Orientation in time, place and space: inquiring into boundaries

Is schooling completely future-oriented?

What might be the boundaries presented to inquiring minds by orientation in time, place and space? The global context in the MYP “Orientation to time, place and space” presents the questions of “where” and “when,” as concepts organizing how individuals might think (IBO, 2015).

Consider a few of the recurring misunderstandings in schools:

  • Teachers emphasize engagement in learning for future benefits and students do not rehearse learning in the present (because some other activity is more tempting)
  • Schools emphasize future benefits of procedures such as school attendance and parents take their children away to a holiday, missing school days
  • Schools emphasize focused attention during class time by asking students to put away their social media devices during the school day and students and parents do not understand why
  • Parents ask their children to study and children prefer to surf Youtube or some other website during the time asked to study

What’s really at work here? In this inquiry we explore “peoples, boundaries, exchange and interaction” (from MYP: From Principles into Practice, 2015, p. 60). As we consider the misunderstandings in the bullet-pointed list above, a common conceptual thread that runs through the conflicting ideas might be orientation to time as a function of place and space.

“Orientation to time” presents multiple perspectives framing perceptions of time, and these perceptions impact how people create boundaries between present and past and future. In other words, the ways we think of time directly affect decision-making and consequent action.

The long-standing “Marshmallow Study” by Stanford professor Walter Mischel illustrates an aspect of time orientation through the action of delayed gratification. 40 years after the study, the longitudinal data suggests that children who were able to delay gratification at age 4 or 5– in effect being able to understand the long-term benefits of wait time at an early age— scored higher on achievement tests ten years later. These children also had “lower incidents of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life measures” (Clear, 2016).

In an interview with Atlantic magazine, Mischel clarified that the study was really about “achievement situations and what influences a child to reach his or her choice” (Mischel in Urist, 2014).

Ideas about time and achievement present this inquiry with the related concept of boundaries. We might ask the following questions (and other, similar ones):

Factual questions:

  • What boundaries might exist for different people, as contextual frameworks for time?
  • What are some cultural orientations to time?
  • What are some cultural orientations to achievement?

Conceptual questions:

  • What other factors might influence ideas of time and its relationship to achievement?
  • How do our ideas of time and achievement influence decision making?

Debatable question:

  • Are all impulsive decisions (without a delay of gratification) a function of orientation to time?

A useful resource in this inquiry is Wittman and Butler’s Felt Time; The psychology of how we perceive time (MIT Press, 2016). In the book, Wittman and Butler discuss what they term temporal shortsightedness, temporal myopia, and provide useful studies to consider and gain some insights into the nature of orientation in time, place and space and the uses and limitations of perceptions which impact how we think of time.

Temporal shortsightedness

The conflict between the present, past and future requires a metacognitive layer of thinking about the thinking we do in response to time boundaries. For example:

  • A student may find social media updates more tempting than the present lesson on chemical bonds
  • A parent may find that the class of 1986 Reunion dinner is more tempting than the back-to-school night
  • A teacher may find that a collaborative dialog on authentic assessment may be less compelling than using a ‘tried and true’ test filed in a binder
  • A school leader might find that waiting for teachers to learn through an implementation dip is taking too long and teachers need to just square their shoulders and make it happen

When the above ideas about time and task present themselves, and when individuals do not consider their own thinking about time, conflicts may arise.

Wittman and Butler suggest that in many cultures, delayed gratification is built in to facets of cultural decision making. For instance, retirement plans have worldwide use, wherein working adults defer monetary reward for use much later in life. The choice of long-term investments is another cross-cultural concept which uses delays in rewards for later times. Most countries’ educational systems have prolonged schooling with the idea of greater gains in knowledge and skills of future professionals and workers. In many cultures around the globe, the ability to delay reward for future benefit is a feature in social institutions.

Temporal myopia

In adults as in children, waiting for some future benefit can vary.

Wittman and Butler define temporal myopia as “stretches of time standing closer to us appear sharper than stretches of equal duration lying farther off. In this context, temporal myopia means, in essence, that we perceive the difference between today and tomorrow much more acutely than we perceive the difference between tomorrow and the day after” (Wittman and Butler, 2016, p. 7).

In studies cited, impulsive people tend to go for lesser sums of money or rewards so that they do not have to wait. This idea of impulsivity is similar to the behavior of children and adults with ADHD, which is expressed in the tendency not to recognize the value of deferred gratification, which is an orientation to the present.

When the orientation of tasks is future-oriented (do now and benefit later) as it is in school, a present orientation (do not do now and benefit now) presents a conflict.

Emotional intelligence as a factor in time orientation and waiting

Emotion plays a big role in human decisions. Psychologist Philip Zimbardo posits research on time orientation and how perceptions of time orientation influence individuals.

Zimbardo and Boyd (in Wittman and Butler, 2016) developed questionnaires, which revealed patterns in how people think about time as framework for perspectives. The researchers found that:

  • People who predominantly have a present-orientation tend to take more drugs, have unprotected sex, receive more speeding tickets, and engage in other, negative risk-taking behaviors
  • People who predominantly have a future-orientation tend to be averse to spontaneity and are risk-averse (for example, will not venture to try new cultural activities or sports)
  • Past oriented people often reject new ways of doing things and prefer to follow past ‘traditions’ to the neglect of innovations

In brain-based studies of reward-and-time orientation studies, researchers found that adults who chose more immediate but lesser rewards (present orientation) showed high activity in the brain region called the paralimbic system, which has a strong link to emotional decision making (Wittman and Butler, 2016). However, when study participants chose to delay gratification for greater future rewards showed higher activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is an area of the brain connected to planning, decision making, and controlling impulses.

When Mischel’s study subjects were tested again 40 years after the Marshmallow Test, what they found was that people who had not excelled at delayed gratification when they were 4 or 5 showed fMRI scans that showed lower activity in the frontal cortex.

Neurologist Antonio Damasio (in Wittman and Butler, 2016) points to the influence of emotional assessment, which we learned earlier is located in the paralimbic system, on decision making. Damasio found that decisions that go against immediate gratification find value in emotional contexts. This means that for instance, weighing the values of (Choice a) watching TV now and (Choice b) going to the gym to exercise now goes through an emotional assessment. Further, Damasio suggests that emotional responses such as comfort and convenience play a great part in decisions of what people do in the present.

In the beginning of this inquiry was the question, Is education really future oriented? The suggestion is not to advocate for a future-only orientation in schools. Far from it, the gentle suggestion in this inquiry is that we pay attention to the time orientation of others and the boundaries inherent in these, so that we can presume positive intentions in our interactions and exchanges. As Jelaludin Rumi once wrote, “Out beyond the ideas of wrong and right, there is a field. I will meet you there.”

What might we find?



Clear, J. (2016). “40 Years of Stanford Research Found That People With This One Quality Are More Likely to Succeed “| James Clear. Retrieved September 26, 2016, from
Hadad, C. (2015, July 10). “What ‘marshmallow test’ can teach you about your kids.” Retrieved September 26, 2016, from

International Baccalaureate Organization. (2015). MYP: From principles into practice. Geneva: Author.

The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control. (2014). Sci Am Scientific American, 311(3), 92-92. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0914-92c

Wittman, M., & Butler, E. (2016). Felt time: The Psychology of How we Perceive Time (MIT Press) [Kindle iOS version]. Retrieved from

Photo credit: Eastman Johnson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons




An Inquiry into Time, Thought and Identity

Metacognition within perceptions of time and self mediates attention. As an approach to learning skill, metacognition involves knowledge of cognition, which allows a person to actively control thinking during the thinking process. Hence it is often defined as “thinking about thinking.” Approaches to learning such as ways to monitor understanding, evaluating process and progress of learning, and making decisions about use of time are metacognitive approaches (Livingston, 1997). When a learner is able to control thinking using different strategies or approaches, he or she is able to adjust, evaluate and readjust a myriad of factors surrounding the environment and process of learning he or she uses to improve learning. Metacognition supports self-regulation by allowing the learner to practice targeted attention (Goleman, 2013) to factors such as the learning environment, process, time, and personal investments in these.

Strategies allow for the abstraction of metacognition to become concrete, practical approaches. An example would be while reading actively, the reader uses questions as self-tests for comprehension and monitors the effectiveness of the strategy in terms of the learning objective (comprehension). The strategy of using questions is a cognitive move, while the strategy of monitoring its effectiveness is metacognitive (Livingston, 1997). Learners practicing metacognition while learning develop and use feedback systems to self-direct learning.

Cognitive Strategy Instruction (CSI) is a tool that is worth mentioning in instruction about thinking. A simple way of expressing this tool is to ask students to think of “How do I do this and why am I doing it this way?” The how is the cognitive move, while the why involves finding approaches to monitoring the thinking. CSI is based on the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model used in teaching writing. In the SRSD model, students who are producing text are asked to perform the following explicit cognitive and metacognitive moves (Council for Exceptional Children, 2009):

  • Self-monitoring as a goal is set and a process designed for students to make the process visible
  • Self-instruction as the students discuss the process and decisions made, use a checklist, use a visible guide for the writing process
  • Self-reinforcement can involve self-talk, use of additional reading or research to keep the flow of the process going
  • Metacognition through modeling think- or read-alouds
  • Self-assessment through a checklist or cue cards, or ways to use questions to evaluate own performance, such as developing a rationale for writer’s choices

An interesting idea in the inquiry towards nurturing agile thinkers is the effects on perceptions of time on how learners learn. Time to think is a requirement for effective self-directed learning.

Being busy without time for reflection creates a mental environment of ceaseless action without deep thought. With this condition, how might we allow for insight, solution design, and making connections?

Photo By Brocken Inaglory. The image was edited by user: Alvesgaspar - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Photo By Brocken Inaglory. The image was edited by user: Alvesgaspar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

We know that engagement in immediate tasks at hand allow for the possibility of flow: concentration which stretches thinking and capacity. Time for self-reflection is crucial for tasks that ask students to find personal relevance through metacognition. When we think about our thinking, the expansion of our awareness involves knowing how much time to invest in a task and why. Because we become more aware of time constraints, we might also become more aware of changing craftsmanship –whether it is allowing more time or less time—as a function of what we know, understand and can do.

Time is a perception that can change the ways we know, understand and can do. It is a moment of optimistic intersections between all the things we are and the significance of our aspirations for what we must inquire into and rehearse. As time becomes less an external construct and more of an internal one for the learner, he or she allows for time to engage the self, binding identity to the task at hand.

Because the perception of time makes it relative to self, time can protract or extend as necessary within the perceptions of the learner. Challenges like open-ended tasks then allow us to perceive how we have significantly crafted use of time, and how we learn through strategies including metacognition.

Using Reflection

In lesson design involving approaches to learning like metacognitive strategies and use of time during tasks, it might be useful to use reflection as opportunities to develop both. When we stop to record a moment of learning, we step out of engagement in cognition to think about it and how it affects the time available.

This is the ‘trick’ of metacognition—to be able to step out of engagement to reflect on it, to integrate the moment itself and its experience with the reflective thinking as we take action and document its significance.

Council for Exceptional Children (2009). A focus on self-regulated strategy development for writing. Retrieved from on May 7, 2016.

Goleman, D. (2013). Focus; The hidden driver of excellence. NY: Harper Collins.

Livingston, J. A. (1997). “Metacognition; An overview.” Retrieved from on May 6, 2016.

Thank you for reading The Learner’s Toolbox. We are passionate about self-directed learning. Join us on Twitter for a chat on Self-Directed Learning on May 12 1600 UTC by following the hashtag #sdlchat. Co-hosted by @alohalavina and @EricDemore.SDL_graphic_small

Engaging conceptual dialog through lesson design

A student’s reflection recently illustrated how performance of understanding can emerge as a conceptual dialog between teacher and student.

In this Arts inquiry, the Key concept is creativity and the Related concepts are expression, boundaries, narratives. The unit’s Global context is Identities and relationships, framing the learning around building expressive skills for performance, requiring the actor to discover his center, his essence and thus supporting a better understanding of self. In studies of drama performance, the ensemble requires that the actor ‘give up’ their identity to the ‘group’ when working together. The fostering of relationships in the ensemble is of paramount importance. The lesson focus was to introduce the concept of neutrality through use of the neutral mask (see Jacques Lecoq, The Moving Body, Routledge, NY, 2001), with the objectives to develop expressive skills for performance, increase awareness of how actors use their bodies and gesture not just voice, to communicate (Whitaker, personal communication, November 20, 2014).

White neutral mask. Found on

White neutral mask. Found on

The specific inquiry in the series of lessons using the neutrality mask was to investigate the tools of the actor preparing for performance (voice, body, mind, imagination). The student, Gavin Liu writes, “Putting on the neutral mask puts the actor in a state of “neutrality” when acting. A neutral mask is a mask that everyone wears to hide emotions on the face, and it requires the actor to use their body to convey the emotions. In the past classes, we have been wearing these neutral masks and practicing conveying emotions with the boundaries of not being able to express our emotions through our faces but through body movement.”

The teacher intended for the neutral mask to be ” the start of a journey. It produces a physical sensation of calm. The neutral mask opens up the actor to the space around them, creates a state of discovery” (Whitaker, personal communication, November 20, 2014). Dialog in the class revolved around the intention to form conceptualizations of creativityneutrality, boundaries, and expression.

The students used two exercises with the neutral mask. Gavin describes one of the exercises, “Farewell to the boat.” “Farewell to the Boat” allowed us to express our emotions using only our body, without any narrations to the audience of how we felt when a friend leaves on the boat. Personally I found it really challenging because I speak a lot at school and having that boundary really challenged me to explore what I might express with my body. It used more creativity because we have to act like being water using the neutral mask. It adds more challenge to the activity and there is no right or wrong answer because anyone can interpret water differently, making it very creative (Gavin Liu, reflection).

The teacher reflects, “When students shared responses, what emerged was a sense of freshness, of new beginnings. The mask creates balance, calm and economy of movement, which the teacher will use as a point of reference for later work with expressive (Commedia) masks” (Whitaker, personal communication, November 20, 2014).

The depth at which the student experiences conceptual understanding emerges in the reflective dialog with the teacher. In Gavin’s reflection, he writes, “The reason we are doing these activities is that it is essential not to only rely on your facial expression to show emotions, sometimes you have to rely on your body to show those emotions when your face can’t. Therefore, having a neutral mask can explore creative aspects of our body because we are forced by these boundaries to think creatively more than usual.”

Gavin has achieved concept attainment in the few lessons at the onset of the unit, underpinning the importance of discovery through learning engagements designed to engage students in internal and interpersonal dialog and active inquiry into the concepts.

The depth of Gavin’s understanding emerges in this dialog. He writes, “This has helped me realize that sometimes there are things in life where there are boundaries that we can’t change. We have to work with what we have and try to convey the same intention we wanted to convey without the boundary. This helps me focus on what is most important, which is to convince the audience without saying a word and be creative about how to convince them into believing what you really believe.”

A valuable lesson suggested here is the student’s opportunity for metacognition and transfer, which were facilitated by the conceptual design of the lesson.


Thanks to Gavin Liu, Concordian MYP 4,  for permission to use his reflection in this blog post and to Clynt Whitaker for permission to study his lesson design!

ATL articulation through the Core and Policies, Part 2

Part 2, ATL Articulation through the Core and Policies

Criterion B in all MYP subjects including the Projects and Interdisciplinary Units (IDU)  explicitly unpack within its strands a learning cycle or process. Year 1s spent some time thinking about learning cycles, and below is an example of their understanding.

Cycles Are by a MYP Year 1 Student

Cycles Are by a MYP Year 1 Student

The thinking visible in the sample above teaches us a few things.

First, this student came to the MYP through the PYP. Within a 30-minute engagement, this student was able to easily make connections between all subjects through his thinking about the learning cycles present in MYP.

This teaches us the value of allowing students to transfer learning how to learn from the transdisciplinary framework of PYP into the interdisciplinary framework of the MYP. In the PYP, the thought boundaries between the disciplines are blended within an inquiry. When students move into the MYP, the disciplines become more pronounced within their thought boundaries, but there are numerous connections within and through the MYP subjects, which allow students to transfer learning across and through different disciplines. (One way to visualize the difference between transdisciplinary to interdisciplinary is through Clint Hamada’s visualization of these.) A way by which students might transport learning from one discipline to another in MYP is through the cycles of learning.

The student’s understanding in the above example also teaches us that ATL skills are implicit in how we learn throughout the IB continuum. From the thinking engagement about learning cycles, these are what the Year 1 students generalized, below.

Concept formation : cycles 1

Concept attainment : cycles from Year 1

Self talk from Year 1

Self talk from Year 1

Self-talk from Year 1

Self-talk from Year 1

Generalization about learning in MYP from Year 1 student

Generalization about learning in MYP from Year 1 student

We may also learn something about the students’ learning from their thinking visible in what they wrote. For instance:

  • there is clear concept attainment illustrated above, for the concept of learning as a cycle
  • students in Year 1 have some proficiency in self-talk, a social-emotional learning skill, which helps them be mindful and resilient
  • students are able to synthesize their learning about learning cycles
  • students are able to transfer learning from their transdisciplinary experience in PYP to their interdisciplinary experiences in MYP

We learn from the students’ responses to the learning about learning cycles engagement, that students have the dispositions allowing their thinking to be provoked into deliberate use of ATL skills. This deliberate activation of prior learning is explicit in our unit planning process. Used skillfully, inquiry-based approaches to learning in the MYP become journeys to understanding which students traverse, using ATL skills of critical thinking, social-emotional skills and other skills to deliberately seek improvement and achievement –in other words, to approximate and then become independent inquirers.

Transfer through the Core: Projects, Service as Action and Interdisciplinary Learning

Transfer, the ATL skill learners must draw upon to make connections between themselves and their learning, concepts and contexts across subjects, and to the world, is a skill set manifested through the Core of the MYP.

When we plan learning for IDU, we draw upon the relationships of concept(s)-to-concept(s), concept-to-content, concept-to-context, between disciplines, across a subject, learner to world, learner to others, between the learner to all things. These relationships are cognitive spaces wherein the learner can explore connections, describe, design, create…name a command term and a learner is able to apply it by deliberate use of ATL skills, to transform learning.

The MYP core–IDU, Service as action, Projects–allow learners multiple opportunities for transfer. Interdisciplinary connections, principled action, and Projects are ways by which learners manifest ATL skills to do something with what they know and understand with and without of the MYP subjects. The MYP requirements for SA and IDU are opportunities for educators to design thoughtful attention to how students might use thinking, research, social skills, self-management, and communication skills to integrate areas of knowing and ways of knowing into new understanding through IDU and the Personal Project, and to take principled action through Service as action and the Community Project.

In the continuum, the core of the IB culminates in CAS, TOK and the EE. In the Diploma core, we envision learners to be self-directed as they deliberately use the approaches to learning skills in taking action, using transfer in an unceasing basis in TOK (Hedrick, personal conversation), and demonstrating a masterful array of ATL skills and IB ethos as they create the Extended Essay.

ATL through MYP Partnerships and our Policies

The ATL skills categories (communication, social, self-management, research, thinking) suggest partnerships within the MYP, which we can use as collaborative spaces for integrated implementation.

What are some interdisciplinary partnerships we can use? Alignment of criteria in our current MYP allows us to use a deliberate language for understanding and communicating about learning.

Alignment of Criteria in MYP (IBO, 2014). Based on Subject Guides in MYP (2014).

Alignment of Criteria in MYP (IBO, 2014). Based on Subject Guides in MYP (2014).

Through the chart above we learn that:

  • Criterion A draws upon the disciplinary knowledge and understanding. A look at the criterion A strands gives us the range of ways by which students access areas of knowing through ways of knowing.
  • Criterion B uses disciplinary method or process to engage students through an iterative learning cycle, inquiry-based approaches to learning
  • Criterion C calls upon specific thinking skills, both critical and creative, by which students might express outcomes of process used in Criterion B cycles
  • Criterion D calls upon higher order thinking skills such as synthesis and evaluation (Bloom’s taxonomy) to reflect upon authentic connections between learner and understanding, learner and subject/discipline, learner and the world

But even when the specific criterion calls for content and conceptual understanding, strands unpacking the criterion explicitly describe what students must do with what they know and understand. Take a look at the criterion strands: we will see skills performance within them. Our MYP learning framework gives us a dynamic and complex interaction of concept, context, content, attitudes and skills described by the criterion strands.

These opportunities for skills teaching and performance give us authentic links for partnerships within the framework of our subjects. We can link the Library with each subject through Criteria A and B, for one example. Students must practice mindfulness and the attitudes of Academic Honesty as they inquire, produce, process, evaluate, plan. Social and emotional learning is present as students persevere through many of the learning experiences described in our subject objectives, giving our Counseling department strong links to our curriculum. For examples students must necessarily practice ATL skills of mindfulness and resilience as they investigate, analyse, design.

The possibilities by which we expand these partnerships in our MYP are formally described in our policies. If we were to embark on an inquiry into coherence and articulation of ATL skills in our policies, what might we find?

Here are some sample questions that we have asked in our corner of the IB world:

How do students use ATL skills other than in the Communication cluster in language learning?
How do students use processes to approach language learning and learning through language?
How do students acquire a range of strategies for learning from collaborative engagements?
How might students develop their own approach given their individual dispositions, learning preferences and styles?
What opportunities might we provide students to demonstrate learning through these individual approaches? How might we expand their learning repertoire?

As a MYP educator, what is your inquiry into ATL articulation in your schools? Share your questions and thoughts with us in the comments.


Consider joining our informal dialog on Twitter through #MYPChat! Join our Twitter community on October 30 as we dialog on the significance of collaborative planning and reflection in MYP implementation.

MYPChat on Oct 30: Standard C1 in action

MYPChat on Oct 30: Standard C1 in action



Following your line of inquiry

We created questions about identity, which you posted on our wall last Thursday. You’ve investigated what key terms you would use to search for the answers to your questions.

Now it’s time to find resources and follow your line of inquiry as you research using your key terms.

Products expected the week of October 7-11:
You are tasked with finding out information, which answers your inquiry question. Put this information together, and create a visual display of the information. Your question should feature as the starting point of your inquiry, followed by the following information:

  • the process you followed to find out
  • brief descriptions of what you did and understood at each step of the process
  • your conclusion(s) about the answer to your question
  • citation of sources in MLA style

Here is an example of the process:

Line of inquiry by Charlotte R. Class of 2015

On October 11, your task in class is to plan your investigation into how a virtual environment (Facebook) changes how people present themselves and how others perceive their identities. The product is the plan for the investigation.

You will perform the investigation on the weekend of October 12-13. A written summary report of your findings is due on October 14.

What do people do to belong?

To continue our inquiry into the concept of belonging, here’s another video.

What do you see? Share your observations in class.

And don’t forget to comment on this post on identity and relationships. You will all need to reply to at least 2 comments by tonight.

Finally, this week, your assignment for our Facebook group page is to share a video which shows the idea(s) of what people do to belong. To be able to post, Like the group (there is a link on the menu to the right of this page) and as a community member of that group, you can post to the page.

Keep it all nice,

Ms Lavina