IB continuum

The Target Board Strategy

Action plans have numerous practices that need to be implemented. Here’s a useful collaborative strategy for prioritizing implementation.

I’ve used this with different schools including Canadian Academy in Kobe when I was working with Stephen Taylor and the CA faculty to implement creative inquiry.

The Purpose of this Strategy

The visualization of priorities using a Target Board helps group members to

  1. Understand how program facets are interrelated
  2. Dialog on the most needful to the least urgent goals
  3. Discuss and decide on the progression of implementation points

Hopefully as the group collaboratively create the target board, the conversations reveal the time continuum supporting the implementation action plan.

The Target Board CC @alohalavina

How to use the target board

The target board can be used on its own for a sorting activity. Simply, it can guide ways to use time and urgency to justify when to do certain things.

When used with an Adaptive Schools protocol such as “Here’s What, So What, Now What” the Target Board can be a tool for understanding the purposeful work that organizes both time and tasks for implementation.


Featured Photo credit: Target Board by MaxPixel CC Public Domain

I am grateful to Thinking Collaborative for their mission in creating capacity in individuals and organizations.

Imagination and the interdisciplinary

Every day, we glimpse the future in the present.

In the IB Diploma, the world studies essay gives students opportunities to express their interdisciplinary understanding by conducting “an in-depth interdisciplinary investigation into an issue of contemporary global importance” (IBO, 2014, p. 10). The ways by which we approach interdisciplinary investigation in the MYP directly affect the ways by which students might approach interdisciplinary investigation in the Diploma. If Diploma students struggle with interdisciplinary investigations in the world studies essay, what are our hunches about what experiences we need to facilitate for these students in the MYP?

Like a full bucket requires each drop of water added in at a specific time and place, small actions can complete an intended result.

Gharajedaghi in his book Systems Thinking (2006) presents four ways that might sustain small actions toward an intended result: design, participation, iteration, and second order learning (in Garmston & Wellman, 2013). These ideas can apply to interdisciplinary experiences in the MYP, and here we look at the first two.

Design consists of choices made based on values and principles (Garmston & Wellman, 2013). In a classroom, this might be about how we arrange the physical environment, essential agreements for behavior, the flow of teaching and learning. If we have seats arranged in uniform rows, all facing one way, perhaps we convey the value of a sage in the front of the room, that learning is transmission, non-collaborative, an endeavor each learner must undertake alone and in passive ways. If we rearranged this classroom so that students can see each other’s faces while learning, what values might this communicate? If the classroom has flexible seating to suit learning engagements at a given time, what might the students learn from this element of design?

In traditional subject-driven models of schooling, rare are the opportunities to explore one discipline’s concepts in light of another’s. If part of our design in MYP is facilitating arrangements and opportunities for another subject’s concepts to blend in another subject’s learning, we convey the importance of interdisciplinary learning. By gathering two or more subjects under the same global context to explore authentic manifestations of concepts, we convey the interconnectedness in our world and the ways we might explore complexity through these connections.

Participation is a function of design; the ways we behave can arise from the ways our interactions and behavior are shaped by things and people (Garmston & Wellman, 2013). If we expect behaviors, such as fruitful collaboration for instance, yet we do not provide for the actors to learn the skills necessary to engage in the expected behaviors, what might result? In the MYP classroom, participation might include approximations of independent inquiry. This means students have to experience psychological safety to explore how independent investigations work for each of them. This means we have adopted a mindset that school is not about getting things right that have already been decided by the teacher or the exam, but that school is a series of opportunities to exercise craftsmanship and flexible thinking and many other dispositions of the Learner Profile. That ways to know and understand and do can be more than the teacher’s design based on his or her own experience, and that students can author approaches to learning as they learn, and share these with other learners.

Independent investigation requires the student to value ambiguity as an entry point to learning.

One might argue, But what do they know, these students? How might they approach independent investigation when they know not much?

Consider the poet who provokes thinking

Xu Lizhi is the poet who documented the lives of workers in China. His own life through his poetry captures the macro-concepts of fairness and development, globalization and sustainability. He illustrates the key concepts of change, perspective, adaptation, balance, aesthetics, among others.

His poetry resonates with the audience because they allow readers to imagine a life they might not otherwise know. But the poems also capture the lives of hopeful migrants to the Chinese manufacturing hubs, and allow humanity to emerge in the algorithm of a Chinese “American Dream” – hope, optimism, disappointment, anguish, pain, creativity and destruction. If I read about Xu Lizhi, if I read his poetry, it might provoke thinking about a global context, a key concept, and provide entry points to connections that link subjects.

Consider the algorithm of a blockbuster movie, and of love

The increasing use of algorithms as an entry point to knowing and understanding patterns has emerged. People now calculate what makes a movie successful, how people choose political parties, and even attempt to predict the calculus of love.

We also learn that algorithms have to be adaptive, to deal with human problems connected to change. Humanity is needed in problems that produce decisions – such as trust, meaning, and asking the right questions. In the end, the human is necessary to provide the decisions. The patterns are only what they are, information arranged in meaningful sequences of logic, used to predict. In the process, imagination is key to finding interpretations that might result in adaptive decisions. In other words, the numbers open portals to the calculus of what to do, but we have to imagine what it is that we might do.

W.E.B. DuBois “invented a way of being, a point of view, a style of work that quite naturally, dynamically and organically integrated science, art, history, and activism” (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Hoffman Davis, 1997, p. 7). In Rampersod’s portrait of DuBois, he “declined to see a separation between Science and Art, believing that such a distinction violated the integrity of intelligence, which could set no wall between one fundamental form of knowledge and another, since all belonged to the world of nature, of Truth…” (Rampersod in Lawrence-Lightfoot and Hoffman Davis, 1997, p.7).

We ask our students to view the world like DuBois, to imagine and pursue explorations of a world wherein there are no preset maps, only endless avenues.

The future is in the present: independent inquiry and the imagination to voyage into the interdisciplinary. Interdisciplinary learning is the explicit harnessing of the imagination, and the IDU is a formal invitation to form connections and explore these.

How will we teach our students to sail? How will we give them the courage and self-efficacy to journey independently?

The ways we make the future is by approximating it in the present.

And when the present resembles the future we intend, we are already transforming it.


International Baccalaureate Organization (2014). Fostering interdisciplinary teaching and learning in the MYP. Geneva: Author.

Garmston, R. J., & Wellman, B. M. (2013.) The adaptive school; A sourcebook for developing collaborative groups (2nd ed.). New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Gharajedaghi, J. (2006). Systems thinking; Managing chaos and complexity (2nd ed.). Burlington, MA: Elsevier.

Lawrence-Lightfoot, S., & Hoffman Davis, J. (1997). The art and science of portraiture. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Rauhala, E. & Jieyang. The poet who dies for your phone. TIME magazine. Retrieved from http://time.com/chinapoet/ on June 16, 2015.

Whipple, T. Slaves to the algorithm. The Economist Intelligent Life. Retrieved from http://moreintelligentlife.com/content/features/anonymous/slaves-algorithm on June 16, 2015.

Image used
“Boris Bernaskoni EM KA-01” By Bernaskoni Ltd. (Bernaskoni Ltd.) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

What if learning isn’t linear?

When we develop curriculum in schools, we’re saying “scope and sequence,” to mean the progression of learning experiences we design for our students. The term “scope and sequence” suggests that learning is a linear progression from a beginning point, through a series of points, ending at a particular point.

This linear model might have evolved from the industrial model of education so well illustrated by Sir Ken Robinson’s TEDtalk, animated by RSA. Because students are processed in batches through schooling, it might have happened that educators developing programmes of learning sequenced learning in a linear manner associated with grade levels.

But what if learning were not linear? What if each student has different times of readiness for different skills regardless of when he or she was born, which Sir Ken Robinson calls their “date of manufacture”?

This was the problem with the previous misunderstanding that the Approaches to Learning document in schools had to follow the format of a complicated matrix, wherein skills were mapped out as introduced and various points of proficiency and mastery indicated throughout the chart. The question still remains, if approaches to learning skills are mapped out in a linear fashion much like many of our ATL SLE charts in the past did, how do we account for students’ different times of readiness for different skills? Do we build a three- or four-dimensional matrix?

Kath Murdoch, writing about the inquiry learning approach, suggests that when students learn through the recursive inquiry cycles, we take into account each student’s thinking and learning process as their pathways to understanding. Inquiry approaches allow each learner entry points to understanding, and the teacher is able to facilitate how each student can follow individual pathways to understanding and skill acquisition in the learning process. The inquiry approach allows us to orchestrate learning; everyone has their preferred instrument to play, and they all come in to the song at different times, but together they play towards a collaborative harmony.

The inquiry approach allows us to follow a recursive, rather than a linear model for learning. This pedagogical construct is an underpinning approach to teaching and learning in the IB.

If learning is constructed through recursive inquiries, how do we address this non-linear curriculum?

Consider our curriculum framework for the continuum. The continuum framework involves a spiraling through concepts, from large macro-concepts in the PYP, into more specific concepts in the MYP, involving both interdisciplinary key concepts and disciplinary related concepts. As students spiral through the conceptual curriculum, they gain depth through the threads of macro-concepts, and they gain breadth by exploring relationships between the interdisciplinary key concepts through the disciplinary related concepts. See the example in the illustration below.

The conceptual spiral in the IB continuum

The conceptual spiral in the IB continuum

Similarly, there is a recursive spiral of approaches to learning skills in the continuum. If we take just one skill: analyse, we are able to see the spiral of this skill in the continuum’s programme of inquiry.

Skills spiral in the continuum.

Skills spiral in the continuum.

The curriculum might not be linear after all. Learning in the continuum follows this recursive inquiry cycle.

IB learning cycle in MPYPH (2008) and FPIP (2014).

IB learning cycle in MPYPH (2008) and FPIP (2014).

The suggestion here is that there are mini-curriculum cycles in the units we teach, and we use the inquiry cycles to spiral through conceptual understanding and skill acquisition and rehearsal in the unit.

As we move into the subject overview, we might find that the units spiral learning through the conceptual and skills framework in tandem, through the use of a learning cycle in the subject.

If we connect all the subject overviews and tease out the conceptual threads and skills development threads out of these, we may find ourselves creating a spiraling curriculum, delivered through inquiry and constructivist approaches, inclusive of and providing multiple pathways to understanding and mastery for all learners.


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

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