ATL skills

Frame and Canvas for Student Designed Assessment

Self-directed change as performance of understanding

In every unit of inquiry there is potential for student-generated assessment. As learning is a response to deliberately designed experiences, learning is a change in the learner’s skills, knowledge, understanding as well as post-unit decisions or actions. Action as a result of learning can be owned and led by students. Teachers provide the frame for learning, but what’s on the canvas belongs to the student.

Contextual framework of a unit on Change and Relationships

The problem that prompted the interdisciplinary unit “Be the Change” was a set of behavioral habits of many members of a class. Many members of this (middle school) class for which the unit was designed had poor impulse control exhibited by behaviors like talking over each other because they did not practice wait time or did not subscribe to the classroom agreements for supporting own and others’ learning. As a result of these unproductive habits, learning was often interrupted in the class, and over the years the students had developed many conceptual gaps, which emerged in underachievement in a wide range of subjects.

Conceptual frame of the unit

The team of teachers approached the unit design with their own questions from the context in which they wanted to impact the students’ thinking, and these questions reflected how the students would learn in the unit. The teachers asked:

  • How might students learn through the concepts so that their own choices change their behavior?
  • How might students learn about how the brain and cognition command outwardly expressed behavior?
  • How might students apply their learning in authentic ways relevant to themselves?
  • What sort of summative task would sustain students-led action?

These questions became the teachers’ context for the overarching goals for student learning in the unit. The design considerations inherent in the teachers’ questions gave them the goal of helping students to learn that “Change in how a person feels, thinks and acts can change how they perceive, understand and form relationships.” This became the statement of understanding in the unit. Through the unit, students might attain the concept of change as it pertained to thinking and resultant behavior. Through the conceptual learning of concepts patterns and relationships, students might learn of the relationships between how their thinking affected how they perceived others and themselves. Through the content illustrating the concepts, students might learn specific ways by which cognition controlled behavior. Through the open-ended task of the unit, students might find ways to sustain a change in their behavior as a result of learning.

The teachers created a few guiding questions for the unit designed to guide the conceptual inquiry.

  • Factual question: How does the brain work that results in how people feel, think and act?
  • Conceptual questions: How do people learn? How do people change because of what they learn?
  • Debatable question: To what extent can we change ourselves and change our relationships?

Construct of the unit

Prior to beginning the unit, the teachers had facilitated essential agreements between teachers and the class. They had dialogued about the expectations of the school and asked the students to discuss with them the behaviors, which would allow the students to express the expectations in how they behaved. These agreements became the basis for classroom management protocols used in each class the students attended. The agreements were made the year prior to the unit itself; these agreements had been revisited in the year when the unit was conceived just before it was taught. The need for the inquiry stemmed from the persisting habits which hindered the students’ learning.

The teachers used the authentic context of the conflicts that resulted between students and other students, conflicts between students and teachers, as the basis for the unit of inquiry. This global context of Identities and relationships was real to the individuals who spent time learning together every day, and created a significant cognitive landscape for learning in the unit.

The content the teachers prepared consisted of knowledge about how people learn. How people learn was explored in depth through texts on how the brain learns and how habits form.

A menu of texts were prepared by the teachers, ranging from a popular science article on brain function and habits, a set of Youtube videos explaining aspects of how the brain learned, parts of the brain, how habits are formed, TED videos to provoke thinking and questioning by the students. Interacting with the materials, students began to form connections between the brain and how the brain learned, and how personal ways to learn become habits, for instance how patterns of thinking affect how people perceive tasks or challenges, which was a conclusion students arrived at as they exhausted their factual study. As students began to grow in their understanding of the connections between the brain and learning, students began to ask their own questions. A research frenzy ensued, driven by students’ curiosity about their own individual learning. Their questions stemmed from personal concerns, like “Will less sleep make me less smart?” and “Do video games really harm children?” and “Is personality permanent?”

The students’ own inquiries based on personally relevant learning questions were guided by the teachers toward the big idea of learning as a source of change, the main concept framing the unit. As students attained conceptual understanding by making connections between content and concepts, they arrived at their own conclusions about what people have to do to change as a result of what and how they learned. Students had authentic concerns for themselves and their learning, and these became the basis for the students’ design of their own tasks for the summative assessment of the unit.


Schulsport by Maximilian Schonherr. CC via Wikimedia Commons

Student-designed assessment tasks

The teachers designed an open-ended assessment. Students were asked to formulate a plan of change. In the plan, students had to:

  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of learning as a source of change (unit concept) using what they understood about patterns (unit concept) of learning they had learned through the source materials
  • identify a context for their intended change based on how their current behavior affected their relationships (unit concept) in a specific situation
  • explain how their plan addressed a change that would improve the relationship in their context, and justify how the changes in their behavior were supported by what they had learned in the unit
  • articulate a plan to monitor their own behavior in the context they described, and what success of changing would look like and how it would affect the relationships in their context.

This open-ended assessment task allowed students to:

  • Use knowledge and conceptual understanding
  • Find personal significance for their action plan
  • Structure a process by which their learning in the unit transferred to a real-life situation
  • Structure into their implementation process personal ways to monitor and self-assess

The power of the personally significant, student-generated questions drove the learning in the unit. The potential for each student to discover his or her own empowerment served to propel the students forward in the unit, especially since this unit assessment was not awarded any grade. In the larger scheme of things, the unit was designed around advisory time, which was not graded.

The students remained engaged, and continued to remain engaged in enacting their personal change as a performance of understanding.

Sustainable learning resulting from a performance of understanding

The potential for transformational learning is evident in this unit. A student in this class devised a simple way for him to keep track of his behavioral goal, which was “to decrease the number of times I spoke without taking my turn and increase the number of times I raised my hand to volunteer.” His approach was to use an index card to tally the number of times he spoke out of turn without waiting, and to tally the number of times he raised his hand to volunteer and wait to be called. Every week, he monitored his tallies on the index card, and rewarded himself if he met the goal of decreasing impulsivity and increasing impulse control.

Units that intend for students to perform conceptual understanding require a complex set of design considerations, which allow students to deepen both how they learn and what they understand in the units of learning. The deliberate ways by which teachers can design the rehearsal of thinking skills into a unit of work lead to opportunities by which students are able to draw upon their understanding of concepts and skills to solve unfamiliar problems in assessments requiring the performance of understanding.

Photo credits

Cover Photo বাংলা: বাংলার By Md Raihan rana – Own work CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Schulsport By Maximilian Schönherr – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

On a More Beautiful Question

In rethinking the shift to constructivist approaches in the classroom, one guiding principle stands out as key in considerations around inquiry. Warren Berger, in his book A More Beautiful Question, captures the process of inquiry, “Ambitious, catalytic questioning tends to follow a progression, one that often starts with stepping back and seeing things differently and ends with taking action on a particular question” (Berger 7). Designing inquiry into classroom learning accepts that the learning trajectory of students:

  • Follow individualized, personal processes
  • May use investigation cycles for guidance
  • Can result in shifting perspectives
  • Can result in taking action based on learning

Inquiry is individualized and personal

Students may be curious about different aspects of the big idea presented in the statement of inquiry of a unit. Teachers need to consider the scope of the unit, the time it is allocated, and what could be personal trajectories and choices students can pursue. Design considerations about the scope of the unit depends upon the scope addressed in the statement of inquiry. One suggestion might be to discuss with students as the group deconstructs the big idea or statement of inquiry.

For example, if the statement of inquiry is something like, “Several forces act upon people as they migrate, creating challenges for both migrants and natives of a place and diffusing cultures in unexpected ways,” some of the sub-ideas might be:

  • There are personal reasons why people migrate
  • There may be social forces that compel groups of people to migrate
  • The experiences of migration are both individual and social in essence
  • Migration does not happen in a vacuum, so there will be forces acting upon the movement of people, and these forces are experienced in a variety of ways.
  • Migration of people can create challenges for migrants.
  • Migration can create challenges for natives of a place.
  • Culture is diffused when people migrate, as immigrants bring their culture to a different setting.
  • Migrants must necessarily encounter cultures in the place to which they migrate.
  • When ideas collide, new ideas might emerge.
  • Diffusion of cultures can happen in unexpected ways.

Students might choose to investigate different aspects as each seems significant to themselves.

When this happens, teachers need to allow for this scope and variation in the lines of inquiry.

Inquiry is cyclical and iterative

Firestein (Berger,16) suggests that “One good question can give rise to several layers of answers, can inspire decades-long searches for solutions, can generate whole new fields of inquiry, and can prompt changes in entrenched thinking,… but answers, on the other hand, often end the process.”

A linear approach to lines of inquiry means that as soon as students find the answers to a question, the inquiry ends.

We know that effective investigations give rise to additional questions. This is inherent in investigations because all knowledge and concepts are interlinked in any number of ways. When students are taught that asking questions means being open to an interdisciplinary universe, they might become more open to extending inquiry as they progress through their investigations.

The usefulness of Criterion B in any of the MYP subjects is perhaps to anchor inquiries to subject-specific processes. A process “may not provide any answers or solutions, but, as one design-thinker told me, having a process helps you to keep taking next steps—so that even when you don’t know what you’re doing, you still know what to do” (Berger 33).

Inquiry can result in shifting perspectives

In the unit exploring the big idea “Several forces act upon people as they migrate, creating challenges for both migrants and natives of a place and diffusing cultures in unexpected ways,” students might discover these ‘answers’ which might give rise to the follow up questions (in italics):

  • Students will know the subject content of migration cases, various reasons why people migrate, and the choices that are enabled or limited by standards and laws of migration in different countries. How do laws limit choices?
  • Students will understand the concepts of change, causality, choice, and perspective. How does perspective frame the freedoms of peoples?
  • Students will apply the skills of constructing a research question and explaining its relevance. Why might one research question be more effective than another?
  • Students will use both qualitative and quantitative data to answer a research question. To what extent are qualitative and quantitative data valid and reliable? How do I know?
  • Students will prepare a synthesis of the information they have gathered through qualitative and document research. How does my presentation influence how I communicate?
  • Students will think critically about the concepts, cases and data gathered in various text types, including both written and visual texts and through interviews. How do we know that a source is reliable? How do I evaluate sources?
  • Students will discover various perspectives about migration and explain these. To what extent does perspective influence people’s choices?

Inquiry can lead to action

We notice that questions deliberately unpacked from a generalization such as a big idea transcend the content of a subject area. As the questions take students to inquiries around big ideas, the questions (and answers) they find that their inquiries touch upon issues of our human commonality, issues that we grapple with in the real world in our attempts to find viable, sustainable and fair solutions.

As students consider these issues with some depth of understanding, they just might find shifting personal perspectives, and be moved to responsible action.

John Seeley Brown writes that “a questioner can thrive in these times of exponential change” (Berger 28). Brown suggests, “If you don’t have the disposition to question, you’re going to fear change. But if you’re comfortable questioning, experimenting, connecting things—then change is something that becomes an adventure. And if you can see it as an adventure, then you’re off and running.”


Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question. NY: Bloomsbury.
Lavina, A. (2015). Designing Understanding into Unit Plans. Amazon: Vitamorphosis.

Photo Credit: CC By Staff Sgt. Patricia McMurphy ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.





Did you say inquiry in PHE?

A PHE teacher once told me that a struggle in implementing a balanced PHE programme was the attitude that PHE is just “a gym class.”

As a gym class, the implication was that (1) PHE was not ‘academic’ because (2) students did not learn anything except how to play sports or games, (3) everything health in PHE should consist of things that people have to do to improve their playing skills in specific games, and (4) it is really difficult to teach ATL skills in PHE.

I wish I could’ve introduced this teacher to the PHE teachers I know, who teach PHE as a balanced subject, so that he too could believe that any subject has the potential to address more than just the content used to learn that subject.

The four barriers to balance in PHE as a subject stem from the misconception that content is king.

Even if we start from content due to limitations in venues that have to be shared by a whole school, we can expand learning to more than just what we can play in the area that is available in any given time in a school year.

A badminton unit comes to mind. This teacher develops a unit starting with content because that was what his classes could do when space allocations were decided by the whole school PHE team. He did not stop at the content, though.

He decided the key concept would be relationships and the related concepts chosen were choice and refinement. The global context was orientation in space and time. The resulting statement of inquiry became something like:

Choices over time support growth in individuals and communities.

How does a teacher set up an inquiry in PHE to help students understand these concepts and big idea?

The most significant shift in this PHE teacher’s thinking was to use content to teach skills and concepts, through the learning strategies used in the unit. Instead of content as the starting point, he actually started with the concepts and skills, and these framed the teaching.

Leading with concepts and skills

Relationships was a concept the students could learn within teams, starting with using communication and collaboration skills to come up with a team name. Because the teams had to tell the teacher with one voice about their team name, leadership had to be chosen or had to emerge within the group.

Leadership emerges out of collaborative work in the student team.

Leadership emerges out of collaborative work in the student team.

Relationships, choice and refinement became the concepts that students would rehearse again and again as they took on roles in their teams. Roles such as Coach, Assistant Coach, Trainer, General Manager, and Motivator each had specific functions in the group. Each one of the students had to communicate and make choices in each role for the team goal of refining their playing skills in badminton.

Roles help students to develop skills for better relationships, to learn about choices and to refine specific physical skills.

Roles help students to develop skills for better relationships, to learn about choices and to refine specific physical and ATL skills.

The teacher had flipped his PHE classroom, so a lot of the content was delivered to the students through video and articles (Criterion A). The students used the content to develop plans for teaching the team specific skills (Criterion B). Time was allocated each class for Coaches and Assistant Coaches to teach the team (Criterion C), for the Trainer to develop a warm up that was fun and engaging (Criterion C), for the General Manager to keep everyone on task and on time (Criterion C), and for the Motivator to make sure everyone participated (Criterion C). Roles changed every week, so at the end of a week, the team had to evaluate what they learned, how they taught each other, and how the work for that week went (Criterion D). These reflections helped them in the following week as they changed roles and further explored the value of relationships in the team, each member’s choices for refinement in the great game.

Looking at the criteria-based tasks above, consider the learning students gained:

  • What communication skills did students practice?
  • What collaborative skills helped students to succeed?
  • What might have been the documentation tasks that students had to do? (Hint: efolios)
  • What thinking levels of Bloom’s taxonomy are required for students to accomplish all tasks?
  • How are concepts leading this unit? What is the purpose of the content?

Reflecting on the questions above help us to understand the shift in thinking that the author of the unit went through to transform his PHE classroom.

Students learned about the value of communication in a team.

Students learned about the value of communication in a team.

With the sample unit here, the shift in the planning process helped the teacher to shift the focus from content to more concept-based teaching and learning with a strong skills foundation supporting the students’ learning. Students inquired into badminton skills as well as collaboration, communication, leadership, and social skills and applied these.

How about a collaborative inquiry?

How might PHE teachers to explore how health can be further embedded into their existing units?

How might PHE teachers be able to use a PLN such as Lieke Burghout’s Facebook group for PHE teachers?

Please share your ideas in the comments.


Author’s Note: Many thanks to Brad Madden for permission to share his unit on MYP Toolbox!

Trialling an ‘e-Assessment’ and What We Learned

The MYP eAssessment is a logical next step for our school. We shifted to a conceptual curriculum three years ago, realizing that learning through a spiraling conceptual curriculum would allow our students to transfer knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes more easily across a range of open-ended problems to solve. The eAssessment requires this sort of transfer and allows the knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes to manifest in its process toward successful completion.

Last December, half of our Year 4s piloted an eAssessment that we constructed in-house. We had viewed a video from the IB introducing the MYP eAssessments and observed how the platform might behave, how our students needed to behave, and thought about what it might take to successfully complete this innovative type of assessment. Then, we designed an approximation of an eAssessment, which would simulate the platform and require the sorts of behaviors needed for successful completion.

Observing the experience and obtaining feedback from students rounded out the pilot. Here is what we learned.

The eAssessment Platform

In considering the design of the platform for the assessment, we investigated a wiki, an HTML standalone site, or a Google Site. The wiki was crossed off immediately because it is linear to the user; the items inside it are added one after another, and a lot of scrolling would have to happen to move back and forth between stimulus materials and problems.

The Google Site would have been more preferable since it can be designed in frames; a frame could hold stimulus material, and we could add a window wherein students could write responses. In a Google-subscribed school, students can find their responses in a Google Doc if the Google Site is designed with a Google Form, and these are easily accessed through their Gmail accounts. The issues with the Google Site were that there were several steps to take to access each document and that it required an internet connection. First, when responses are written on the form, an extra click on Google Docs had to happen before the student could see what they had produced. The form responses and the site with the stimulus materials were also on different tabs, preventing real-time visual reference of both elements by the student. Second, the internet connection is not a facility in the MYP eAssessment since all stimulus materials are already in the platform; this was something we did not need to provide in the structure of the eAssessment.

The HTML site, although the best option, required the teacher designing the eAssessment to spend hours coding. At the time of our pilot, this was prohibitive.

So we designed a simple platform for the eAssessment using static, hyperlinked slides and Word documents. The slides held the instructions, embedded stimulus materials, and the open-ended problem. All materials were uploaded into the desktops in a single folder which included a folder for saving work. Students could then write responses on a Word document and save it directly into the eAssessment folder.

Stimulus materials and the student's responses could be simultaneously visible on screen.

Stimulus materials and the student’s responses could be simultaneously visible on screen.

It was important for students to be able to see stimulus materials and problem in the slides and their work in progress simultaneously, so we used 21″ iMacs for the eAssessment. The students could place the exam materials and their response document side by side on the large screen. We also froze the internet connection for the machines used as connectivity was not important. With individual headphones connected to each iMac, students could access material and record responses on an eAssessment that was as close we could get to the platform we had observed in the IB eAssessment introduction video.

Approaches to Learning

ATL skills students have internalized are key in any performance assessment, including an eAssessment. In a paper-based assessment, at least four categories of ATL skills are drawn from as the student progresses through their problem solving.

In an electronic format, students need to recognize the need for and use a wide range of ATL skills from the skills categories, including thinking critically about previously unseen stimulus materials, thinking creatively to form solutions to the open-ended problem; research skills from citing a video versus citing a print text from the materials to keeping organized notes on what they are learning from the materials to reference as they responded; self-management skills were in high demand during the two hour assessment, as students had to keep organized and manage time and tasks, as well as manage their affect, for instance, through practicing focus and concentration and avoiding distraction.

Students' range of ATL skills were essential to the tasks.

Students’ range of ATL skills were essential to the tasks.

Observations and Feedback

Most students were comfortable with the electronic platform. Most students concurred with a student’s opinion that “I’m used to typing and do that faster than writing with a pen.” (Only one student found “typing a challenge. I didn’t type a lot in my previous school, so I felt slow with my typing skills.”) Accessing information was “easier with the video and visuals,” and “the extracts were easy to read.” All students reported having their own headphone set was “good for focusing, I didn’t have to pay attention to anything else.”

The challenges expressed in the student interviews highlighted the ATL skills that students need to have internalized to use during this independent performance in a controlled environment. One student had difficulty following instructions in written format without teacher support. Two students found it challenging to keep track of their time and tasks independently.

It was clear to us how important an articulated focus on approaches to learning presented so that in Year 5 our students might easily evaluate the need for approaches to use and easily perform the skills necessary to persist through a problem-solving situation. In this trial, our essential understanding was that ATL skills needed to be internalized so that students could just get to the heart of problem-solving in their culminating assessment.

Skills and Concepts, Concepts and Skills

Please help me thank Tania, a PYP Educator who commented on a previous post Portrait of a Self-Directed Learner and nudged some thinking about how skills are linked to conceptual understanding.

Tania said, My first thoughts from a PYP perspective were that we use the Transdisciplinary Skills (ATLs) to help develop the conceptual understanding in our young learners. So our ATL skills would be embedded within conceptual understanding.

Is this model different because the students are older and already have some base of developed skills? or is the understanding / methodology different?

In my experience, MYP and Diploma students don’t necessarily experience the structure of understanding (Erickson, 2008) differently from PYP learners. One slight difference might be that the concepts in the PYP are macro concepts, large ideas which organize understanding that encompasses all the transdisciplinary learning in the PYP.

In the MYP, our key concepts have some macro concepts shared with PYP, such as form and perspective, but our key concepts are ‘smaller’ in the sense that they can easily be unpacked from the macro concepts in PYP. For instance, one of our MYP key concepts is systems, which can be easily part of the macro concept of form.

Another source of a slight difference between PYP and MYP skills and concepts stems from the structure of our programme. In the PYP, learning is transdisciplinary and learners interact with concepts and rehearse skills in the context of a unit wherein the learning isn’t framed by subject or discipline. As students learn in the MYP, the eight subjects begin to have very clear disciplinary concepts, which we call related concepts. These are linked in interdisciplinary ways through our key concepts and global contexts (“transdisciplinary themes” for PYP).

We also know that each year a student rehearses an ATL skill, they are being asked to perform it at a higher level of complexity. The ways we ask students to perform the skill of analysis in MYP Year 5 for instance is highly complex compared to how a learner might be asked to perform analysis at MYP Year 1 or PYP Year 4.

The spiral of learning as students move through the PYP through the MYP and then onto Diploma touch concepts in increasingly more and more complex performances of understanding. Concepts also increase in number as macro concepts are unpacked into micro-concepts that organize bodies of knowledge and areas of knowing. The areas of knowing are disciplinary, and there are skills that are specific patterns of learning and thinking in each subject. These are subject specific ATL skills that are embedded in the MYP subject criteria.

Perhaps it is somewhat challenging to think of these skills in a PYP context because of the nature of PYP assessment, which does not hinge upon specific criteria for ‘subjects.’

Last week in a conversation with a couple of PYP’ers in my school, we got excited because we realized one of the threads we might use for ATL articulation are presented to us by the command terms.

MYP and Diploma use the command terms, essentially verbs which direct complexity levels of thought for performances of understanding. Here are some of them classified under Bloom’s taxonomy.

Command terms classified with Bloom's taxonomy to show complexity of thought inherent in command terms

Command terms classified with Bloom’s taxonomy to show complexity of thought inherent in command terms

In the discussion with the PYP’ers, we realized that we could bridge the skills through the types of thinking that we asked students to do. As we develop the scope and sequence in the PYP and begin to connect these with the subject overviews in the MYP, our goal is to ensure that transdisciplinary /ATL skills spiral just as the concepts do.

But are skills really separate from concepts?

Lois Lanning who works with Lynn Erickson links skills to concepts in her book Designing a Concept-based Curriculum for Language Arts. Lanning explains that skills are organized conceptually, just like topics and facts are.

Let’s take a look at one example to see how this works.

Here is a diagram showing the relationship between a key concept, related concept, and thinking levels in a unit.

Key concept, related concept and thinking skills in a unit

Key concept, related concept and thinking skills in a unit

If we unpack the skills from the thinking levels (Bloom’s), it might look like this, below.

Concept linked to skills in a unit

Concept linked to skills in a unit

We learn some essential things from this exercise (which is the process we use when we plan units, giving us the sometimes unnoticed value of the unit planning process!)

The levels of thinking are embedded in the command terms, which are precise directions for complexity levels of thought for performances of understanding. These skills are organized conceptually. For instance, the concept of structure suggests many of the skills we rehearse in our classes to give students practice in organizing ideas and processes.

Concepts organize process and skills

Concepts organize process and skills

Perhaps the learning might seem different between PYP and MYP, but the principles remain very similar. The structure of understanding (Erickson, 2008) for both programmes is a conceptual framework, and within this conceptual framework are topics used to illuminate and illustrate concepts, but also skills, which provide direction and complexity in performances of conceptual understanding.

Thanks for provoking thought, Tania! Please come back and continue our conversation.

Portrait of a self-directed learner

As we develop Approaches to Learning skills in our students, we are essentially presenting them with this question (rephrased from Costa & Kallick, 2014) to ask themselves:

When the solution to this unfamiliar problem is not readily apparent, what do I do to learn?

For MYP Year 5, we ask the question of our students through the Personal Project. Students respond ideally through deliberate use of ATL skills to construct a process by which they inquire, plan, take action and evaluate a self-conceptualized idea.

How do we take them there? This question is answered by how we scaffold the process by which students experience and repeatedly co-construct processes through which they learn, rehearse, and actualize the deliberate choice and use of ATL skills. As students progress through the MYP, explicit instruction in the choice and use of ATL skills facilitates internalization of these skills.

Costa and Kallick’s Dispositions: Reframing Teaching and Learning (2014) presents a model for the planning, teaching and assessment of ATL skills, termed dispositions in the book.

Costa and Kallick’s model (2014) transposed to the MYP gives us layers of ATL skills development.

Figure 1. Layers of ATL skills use

Figure 1. Layers of ATL skills use

The value of this model to MYP practitioners is the direct correspondence of the layers to our own process of planning learning. The MYP framework holds conceptual understanding as the core of planning; our key concepts and related concepts give us an interdisciplinary (key concepts) and disciplinary framework (related concepts) upon which to design learning experiences for students.

Through the conceptual framework, students construct understanding through subject specific cognitive processes, represented by the command terms in subject objectives and criteria. Implicit in these cognitive processes are discrete patterns of thinking demanded by subject disciplines, culminating in transfer, a cognitive skill students must necessarily engage when thinking in interdisciplinary contexts.

These skills manifest in the summative assessments, designed for students to deliberately choose and use ATL skills in increasing complexity as they progress through the MYP.

Finally, the outer layer of Costa and Kallick’s framework (2014) call upon the communication, affective and social skills, which students intentionally draw upon in performances of understanding.

How does this framework of ATL use relate to the ATL self-assessment model?

The Dreyfus Model of skill acquisition presents self-directedness as the ultimate achievement of skills. Self-assessment means that students internalize the ATL skills. Internalization of skills is indicated by eight dimensions (Costa & Kallick, 2014).

These dimensions are named using Costa and Kallick’s terms, and described below.

  1. Meaning – Students understand the skill, what it looks like/sounds like/feels like. They are able to explain examples of the skill as well as non-examples. Students might use similar categories or descriptions when describing the skill and how it might apply to different situations.
  2. Capacity – Students are able to deliberately perform the skill confidently. Students have a repertoire of strategies, tools and techniques to perform a skill cluster.
  3. Situational awareness – Students are able to draw upon different skill clusters in a variety of situations. Students recognize situational parameters, which indicate which skills to draw out in familiar and unfamiliar contexts.
  4. Spontaneity – Students do not need someone else to prompt them to use the skill. They are motivated internally to choose and use skills to take action or perform understanding.
  5. Benefits – Students recognize the value of a skill. They are able to predict outcomes of use or non-use of specific skills.
  6. Reflection – Students are aware of their own thinking, choices, and performances of skills. They might also convince others to use the skill in situations demanding this persuasion.
  7. Intentionality – Students do not perform skills without thought, but deliberately call upon skills when these best-fit a situation or problem.
  8. Action – Students manifest internal drive and self-direction in the performance of a skill. They might also advise others to act upon a task using a skill and are able to articulate why it suits a context.
Figure 2. Portrait of a self-directed learner

Figure 2. Portrait of a self-directed learner

Figure 2.  A synthesis of the indicators for internalization and the Dreyfus model.

You can access a PDF version of this portrait of a self-directed learner here.

What can we do to collaborate on our ATL skills development?

Costa and Kallick (2014) suggest some ways ATL skills development might achieve coherence in our MYP.

Use a common language for the ATL skills. This language is available to us and to our students through the documents guiding MYP implementation. How might we use command terms consistently? What words might we use to help our students conceptualize skills? Assess skills?

Repeat frequently. How might our students repeatedly hear about and focus on skills as they progress through the MYP?

Draw attention to skills in different contexts. How might we guide students to find the ATL skills in various problem settings? How might we help students to make connections between the problems they are learning to solve, and the language with which they can express understanding of their learning?

Discuss the meaning and relevance of skills. How might we help students to make connections between Learner Profile attributes and the ATL skills? How might we allow students to form concepts of what the skill looks like/sounds like/feels like?

Pose questions to engage cognition on skills choice and use. How might we ask students to think of performances of understanding through concrete processes embedded in the ATL skills clusters?

Reflect on the choice and use of skills. Might we ask our students, What is going on in your mind when you transfer a skill from a disciplinary context to an interdisciplinary problem?

Establish clear expectations. Expectations can be given prior to performance tasks, and they can also be implicit in the types of feedback we give to our students. Descriptive feedback, a type of feedback, which articulates a cognitive process, seems to nurture a growth mindset. When a student succeeds, and the feedback consists of a description of the skills chosen and used to create a successful outcome, the student learns the expectation inherent in the skill being described. This drives future choice and use of the skill in connection with context.

As we co-construct our MYP: Current Chapter, we see that there are many possible ways by which we can evolve a coherent framework of ATL skills development for our students.

What might be ways you can develop integration of skills choice and use by students and adults in your school? What might be some challenges? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Join our community on Twitter! We hold #MYPChat, an informal gathering of MYP educators on Twitter held fortnightly. Our next MYPChat is on October 30, when we will be dialoging on Standard C1 Collaboration and reflection, in action!

MYPChat on Oct 30: Standard C1 in action

MYPChat on Oct 30: Standard C1 in action