allow us to scaffold skills and knowledge; but I also feel that being aware of the skills students are bringing along with them as they progress on the continuum is imperative for, as you say, changes are rapid and novelty causes the learning-teaching environment to incorporate different approaches that might not have been considered or existed when the planning was finalized.
      Good planning needs to be flexible and be ready to welcome adjustments. Even the way we plan needs to be differentiated.
      I personally like how the integration of technology in teaching opens a new paradigm. I recently wrote a paper on e-Approaches to learning in which I researched how virtual environments allow for the exploration of different learning environments which will undoubtedly produce understandings in formats that are not possible in a more conventional way.
      Not only does the challenge we face as teachers now has to do with access to information and its management, but also with creation skills- what we can do with it, and how we are able to enrich it and it can continue to spread.
      These are exiting moments for the redefinition of teachers.

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