The ATL Skills Museum

Every morning, throughout this academic year, our advisory program has engaged students in talking about learning.

MYP students have watched inspirational videos and expressed their opinion about them; they have also looked at a variety of Global Issues and have commented upon them; they have engaged in the study of specific skills they have to develop; they have collaborated in summarizing their learning in a variety of ways; and, most importantly, they have become aware of how the learning tools they have around them.

For the last weeks, MYP2 (grade 7 students) have been collaborating in the design of posters through which they presented the most salient aspects of:

  • Collaboration skills
  • Organisation skills
  • Communication skills
  • Reflection skills
  • Information literacy skills
  • Media literacy skills

There was no better way to put their discussions and social skills in place than by preparing a museum of their ATL journey for PYP students who are about to embark on their exhibition journey. Thus, grade 7 students curated an ATL gallery for PYP students, and they were some very committed ATL museum guides.

Our grade 7 students know what it takes to be successful in the PYP Exhibition, so they customised the presentation with a focus on the exhibition. Thus, recognising the role research has in the exhibition, we went back to basics and decided to take a close look at the way we can interact and learn from different printed sources.

Having a book in their hands, exploring their sections, understanding how each section in the book is a learning tool, students added a new element to their presentation: guidelines on how to look at different types of publications.

Therefore, when the presentation date arrived they “gave PYP6 students a tour” of their ATL Skills museum.

Grade 7 students had clearly developed confidence in their presentation skills, and they also demonstrated how they had mastered the ‘learning’ they were passing on to their PYP peers. Nonetheless, the highlight of this collaboration is the extent to which they related to which PYP6 students needed, hence making this experience a very relevant one.

We cannot be prouder of our grade 7 students for demonstrating that when Approaches to Learning are part of daily dialogue one can truly augment the meaning and value of learning; opposite to  just having a dead document with a set of skills hat nobody bothers to look at at.

ATL Skills are flavours that one needs to savour, not jargon that one should regurgitate.

The journey does not end there- this was just a rehearsal!

Their job now is to refine their communication skills and the quality of their presentation in order to educate parents into the art of ATL skills.

Posted in ATL, Collaboration, IB MYP, IB PYP | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The journey towards the MYP ePortfolio

The MYP eAssessment acts as a summative task, but it is a holistic formative assessment in nature. For those subjects whose eAssessment components comprise the ePortfolio, the assessment is a journey, an exploration, and an opportunity for students to claim ownership of what they are able to do with the language they are learning.

A portfolio is a learning instrument that demonstrates how learning experiences and engagements were documented. It is not just a selection of papers that were put together to tick a series of of tick boxes. For this reason, the design of the learning process that will be documented needs to be thought meticulously. This blog post shares an experience planning the language acquisition ePortfolio.

As highlighted in the eAssessment guide 2017, a language acquisition portfolio needs to include the following items:


IB MYP eAssessment Guide 2017 pag 34

Thus, as it can be seen, the outcome and expected products are clear. Moreover, if consider the conceptual framework (Key Concept, Related Concept, Global Context, Statement of Inquiry, inquiry questions) that is provided in the partially competed planners, the key elements to design the path for the learning process are also present.

The following illustration shows a general view of how learning was spread along the journey.


The table below indicates the roles teacher and students had at each stage of the process.

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-8-27-37-pmThe ePorfolio will be externally moderated, and examiners will award the final level; however, teachers and students must not miss the opportunity to compare students’ production at the beginning of this unit, and at the end. Portfolios are a valuable tool because they allow us to see how one’s skills evolve; how new learning complements past learning; how encountering new ideas enables us to develop deeper and richer understandings; and how sustainable our progress and achievements are. For this reason, it is my sincere hope that this learning opportunity is not seen as an imposition, but that it is experienced as a process that will contribute to our growth mindset as lifelong language learners.

Below are other ideas/resources that may be useful.

[1] The impact of the Global Context on the Statement of Inquiry

[2] Linguistic aspects in KC, RC, GC.

[3] Exploiting the Statement of Inquiry.

[4] The Unit Planning Compass.

Below is a student’s portfolio created in MYP2. I found that it’s a great idea to introduce the value of keeping a portfolio as a reflection tool, in order to build capacity for the ePortfolio. Note that this portfolio IS NOT an ePortfolio sample, but a demonstration of the power of portfolios as learning tools.

Student’s Work Portfolio


Posted in ATL, Curriculum, eAssessment, MYP, Planning, Resources, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

10 strategies to support EAL learners in IB DP TOK

After the holidays my TOK class will have come to and end, and the time it was devoted to it will be used as study hall for students to received support in areas they want to improve as they prepare for their May exams. They have come up with a series of requests such as: (long) exam-taking strategies; building stamina during exam periods, etc. I, along with other DP teachers, will be happy to support them in a personalized manner, however we can.

As the end approaches, I cannot help but look back at how different and transformational teaching TOK to EAL learners has been. I am an obsessive planner and note keeper. I have a respectable array of resources from past experiences, and a growing digital resource repository that I constantly enrich thanks to the TOK educators group on Facebook. Yet, none of the resources I had collected were specifically designed or targeted EAL learners.

Moreover, while I could always find ideas to enrich the course, on very few occasions did I come across teachers asking about how differentiation and language accommodation was done in TOK classes. At some point I even thought this was never addressed.

Thus, as I reflect on what worked and what did not work these last two years, I thought it’d be a good idea to share a few strategies that have worked for my EAL learners.

 10 strategies to support EAL learners in IB DP TOK

 1. Shelter learning in your classes. If you teach EAL students who join your DP program from traditional local schools, be aware that they may have the knowledge to discuss resources, but they may not know terminology in English. So why not helping them to enrich their jargon by encouraging to keep a practical dictionary.


Screenshot from a student’s digital notes.

2. Devise systems to support students to take notes or analyze resources. This normally works best when one really knows how students learn. A brief discussion with students about the way they learn can give us hints on the tools we can design or help them generate to support their learning.


A tool students called “the TOK mat”

3. Make your walls teach. If you are a lucky teacher who teaches TOK in his/her own classroom, make sure you use your walls to capture ideas for everyone to see how meaning is being co-constructed.

Students making their thinking visible.

 4. Curate your resources. Choose resources that encourage students to access what they have learned in IB DP and in their life as students in and outside the classroom. Many resources can certainly be provocative and insightful, but they may also represent an added challenge to EAL learners.

5. Design resources that teach learners about language. Signal constructions whose word order students need to pay attention to; highlight ideas that include tense or sentence structure that has a special sense and may be challenging to understand. Draw students’ attention to words worth incorporating into their active language.

How to read and interact resources- task sheet.

6. Be aware of your approaches to teaching. Train learners to work with the resources you use in class. Never assume that all learners can access them because you can. Predict language aspects in your tasks and support students with information about the language of instruction. Here is an example about stating facts in past, in English.


7. Use the language you want EAL to master. Use all relevant vocabulary items in relevant exchanges in order for EAL students to be able to see how they are effectively and accurately used. Present them with patterns (sentence stems) they can use to construct their ideas.

img_5385 img_5384
Examples from a history class.

8. Train learners to answer questions depending on the questions’ intention and goal. Look at the following example with ‘inference and prediction’ as a goal.
Here is an example with ‘inference and prediction’ as a goal.

screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-12-44-51-pmTaken from Linguistic Processing Skills ELPS Instructional Tools (2012)

9. Gamify your lessons. Use games that allow them to manipulate vocabulary and structures while still carrying out relevant TOK tasks.

TOK Race download.                                       TOK Questions Snakes & Ladders..

10. Provide them with patterns and guided help. Engaging students in understanding text structures, cohesion, how ideas connect and support one another is best done with a text that is not intimidating and allows them to focus on learning and understanding the how (how ideas are written and linked) rather than on the what (comprehending difficult language.)

Writers Workshop Intermedia Level Learners.

Many teachers may claim that this work is part of the EAL / language support teachers; but I (a language teacher) would claim that by including this learning layers in TOK classes, teachers would really be using language a way of knowing and doing. Moreover, what a best way to demonstrate the attributes of the IB LP by being caring and acknowledge and support EAL efforts to access a subject as complex and abstract as TOK. Besides, and to conclude, this is how we demonstrate with action that we are all language teachers.

Posted in ATL, Differentiation, IB DP, Language Support, TOK | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Statement of Inquiry: A recipe we have to cook in a Global Context

In preparation for launching the unit for eAssessment 2017, a few colleagues and I engaged in dialogue on why the Global Context (GC) is provided. A few wondered, why not the Key Concept (KC) if we are working in a conceptual framework.

I like an analogy that I share in workshops or when discussing the structure of the conceptual framework in language acquisition: if the KC are soccer teams, and the Related Concepts (RC) are the skills each team possesses; the GC is the stadium in which they’d be playing. Altogether, they make a match; they are they generate sources of excitement; and they cause people to undergo a series of processes and emotions before, during, and after the match.

The powerful part of the Global Context is the fact that it defines the conditions in which the game will be played: maybe it’s in a cold city, or in a place with monsoonal weather; hence the player will need to adapt to it. The choice of RC, hence, will depend on what the coach want his team to accomplish.

This means that the Statement of Inquiry (SoI) will be the idea that people will remember from this game: one single idea that captures who played in the game; against whom the team played; the emotions generated, the exceptional use of skills; the learning from mistakes; and the resilience experimented. The SoI, therefore, is not just a headline; it is a ‘living and thinking’ body.

In a previous post that I called The Nutritional Value of the SoI, I shared a couple of tools that have helped me exploit the SoI in a unit. Thus, in this occasion, I would like to share a few thoughts on the impact a GC can have on the way one decides to explore a SoI. Hence, I will describe the role of inquiry questions to generate tasks and to help unpack the SoI, while directly addressing aspects of the GC.

Unit title: Appearances
GC: Identities and relationships.
SoI: Appearances communicate aspects of the way we express our identity, and their impact vary in different contexts.

Inquiry Questions

Inquiry questions are contained in the essence of the statement of inquiry. Inquiry questions are tools that will help us map the pathways of the learning experience and, if devised effectively, one should be able to see the elements of the statement of inquiry in them.

Identifying which elements of the statement of inquiry are included in the inquiry questions will allow us to see the extent to which we are unpacking its meaning and the degree to which we will be ready to discuss, debate, evaluate and transform the ideas in the SoI.


Below is an example 3-tier approach in which inquiry questions are used to map the learning pathways, by dividing a unit in 3 sections.


Approaches to teaching and Learning

The table below shows tasks that are relevant to generate learning scenarios that address each question of inquiry. Once the pathways is mapped, resources and learning experiences can be curated in a way that they allow learners to access past information and use it along with any new understandings that are developed. Likewise, since sessions are framed in a question format, this could provide students with a hint to personalize information and use all ideas shared in any product/outcome that they are required to produce.



Last but not least, the table below is the unit’s understanding checker that students are given in order to see the extent to which they can identify the key elements of the SoI. By doing this, we are enabling students to appreciate how learning occurred in the GC chosen. This simple exercise can serve as a tool for them to employ when they have to choose the GC for their personal project.



Posted in Curriculum, IB MYP, Inquiry, Personal Project, Planning, Spanish By Concept | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TOK or Practice of Knowledge?


Unmodified image taken from:

My experience teaching Theory of Knowledge (TOK) may not be as broad and diverse as my experience teaching languages. Nonetheless, despite its brief length, the explorations I have dwelled into are as vast as one could expect.

I have always incorporated the essence of TOK in all my language teaching, both in MYP and DP. I have also refused to teach TOK when the people in charge want me to teach resources they have chosen, which I feel is completely against the inquiry and critical thinking base nature of the subject: we navigate the waves of knowledge reacting to what the world allows us to explore and employing all knowledge and skills we possess, always fighting against intellectual colonization.

Yet, this year presented me with a unique scenario; one that is a TOK exploration on its own: teaching TOK to students whose mother tongue is not English, and whose level of English may not be at the point that is needed to engage with authentic resources. Clearly, differentiated teaching and learning was the first thought that emerged in my mind, but for some reason I was able to see different layers of differentiation that I had not come across before: realizing that not only do student not know some words but also the sense of some concepts, for example. Thus, the answer was not to tech a series of terms but to help students become familiar and adopt (as if adopting a child) new meanings that they could incorporate in their speech, and regard every process we practiced as a new tool that was theirs to own. I did not want to waste students’ thinking and skills.

While teaching and learning TOK we tend to say we are co-constructing understandings. However, as I was trying to create patters for easing the way towards comprehension and application, I realized that we were co-constructing learning.

A session in which difficulties were beyond what I foresaw gave way to developing tools to scaffold. A session in which students needed specific help to work with certain information gave way to using specific tools to disseminate and use information. When I looked at a resource and identified the amount of essential terminology for comprehension, many times TOK seemed like a language class. This is the magical part, nonetheless.

As a result, instead of treating the subject as theory, I decided to treat it as practice- the subject became Practice of Knowledge. In other words, I explored every possible corner of my creativity to help students use the tools they had, starting from their senses. I went into the DP unit planners of the subjects they were studying and identified big understandings I could use in the class; I spoke to their subject teachers to learn how has dealt with specific ideas in the contexts addressed in their subjects and I attempted to recreate real life situations in which these concepts and processes were employed.

skillsIn class, students found opportunities to use sense perception, memory, instinct and imagination to understand language. We were cooking with ways of knowing (WOK) everyday, mixing ingredients in different ways. Yes, I admit that many times we could not go as deeply as we could have, but we explored well, hard, and profoundly; and we left the class with a sense of accomplishment: we had many connections; we had used what we know; we had identified new ways to employ ideas; we were readier to welcome new ways of looking at things.

It’s taken me a few months to write this post, and I wonder if I am even making sense. I want to reflect on the value this experience has had for me as much as I want to praise my students for not being afraid of working with big ideas with limited language. Is this a thought that has been entertained in curriculum reviews, I wonder?  Are all TOK teachers using their own WOKs to show how sensitized they are towards students’ needs and styles of learning?

I once heard someone say TOK is the core of IB DP because it’s the subject in which transfer, critical thinking and all ATL Skills are employed, and I agree. However, this particular teacher did all the talking in his TOK class and I wonder how that promoted any of this.

So, as I reflect on my TOK journey this year, I wonder if those of us who love and respect this subject use it as an instrument to shape our approaches to teaching; if becoming knowledgeable and enriching our expertise has contributed to helping us devise learning tools to support students’ journeys. And most importantly, if we have become inspired to use the subject as a forum in which students realize how much they can do with what they know, so that they see how instrumental is everything they have learned, and every skill they have developed.

I wonder how many are thinking whether this works in theory; but trust me, in practice it does.

I will therefore continue to teach practice of knowledge.


We employed every kind of authentic learning experience available: from Museums, to Service and Action, to mention a couple.

Posted in ATL, Curriculum, Differentiation, IB DP, Inquiry, TOK | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SPT Conferences: Lost & Found


Taken from:

Conferences have always represented a moment to emphasize the importance of the relationship that must exist between learners, teachers, and parents. Most importantly, I have always regarded these occasions as an opportunity to, collaboratively, move away from practices that destroy the learning spirit of a child; from ideas that cause us to lose a learner; from generalized agreements / assumptions of what causes false expectations, and causes us to ignore that children and all of us, for that matter, are not the same people we were in the last conference. Reflection is transformational and visualizing its impact should be the goal of all conferences.

Clearly, I love talking about learning and achievements, and about learning targets. Nonetheless, my favorite part of conferences is the human, socio-emotional aspect, because..

It’s important to remind parents that:

  • their children are kind.
  • their children arrive at school with a smile on their faces
  • words such as thank you, please, and would you mind, among others, are part of their everyday language.
  • their children can be the best kind of communicators as they exercise active listening.
  • their children see their peers as equal and support they wholeheartedly.
  • their children are brave when they take chances to explore learning opportunities that some find indomitable.
  • their children have a voice that makes others turn around and hear them.
  • their children constantly look for different ways of doing things.
  • learning with their children give us moments to reflect on what it means to learn for life.
  • all processes are learning opportunities for us teachers as well.

Most importantly, I feel, these occasions are important because parents need to be given a stimulus to extend the dialogue at home, to deepen the inquiry, and to make home feel like an extension of school: a safe space where the way one perceives the world matters; and where there is room for different perspectives.

In this past conferences at QAIS, not only was I impressed by how eloquently my MYP2 (grade 7) students spoke about their learning process, and explained to their parents how they perceive their growth. Needless to say, seeing the stories that were born in parents’ eyes as their witnessed how their children talk about learning was my biggest take away.

Las week, as I spoke to parents and students, I was happy to see how my advisees, their children, helped me sent their parents home knowing they had found a side of their children they may or may not have thought they’d lost or didn’t know existed.


Posted in ATL, Collaboration, IB MYP, Inquiry, Reflection | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pokemon Go is just the tip of the iceberg.


We can get creative and devise educational ways to use Pokémon, but if we are solely focusing on the App, and forgetting that there is more depth to this than just the Pokémon Go Version, we could be missing big opportunities to go beyond the fad. In order to “educationally weaponize” something like Pokémon, we need to know the background, who are the characters, what they do, how they are different, what they like and dislike about one another, what they look like, what they wish, and how they use their skills. Attempting to use Pokémon for educational purposes by solely looking at the geographical and statistical features the Pokémon Go App showcases will cause us to only scratch the surface of its potential.

I was about to become a University student when Pokémon was released. While I was not fascinated by the Game Boy version, I was certainly drawn to the manga version and the cards. Now, as I look back at the decks of cards I initially helped my cousins collect, I could only wish I had already started teaching languages so that I could use them. Fact of the matter is, back in 1996, the habit of looking for teaching ideas on the Internet or for Gamified activities was not so widespread. Luckily for me, I have a good memory.

I wonder if it’s a pity that Pokémon Go came out in the summer when schools (at least in the northern hemisphere) could not take advantage of the momentum and employ it at school, or whether it was a good thing so that players of all ages could enjoy it in its element. I am personally thankful that it came out in the summer, because it allowed me to learn about it with the people with who I would use it, and for whom I would create learning scenarios: children. Yes, I do feel that sometimes ignoring children’s contribution to a movement such as this, and depriving them from the opportunity to teach the adults, can turn learning experiences into insipid moments of fabricated pedagogy.

Thus, I spent a few days with my nephews and their friends sharing my Pokémon stories, asking and answering questions, and engaging in dialogue about our experience with this App that allowed our generations to have a meeting point for leisure and enjoyable learning. So here are the minutes from my Pokémon adventures with these young fellows, a summary of things they thought they would enjoy doing at school:

Please note that these ideas DO NOT refer to Pokémon Go, but can enrich the experience of using Pokémon Go in the classroom.

Ideas for Language:

a) Pokémon Trainer
– What are the skills a Pokémon trainer needs?
b) Pokémon Gym Leader:
– What are the skills a Pokémon Gym Leader needs?
– How is a Pokémon Gym Leader different from a Pokémon Learner?

c) Pokémon and their skills
(Pokémon is both used as singular and plural)
– What does X look like?
– Where can X be found?
– What does X Pokémon evolve from/into?
– Against which Pokémon can I use to battle?

Communication Skills:

  • Write a letter informing someone s/he is ready to become a Pokémon Trainer.
  • Write a letter of application explaining why you are suitable to become a Pokémon Gym Leader.
  • Devise a rubric to indicate the characteristic features and skills needed to become a Pokémon Gym Leader.
  • Write a response letter (acceptance or rejection) for applicants.
  • Participate with a classmate in a role play to simulate a interview for becoming a Pokémon Trainer / Gym Leader.
  • Create infomercials to sells items needed for Pokémon battles/ training.
  • What if Pokémon became criminals were caught and ran away from prison? Write wanted notices, and provide details for ransom.
  • Write speeches in favor or against Pokémon as pets?
  • Writing short stories using specific Pokémon in specific locations and circumstances.
  • Write or talk about comparisons of Pokémon and historical figures or mythological creatures.

Ideas for biology or geography.

  • Take a walk around the school and stop at different points (garden, fountain, park, etc.) and have students design a Pokémon considering the natural features of the place. Students make indicate the Pokémon’s skills, their strengths, and their weaknesses.
  1. The same thing can be done with biomes, as a result of chemical reactions (Hulk?)
  • Controlling Pokémon population in certain territories?
  • Alternative ways to classify Pokémon.
  • Would there be places on earth or the universe to mine stardust or Pokémon candies?

Ideas for ethics.

  • Could Pokémon powers be learned/acquired? Who should regulate this: government? Religion?
  • What would a Pokémon zoo look like? How would people experience it?
  • When would a Pokémon be an endangered species?
  • How could you combat Pokémon poaching?
  • What would initiatives against experimentation on Pokémon defend?
  • Could Pokémon cause people to develop adoration of fake Gods? (Quite debatable one)
  • What if humans attempted to use Pokémon stardust or candies? Would this be similar to using drugs?
  • What would a mix of humans and Pokémon look like? Like an evolution of MewTwo?

Ideas for Design Technology:

  • How to construct improved Poké balls? What would we need and why? What would the specifications be?
  • Constructing cages to capture the strongest Pokémon. What would we need and why? What would the specifications be?
  • Creative thinking- how to design Pokémon traps.

Ideas for Physical Education:

  • Design (fake) programs to become Pokémon trainers or Gym Leaders.
  • Designing training charts depending on the Pokémon one wants to train.
  • Use mathematics in a Pokémon Olympiads. Look at speed, force, etc.



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