Thursday, July 7, 2016

Approaches to Learning skills

This post is going to be a straight up post about the Approaches to Learning in the IB Middle Years Programme and what I have learned about them in teaching and working with them through workshops I have led and hopefully it will help others to gain the insights that I have arrived at and ease some of the stress about them. The principles discussed can be applied to the DP and PYP as well.


The Approaches to Learning Skills are conceptual in design. They are made up of 15 conceptual ideas about different tools of learning. They are divided into 5 main categories and 10 clusters.


The five categories are: 

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The ten clusters are: 


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When working with the ATL skills, these categories and clusters are non negotiable, which means they are the concepts with which teachers must work within when planning to teach, map and identify the skills. All teachers in MYP schools are responsible for integrating and explicitly teaching ATL skills.

In the MYP: Principles into Practice  (Appendix 1 p. 97) these categories and clusters are expanded into a framework with suggestions of what skills may be included under each of the headings. These are not the be all and end all of ATL skills. In fact, these are suggestions of a possible framework only and can be modified to suit the needs of the school, students as well as local and national requirements as explained on page 21 of the MYP Principles into Practice. 
  1. "Appendix 1 provides a framework of important ATL skills for MYP students. Schools can identify additional disciplinary and interdisciplinary skills within this framework that meet the needs of students as well as local or national requirements. " 
After working with the ATL skills deeply with teachers in workshops I have discovered that schools are using these examples of skills as the gospel of the only ATL skills that can be taught, and they are being jammed into the curriculum without much thought or unpacking. Managebac has a drop down menu of these skills, as does Atlas without any other option to input other skills that the school or teacher is developing. This is going by the letter of the law rather than the spirit. The list of ATL skills in the appendix are suggestions that could be used. Used by themselves without unpacking they really are too broad as they offer little description in what skills are being taught and learned.

The big idea behind the approaches to learning is that they are taught explicitly based on and correlated to the required assessment task at the end of the unit. For example, in year 1 of the MYP, in Individuals and Societies, an assessment task requires a student to give a verbal presentation with a slide show on Forces of Nature. This would be assessed under -

Individuals & Society - Year 1
Criterion C - Communicating 􏰇􏰞􏰎 : 
       i.Communicate information and ideas with clarity􏰈􏰋􏰔􏰔􏰄􏰌􏰇􏰈􏰉􏰊􏰂􏰎􏰇􏰌􏰛􏰋􏰁􏰔􏰉􏰊􏰇􏰋􏰌􏰎􏰉􏰌􏰏􏰎􏰇􏰏􏰂􏰉􏰒􏰎􏰜􏰇􏰊􏰕􏰎􏰈􏰆􏰉􏰁􏰇􏰊􏰓􏰎
     ii. Organise information and ideas effectively for the task
     iii. List sources of information in a way that follows instructions

For students to achieve in that assessment task, they need to know and demonstrate presentation skills which would include but not be limited to : - 
  • planning and drafting a presentation with opening, body & closure in a logical order
  • voice projection, 
  • Clarity & fluency of speech
  • Variety - pace, pitch, emphasis, pause
  • facing the audience, 
  • speaking without reading off notes, 
  • knowledge of subject
  • designing good slides & visuals, 
  • appropriate transitions and animations,
  • engaging the audience
  • knowing the audience
  • time management
  • meeting deadlines
These skills would come under : 

CategoryCommunications skills, Cluster - Effective communication through interaction, 
Category - Self management - Cluster - Organisation skills.

Using the Framework in the PiP Appendix - the suggested skills would be : 

Communication skills: 
  • Use a variety of media to communicate with a range of audiences
  • Use a variety of speaking techniques to communicate with a variety of audiences 
  • Share ideas with multiple audiences using a variety of digital environments and media
  • Organize and depict information logically 
Organisation skills
  • Plan short- and long-term assignments; meet deadlines
  • Create plans to prepare for summative assessments (examinations and performances) 
  • Use appropriate strategies for organizing complex information 
  • Select and use technology effectively and productively 
The skills offered in the Principles into Practice are too broad to be able to be taught effectively and with any possible real measurement or meaning. They need to be broken down further to make them meaningful and from there, the vertical and horizontal mapping can be developed with much more intent.

"In the MYP unit planner, teachers identify ATL skills—general as well as subject-specific—that students will need to develop, through their engagement with the unit’s learning experiences (including formative assessments), to meet the unit’s objectives. "p. 63  PiP.

For the assessment and unit example above, some (not all) of the presentation skills need to be identified by the teacher of the unit as those that need to be learned, and then explicitly taught through the unit, and hence assessed through the task specific subject criterion through the completed assessment. 


"MYP assessment plays a significant role in the development of ATL skills, especially skills that are closely related to subject-group objectives. The MYP approach to assessment recognises the importance of assessing not only the products, but also the process, of learning. " p. 79 PiP.

For example in the task assessment rubric it may develop from something like this :- 

Individuals & Societies
Criterion C - Communicating 􏰇􏰞􏰎 :  Year 1.
       i.Communicate information and ideas with clarity􏰈􏰋􏰔􏰔􏰄􏰌􏰇􏰈􏰉􏰊􏰂􏰎􏰇􏰌􏰛􏰋􏰁􏰔􏰉􏰊􏰇􏰋􏰌􏰎􏰉􏰌􏰏􏰎􏰇􏰏􏰂􏰉􏰒􏰎􏰜􏰇􏰊􏰕􏰎􏰈􏰆􏰉􏰁􏰇􏰊􏰓􏰎
              Skills focused on : - Voice projection, clarity and fluency of speech
                                              Audience Connection 
     ii. Organise information and ideas effectively for the task
             Skills focused on :- planning and drafting a logical presentation - 
                                            with focus on the  opening or hook
                                            Slide design using CARP principles
     iii. List sources of information in a way that follows instructions
             Skills focused on :- Writing a bibliography

The specific presentation skills would then be mapped as being taught and assessed in this unit by this teacher (in his case Dianne). Other teachers could teach the same skills, slightly differently with different resources, or they could build on what has already been taught well and move on to one of the other presentations skills so that the students will reach the end of the year with all of the planned skill developed ready to move into year 2 and 3.

A possible example of horizontal planning ...


The important part of the mapping and teaching of the ATL skills is that is it strategic, you map what you will teach or have explicitly taught based on the requirements of the assessment task.

What has been happening in schools in the drop down menu culture is that teachers are looking at the skills from the framework and saying to themselves - "yep - we will cover this, and this and that" ending up with most of the ATL skills selected, but not being explicitly taught in the unit, specific to the assessment task. It is a tick the box exercise and not at all meaningful or helpful. The mapping programmes need to add boxes for further information for the mapping to be useful and meaningful.

There are many assumptions about what students can and cannot do with regard to these skills. In some cases the assessment task requires a student to complete a field report (or lab report, or annotated bibliography etc), but how to write a field report may never be actually explicitly taught. This is an ATL skill under Communication - "Use appropriate forms of writing for different purposes and audiences" which is then further broken down into more specific forms of communication ie "Using a specific format and including required information, write a field report"

Once these skills have been identified for each year level for each assessment task and unit across the curriculum, the vertical planning becomes clear. 

This approach is flexible enough to allow national standards to be incorporated into the curriculum without trying to jam them, or create an added burden into the MYP framework. If the suggested skills are looked at critically and compared alongside national standards such as the Common Core (USA) , ACARA (Australia), National Standards (NZ), the national Curriculum (UK) or any other nations standards, they are all pretty similar. 

Myth busting: 
1. There is no requirement for all of the 140 framework suggestions to be taught or mapped in the MYP. (from Further Guidance for developing ATL in the MYP) 

2. It is not necessary for planning for teaching, assessing and reporting on all 5 MYP ATL skill categories or 10 MYP ATL skill clusters, they should used as a guide to direct learning and opportunities for learning. (from Further Guidance for developing ATL in the MYP).

3. All the MYP requires for the ATL skills documentation is that schools demonstrate that teachers have time to work on this important aspect of curriculum planning. Robust horizontal articulation (year-level planning across subject groups) will include discussion about ATL skills that cross disciplinary boundaries. The results of these discussions do not have to be documented in order to meet requirements for MYP authorisation and evaluation (from Further Guidance for developing ATL in the MYP).
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So - stop stressing out about the Approaches to Learning, most teachers are already teaching them but now they need to be mindful of why they are teaching them and when. 


The ATL skills should not be taught as a stand alone but in context of what skills the students need to achieve in the units of work and they do need to be explicitly taught. 



Remember also you are working with a team of teachers across the school who are all responsible for teaching these skills, collaboration and conversations are required. It is not a single persons job to teach all skills to all students.

The MYP co-ordinator needs to be tracking what is being taught where and by whom, so that an idea of strengths and weaknesses can be identified in the curriculum to ensure the students have learned many of the skills before they leave school.

Those 140 skills suggestions in the appendix?  Use them as a base to build more meaningful descriptors of skills. They do not need to be (or should not be) used as a check the box exercise.

Links to resources that provide more specific skill descriptors are below: 

The image below is a graphical representation of how the MYP planner works with all of the pieces connecting with each other. The ATL skills role and place is depicted in red in the lower right hand corner. 
I would appreciate any feedback you have on this post in the comments.

2 comments:

Nadine Bailey said...

Great article - of course it all relies on the coordinators having a very good grip / overview on the when and how throughout the program!
just wondering what the status of ATL is currently in the PYP program?

Susan Waterworth said...

Dianne,

This article has been very helpful for me and the MYP Coordinator I shared it with. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and expertise.