I have set myself a goal for this year. To explore just how far I can push my units of inquiry to ensure that they are a true and authentic reflection of each child’s learning.
Over the last couple of years, I have run my unit’s concurrently over the whole year, each unit is broad and is written to ensure that all types of play could fit within it. I aim to ensure that the unit fits the students, never the students fit the unit.
Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about removing the structures of a unit – concepts, learner profiles and lines of inquiry, and adding them as you progress or even retrospectively. This idea came about because I have always struggled with the lines of inquiry, in particular, finding I either ignored them or chafed at the boundaries they presented. My question has always been ‘if I have already set the lines of inquiry then I am I not predetermining where students play will go?’.
On reflection, I see the importance of having some structure to a unit, giving it a purpose and focus. However, in early childhood, where play is the focus creating boundaries feels contradictory and against what I believe to be best practice.
As school year is a new start for me and it feels like a perfect time to test my ideas. Can I marry up best practice in early childhood with best practice in the PYP?
So what is the plan?
This year I am going explore adding the lines of inquiry to each of my four units over the year. I will use Storypark to help me tease out the big ideas from each unit, and this, in turn, will inform each of my lines of inquiry.
I currently use storypark to document the children’s learning, adding tags at the end of each story linking these to the transdisciplinary theme, learner profile and ATL’s. It is from this information that I will break down each unit, looking for those big ideas. As these appear I will write a line of inquiry that best fits the thinking and add it to the respective unit.
To achieve any chance of success I will need support. I am in a single grade level school, so I am a team of one, which is great for me and this experiment. However, you can’t create change all on your own, and I will need the experience and expertise of my collaborative planning team, made up of teachers from the next two grade levels, to help me analyze the data from storypark.
Before I start this process I need to ensure that I have a deep understanding of each of my central ideas and concepts. Without that deep understanding, I am not tagging my stories with any purpose or intent, in a sense, I am just stabbing in the dark.
The first step was to write up each of the central ideas on a big sheet of paper and ask the team to write down any play that they think might come out of each, i.e. Sharing the planet – We share the planet with many living things. Within this unit students might explore different animals, looking at their bodies and what they eat.
This helps me see if the central ideas are broad and open enough, do they allow for all types of play. The next step was to lay the concepts for each unit over the central idea, using these as a lens with which we view the unit. Here I aimed to take the play ideas we had already written down and use the concepts to articulate the learning that may happen.
The information that I gathered here, helps me to see if my concepts are a good fit, do they match with the possible play ideas. So far, in at least one unit I will need to reevaluate my key concepts, using the same routine to find the right concept that best articulates the play.
All of this ensures that the structure that I do start with allows for the greatest scope of play, assuring me that my units fit my students play and not the other way round.
I have also set check-in points throughout the year to give me focus times to dive into the units and start finding those big ideas that will ultimately inform my lines of inquiry.
I will keep you updated on how this process goes…
As you Helen, I am always humbled by your depth of understanding about how children play and how you continue to push the boundaries to ensure that you keep on learning beside them, and ensure the most effective learning through play for them. I can’t wait to see how these young learners develop under your tutelage. You are an outstandingly effective early years teachers and our school is lucky to have you on board helping to steer others in the same direction.
Thank you for courageously sharing your reflections on your learning process here, it is a pleasure to read this after seeing you in action and know that you are able to articulate just what it is that you are moving towards.