Student led conference preparation

This post was cross-posted from my personal blog.

I started writing this post a year ago and for some reason, I never published it. I guess it’s good to go back and reflect – and add to what was …

There’s been much hype about these conferences (or are they three way interviews? I forget!) We have had our Teacher Coach  (@jocpyp) share her thoughts in preparing our staff and she kindly shared her Power Point with some really helpful questions for parents to ask their children during the conference.

Parent questions

I’ve read blog posts, among them some by Sam Sherratt and Hailey Joubert  and one shared by Jocelyn; and I’ve done these with kids before. Successfully. And where students have spoken confidently, using their examples of their learning as evidence.

Today, my class and I discussed the process. No one mentioned having done them before. I brought up our learning principles and we threw ideas around about how our learning connects to these.This isn’t new to the children and links were readily made.Children spoke about using the PYP attitudes and they dived into their thinking.

So many of them focussed on the product. They wanted to create a presentation for their parents. No matter what questions I asked, the were determined to create the presentation. So, I stood back and “allowed them to play the game”.

I am really thankful that I began this preparation with them well in advance.I am hoping that they will get to understand that a presentation has a purpose. Is this meeting with their parents the time for that or is it the time for conversation, using pieces of learning as evidence, when required, to share the insights about themselves as learners, their progress at school and their thoughts about how they shall be moving forward?

I guess that we are all about to find out …

The night was great! I loved listening to the children. Very few needed me to ask questions to help guide the conversation.

Two fathers (coincidentally both university professors) quizzed me after their child’s session. “How did you get my son to think like that?” one probed.

The other said, “I have been trying all year to get uni students to reflect. My ten-year old son has just done everything I am trying to achieve with those adults. HOW ?”

I guess the conversations in class paid off!

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What If, It’s Not The “Program”?

From my archives but it continues to be relevant in terms of social issues and its overlay in education.

This started and continues to be a post about education, but I digress for a bit. (I write this post a day after the tragedy in Orlando, Florida.) What if our role as educators is to instil empathy, love and humanity in our students, first and foremost? What if our kids learned from our example that hate is the antithesis of acceptance, love and hope? What if this could make a difference?

As teachers leave the classroom for the summer (and after a post I read by @ChristinaNosek) I, too, reflect about our roles and interactions with our kids and the programs that often drive our teaching.

WHAT IF we get to know our students and built relationships before we started the “program”?

WHAT IF we saw their strength, not the weaknesses & struggles in our students, before we started the “program” ?

WHAT IF we remembered to make room for the joy and wonder inherent in learning and teaching, before we started the “program”?

WHAT IF we set up our classes with kids in mind and better yet, had them contribute to classroom design, before we started the “program”?

WHAT IF we valued their input, asked questions, listened to their voices and gave them choices before we started the “program”?

WHAT IF we really practiced what we believed, knowing the “program” will fall into place when the time is right for each of our students.

WHAT IF we went back to being teachers of children and not of the “program”?



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A Grade 2 Math Inquiry

At the heart of the IB Primary Years Programme is the belief that learners learn best through inquiry and finding out for themselves rather than being told, and that learning is deepest when learners have a personal connection to the learning and share in the decision making about what they learn and how. In class we have been talking a lot about inquiry -what it means and what it looks like:

  • It’s when you are discovering and finding things out.
  • It looks like you are playing but you are learning at the same time.
  • If you have an idea that you want to try and you do it again to see if it works, that’s inquiry.
  • Sometimes it’s noisy!

This week the children have had opportunities for “free” mathematical inquiry. We talk about how this is not a free play time, but a time to explore a mathematical interest or idea of their own choosing, with a view to finding out more. The children know that they will be held accountable and that at the end of the session they will be asked to share their learning with the group.

To help the children get started, we begin by brainstorming together to come up with some possible lines of inquiry. Over the last two weeks, I have noticed that several of the children have shown an interest in large numbers, often talking about millions, billions and trillions. I suggest that this might be an area they wish to pursue more. We write this idea down on the chart paper. Another child suggests an inquiry into Number of the Day. This is a daily quick mental math activity designed to develop children’s understanding of number. Yet another child left a “really tricky” math problem as a comment on the blog. Several children have risen to the challenge and want to try and find an answer.Marcus's math problem
Continue reading

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A New Year (Rosh Hashanah)A New Adventure

As I write this post for Inquiry Within, I am not sure where this will lead, but like the learner I strive to be, I’ll go for it and see where the road may take me. When we ask so much of our students a good place to start, in my opinion, is to “go for it” looking forward with the understanding that iteration is just part of the growth. So mistakes are part of the journey and the journey is part of life. And what a great time to start, now!

I look forward to reading posts that people contribute. As we reflect and look at our work, we combine years of learning that can lead to global collaboration to help students find their way.

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Change this one thing…

This post was originally published on

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Don’t ask a child a question that you already know the answer to.

“The objective of education is to increase possibilities for the child to invent and discover.” (Malaguzzi, The Hundred Languages of Children)

We know that curiosity leads to learning. As teachers, we want to sustain each child’s spontaneous curiosity at a high level. Yet, we kill it slowly, every day.

“What colour is that?” (when painting a picture)

“What is the name of that insect?” (when looking at a bug outside)

“How many blocks are there?” (when building a tower)

“Is 5+6 really 12?” (when looking at a child’s error in addition)

In order to maintain the sense of wonder that children have in discovering, listen to them, observe what they do, and nudge them forward with thoughts, and statements of observation. Enter into the wonder yourself.

“Tell me about your picture.” (when painting a picture)

“Look! The caterpillar is munching on a leaf!” (when looking at a bug outside)

“That tower is tall! I wonder how tall it can get before it falls down.” (when building a tower)

“Can you explain your thinking here?” (when looking at a child’s error in addition)

Therefore, a powerful change to make in your interactions with children is to avoid the temptation of expecting children to give you back what you already know, i.e….

Don’t ask a child a question that you already know the answer to!

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“Inquire Within”?

As I sit down to consider the value of “Inquire Within” and my role, within the blog, I am struck by some really powerful thoughts …

  1. This is a platform, easily accessible and full of amazing ideas, thoughts and reflections, shared by people all over the world (across 6 continents, to be precise).

2. Each author is skilled in their craft. The fact that they are willing to shared their ideas with others is commendable and should be encouraged by and for all educators.

3. The platform allows sharing of reflections on and for learning – with the principles of  inquiry underpinning and guiding the authors.

People want to share their ideas here. Feedback is from knowledgeable, inspiring people. The posts and comments fuel our thoughts and future practice. They give us an inkling of what is happening in different schools, different classrooms and different places. All contributors take on an inquiry stance.

  • What can we learn?
  • How can we learn best?
  • How do we collaborate to create best practice?
  • What concepts are we sharing; what concepts are we reading about?
  • What does this lead me to think; to do; to change?
  • What should we do next?

And so, as we peer inwards, as our blog encourages us to do, let us consider what we should share … What we can learn from the sharing and where can this blog take us?

Please board this platform, once again or to start afresh so that we can all dig a little deeper, share a little more and really “INQUIRE WITHIN … ”



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The META Unit (pt 1)

This is part 1 of a series of blog posts tracking a change in practice we are trying this year.

This idea came from our frustration with a very busy schedule where sequential Units of Inquiry left little breathing room on the calendar. In order to give ourselves a bit more room on the schedule, we have decided that each Primary class will designate one of their units of Inquiry as a META unit.
After our initial planning session, two different types of Meta units emerged:
1) The Long Term Project Based Learning

Grade 5/6 will take a unit and do a year long project. On Friday afternoons every week, as a school we have a period dedicated to Community Time/Passion Projects. This class will take that time and apply it to a UOI once a week. The students will negotiate and decide what that will look like.

2) The Central Core
Grade 1 & 2 and Grade 3/4 are going with a different approach. They choose one unit that will act as a philosophical core for the year. It will be weaved in and out of everything. The unit on NEEDS is all about our basic needs as humans (who we are). This will include our needs as learners and as a member of a community. This will be used as a vehicle for reflection and character development.

The other unit is on EVIDENCE, which is all about defending your claim with some kind of support. The class will use CLAIM–SUPPORT–QUESTION as a central philosophy. They will use the other 5 units to inquire into different types of evidence, and different ways of presenting it and analyzing it. There will also be an ancient civilizations aspect to this, but we are still working out what that looks like.

Of course this is just the initial thoughts! We have no idea where it will go, but that unknown quality is very exciting….

To be continued @ The Lead Learner

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A School’s Guiding Statements – who and what are they for?

One thing that we want to focus on this year at Bandung Independent School is our new Guiding Statements, approved by the School Board in May 2016 after a lengthy process of review involving all community members, including a Vision Mission Values review committee made up of teachers, administrators and parents.  Throughout the process we were mindful of IB Programme Standard A: ‘The school’s published statements of mission and philosophy align with those of the IB.’

The process of determining our new guiding statements involved several meetings and a lot of heated debate.  It was certainly not an easy process, and not one without controversy and heated debate.  Deciding what type of school we were and wanted to be evoked emotional responses, and even some criticism.  A few people who had been at the school for a long time almost resented being told by relatively new community members what type of school was desirable; and some of those who were new to the school felt that we needed a different approach.

After the summer break we returned to school and realised that many staff could not even remember the new vision.  Why had we spent so long reviewing and revising our Guiding Statements?  Was it simply because we’re coming up to accreditation and therefore needed revised guiding statements for our self study?  Did they really matter, and how were they going to guide our decisions and actions over the coming years?

On 19 August we held the first PYP assembly of the year.  After welcoming new students and staff we focused on the new vision –‘At BIS, it is our vision to nurture individual potential and be an internationally-minded school of excellence.’  In mixed level groups, students decided how we meet our vision through the PYP attitudes.  Each group was given one attitude and prepared a short skit to demonstrate how we work towards our vision through their particular attitude.  What does it mean to nurture individual potential?  How can we be internationally-minded?  What exactly is a school of excellence?  We felt that connecting the vision to something that the students were already familiar with, the PYP attitudes, worked well.  In the PYP we decided that we wanted to focus first on the students and help them to understand and show commitment to the vision, mission and values of their school.  We were also keen to do this within our inquiry-based curriculum framework in a way which fostered children’s curiosity.

In the following week’s assembly we focused on our new school values.  We deleted the headings of the three columns and the students worked out which values are connected to ‘Academic’; which to ‘Community’ and which to ‘Self’.  In mixed level groups, students next decided how to demonstrate our 10 values through skits.  The groups then presented their skits and the audience used their thinking skills to decide which value each group was showing.  It was certainly encouraging to see that younger students were just as enthusiastic and seemed to understand the values just as easily as older students.

It is very important to us that students as well as staff and parents understand the new Guiding Statements and can connect them to their own role in our school.  How can we make sure that they are not forgotten soon after they were established and announced to the school community?  How can we ensure that they remain ‘alive and kicking’ and play a crucial role in decision making and in the life of the school?

We will be thinking of ways of creating a sense of ownership of and commitment to our new Vision, Mission and Values.  We would like to have images on display around the school of community members demonstrating our different values, or of learning engagements that refer to them.  Perhaps we can request that our parent association use them to evaluate the after school social activities that they plan for this school year.  We would be interested in hearing ways in which other schools have ensured that community members understand their vision, mission and values and use them to ensure ongoing reflection and school improvement.

Bandung Independent School Guiding Statements:

On 23 May 2016 the Board approved the following Vision, Mission and Values:


To nurture individual potential and be an internationally-minded school of excellence


Through relevant, challenging and engaging programmes, we inspire every learner to become skillful and courageous, empowered to participate responsibly, successfully and with integrity in a global community.


Bandung Independent School values:



·     learning as a lifelong process

·     academic rigour and excellence

·     creative and critical thinking


·     respect and empathy toward others

·     building character through a strong ethos towards service and action within the local community

·     creating a safe, caring and open-minded environment

·     being an internationally-minded community


·     integrity and taking responsibility for actions

·     resilience through courage and willingness to lead and take risks

·     balance and wellbeing for ourselves and others.

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Before we close the door…

This blog came to life, six years ago, with an invitation to inquiry teachers to ‘inquire within’ if they were interested in sharing their reflections on inquiry learning in this collaborative space.

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At first there was interest and growth, but then it began to slow down, as the contributors were busy with other blogs, with teaching and learning, with their families and with their lives.

A few years later, a new invitation was issued: I’d like to revive this blog before its complete demise. ‘Is it possible? If not, it’s time to close the door…’

Inquire Within took another breath and burst back to life with contributions from educators in more than a dozen countries on 6 continents, over a period of several years… and then began to languish…

Without the time to nudge, cajole and bully people into sharing their writing here, it seemed to be time to let the door slide quietly closed on its own.

But Dale has opened it again today with an exciting example of a writing inquiry! Before we give up and close the door completely on the life of Inquire Within, I am issuing a challenge to every single contributor (and any other inquirers!) to share another post at Inquire Within.

The usual terms apply.

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Because a School Said Yes to Writing

At 8 AM June 2, 2016, at Mott Hall Science and Technology Academy, a public middle school in the South Bronx, the students have gathered for their daily assembly to hear Dr. Patrick Awosogba, the principal and founder of this International Baccalaureate World School, conduct his usual morning address. When he announces it’s Writer’s Odyssey Day, a wild cheer erupts.

Within minutes students who have signed up to write mysteries are plunging their hands into black boxes to guess their gooey contents; those who have selected math how-to guides are combing their notebooks for topics to explain to next year’s students; those who have opted for advice columns are watching hilarious videos as models. They are in the flow and will continue so for hours as they pre-write, draft, exchange feedback, revise, edit, present, and celebrate their work.

I see no student disengaged as I visit workshops throughout the day. Students I know to be troubled– and in turn to cause their share of trouble – concentrate intensely. One has been allowed to listen to music on his ear buds as he writes his handbook on solving for X.

In my peregrinations I see science fiction writers hard at work on their stories under Mr. Davenport’s tutelage. Elizabeth and Jenefa share theirs with me and I notice elaborate plots, tense suspense, dramatic titles (My Parents are Aliens!) Their use of detailed and accurate science terminology is a pedagogical miracle, a meaningful resuscitation of content that would otherwise have been lost to time. I can easily see these young ladies’ names on the covers of best sellers in the not too distant future.

Students in Ms. Christian’s class have adopted the points of view of individuals from different castes and religions in India, to write richly evocative list poems. The atmosphere is monastic with concentration. During share time, Kareem reads the thoughts of his Dalit persona and it is emotionally forceful with the stems, “I will…I love…” A student offers a critique, “I think you should show, not tell…” and provides concrete examples. Kareem goes right back to work using the new ideas.

In another class, Genesia is working on a billboard to counter the racism that oppresses her generation. She is using an image from a recent news reports, found on the internet. Nearby, their teacher, Ms. Guido, is conferring with a student to make his political billboard more credible by finding a quote. “What words will grab people as they drive by? I think you need to do a little bit more research.”

Apprentice writers in Mr. Kantor’s info-graphics workshop are making graphs of the data from their student surveys of features of teen life: “How many sneakers do you own? How many animes have you seen?” A boy says, “This is actually interesting.” Mr. Kantor points to instructions and exemplars on a carefully prepared power point when the students hit roadblocks in their work.

Teacher preparation is evident everywhere: well-chosen exemplars, step-by-step instructions, stimulating resources. Each teacher has laid out a purposeful agenda for the day. For their breaks, other teachers have been not only been scheduled to cover them, but have been given plans to carry projects forward. It’s clear that the teachers are as enthusiastic as the students.

This is one well-oiled voice-producing, meaning-making, community-enriching machine, with a hefty byproduct of teacher satisfaction. It’s hard to avoid the impression that the best that public schools have to offer is being realized here.

How did it come to be? I give credit to the word yes.

In the fall of 2014, Principal Awosogba identified writing as a high-impact skill in need of development. In response I proposed a creative writing initiative that would involve every teacher as a master writer. After an assessment of the interest of the staff, Dr. A. (as he is known) said yes and the project was initiated.

I proposed that we develop capacity through a series of rigorous workshops that would take up hours of professional development time. Dr. A. said yes.
During the workshops, when teachers were asked to reflect on their experiences as writers and build new experiences, they embraced the challenge with an unhesitating yes.

When the teachers recommended that a design team for the initiative be assembled, Dr. A. said, once again, yes, even though this would pull teachers away from other “core teams” at the school.

When the design team, under stalwart guidance from the beginning by IB Coordinator Yoshie Otomo with Special Advisor Miriam Ruiz, proposed that teachers experiment with using genres as performance tasks to assess content learning and provide feedback for future PD sessions, the teachers, as was becoming their habit, said yes.

And so it went: Use genres twice a year in every classroom as a summative task? Yes. Have each teacher become master of a genre? Yes. Dedicate two entire days per year to the initiative, with all the planning entailed? Yes. Use valuable time at school retreats to learn new genres, share inspiring student work, and plan in teams? Yes. Create an anthology of teacher-written exemplars? Yes. Set aside days from Language and Literature units to polish writing? Yes. Devote energy to a continuous cycle of data collection, feedback and adjustment? Yes. Dedicate summer days and per session funds for the design team to create a handbook? Yes. Create a contest for the students to name the project? Yes. (And what a perfect name they crafted: “The Writers’ Odyssey!”) Set aside PD time for teachers to plan their Writers’ Odyssey workshops? No problem. Request that Writers’ Odyssey Day be extended by a half day to allow more time for revision and presentation? Go for it!

Educators from schools in other cities and even from abroad have come to witness The Writers’ Odyssey in action, and have begun to say yes as well. I am still working on the word why, as in, “Why does everyone, including the students, embrace this project, given the time and effort required?” But yes is a gratifying word to live with until I figure why out.

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