Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Revisiting the approaches to learning skills

Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to lead an 3 day Approaches to Learning  skills workshop and to revisit the ATL skills not long after during an IB librarians continuum workshop.

One thing that strikes me is how schools are still latched onto the 140 examples of ATL skills found in the Appendix of the MYP principles in Practice. They have created lists, scope and sequences, ticking the boxes in Managebac or Rubicon and used these 140 EXAMPLES as the ATL skills which must be covered (forced into the curriculum) rather than focusing on the conceptual categories and clusters. 

Those 140 skills listed in the appendix are examples of what the cluster could look like in practice, they are not the be and end all of the ATL skills. Schools must separate ticking the boxes from good practice. Use the examples as a guide - there are far more specific ATL skills that can be taught that  are being developed through the assessments you are setting for the students.

  • "Appendix 1 contains a framework for the ATL skills that students may develop in the MYP." p.65 of PiP 2014 

Each of the MYP subject criteria have the ATL skills embedded in the criteria strands, which can then be used to create a scope and sequence for your subject based on what you teach and assess across the year levels.

The image below from Aloha Lavina demonstrates this quite clearly. (Click to enlarge). Read her post on the ATL skills for even more insight.

The ATL skills are not limited to or even need to include those 140 examples in Principles in Practice Appendix 1. They can be used as a guide as to what could be included under each category and cluster. 

"Schools can use this list to build their own frameworks for developing students who are empowered as self-directed learners, and teachers in all subject groups can draw from these skills to identify approaches to learning that students will develop in MYP units."  p.64 of PiP 2014

There are no rules to state these 140 need to be used, the only requirement regarding teaching the ATL skills being explicitly taught is that the students are exposed and taught from each category and cluster through each year level, across all subjects, across all 5 years. There is a requirement to map what is taught and by whom and to to articulate the progression of what is taught through the 5 year programme, but the standards and practices do not specify what specific skills need to be taught, just that the categories and clusters are covered across the 5 years of the programme.

This flexibility allows for schools to identify what their students need to learn and when they need to learn them based on the required assessment tasks. If an assessment task requires that students give a 5 minute presentation to show their learning, then the teacher needs to explicitly teach presentation skills (communication skills) and build upon what the students can already do from their prior learning. If the assessment task requires an essay, then the teacher of that specific subject needs to explicitly teach aspects of writing an essay that will be assessed in that task.

If you set an assessment task, you need to teach the students how to achieve in that assessment task. That is the formula for deciding what ATL skills need to be explicitly taught in your units. 

What I see and hear happening in schools is that the 140 skills are made into a scope and sequence and then taught (or not taught at all)  without making authentic connections to learning in the unit. This is working by the letter and not by the spirit in which the ATL skills were designed.

The flexibility of focussing on the categories and clusters also allows schools who have specific national or regional capabilities they need to address to do so without adding anything extra to the documentation. For example, the Australian Curriculum has within it the ACARA general capabilities. These are quite broad but fit quite well into the ATL categories and clusters, even adding extra capabilities of cultural and ethical understandings. In an attempt to illustrate how well these do integrate, I have taken the broadest statements from ACARA and placed them under the ATL categories and clusters. You can see the attempt here.  The beauty of using these capabilities in the unit planning and overviews is that the national bodies have already designed a scope and sequence, and the wheel does not have to be reinvented by each individual school.

This same strategy can be applied to any national standards or capabilities, the ATL skills are a conceptual framework, they are not an extra thing that is forced into the curriculum or teaching time. 

If the students are explicitly taught the skills they will need to show their learning in a specific way, the capacity of the students will improve and you will find they will achieve much better because you have given them the skills to achieve. 
The ATL skills are the foundation to what is presented in an assessment task. The high achievers in your class are not much smarter than the other students, they just have a better grasp of the skills they need to achieve better results in assessments.

I have written about this before about 12 months ago ... The Approaches to learning Skills and before that over 2 years ago in Repackaging skills.

I have also developed a website that outlines what types of skills can come under each of the clusters that may be helpful to determine what can be taught under each of the categories and clusters. Practical Approaches to Learning.

1 comment:

Aloha Lavina said...

Thank you, Diane for this post. The statement that nails it for me is "ATL skills are a conceptual framework, they are not an extra thing that is forced into the curriculum or teaching time. " For school systems upon which competencies are essential foundations for learners' success, the approaches to learning skills are not extra add-ons but these skills are fundamental tools for learners to carry learning forward in unfamiliar contexts, in increasingly complex tasks, including tasks outside of the school setting. ATL skills are embedded in standards, success criteria, and planned for in instruction. They are conceptually-based as iterations of concepts such as development, patterns, responsibility and many other concepts. They tie contexts to concepts and content and provide scaffolding for individual children's zones of proximal development. Certainly worth revisiting and collaborating on, ATL skills as illustrated in your blog form the pillars of success for students in any school system.