Twitter, Professional Development and MYP

This has to be the best weekend for all-around professional development – bar my MYP Workshop Leader Training – that I’ve ever had. And the best part: I very rarely left the comfort of my house. With the 21st Century Learning (#21CHK)  conference taking place in Hong Kong and the MYP Workshops (#MYP) taking place in Bangkok, I had my two main areas of interest covered. Add to that the webinar given by Dr. Helen Barret on e-portfolios, sponsored by Classroom 2.0, and I was set.

The MYP Octagon

This is by far the liveliest Twitter discussion on MYP I have ever seen. One aspect stood out in particular: How does MYP prepare students for Theory of Knowledge in the Diploma Program? Eric MacKnight weighed in with his feelings on his blog and he bring up some very good points about the implementation of TOK. A major concern is that “students have little or no experience thinking about the sort of issues that arise in TOK.” His solution:

So let’s solve two problems at once. A weekly or biweekly ATL course in the Middle Years program would provide an opportunity to address learning habits and skills explicitly, and to engage in the kind of age-appropriate discourse that would give students invaluable practice thinking about how they think, so that when they arrived for their first TOK class in Grade 11 they would resemble fish in water, instead of deer in headlights.

This is a very logical solution for the TOK issue except, as my friend and (ex-) colleague Adrienne pointed out “the idea of ATL as [a] separate course is directly in opposition of philosophy of MYP’s AOIs.” (emphasis added)

The MYP, when practiced conscientiously, is a very good program. It has taken me years to be able to write that sentence – when I first laid eyes on it in 2002, I hated the MYP. Part of the problem I had, I realize now, was that I was looking at it from a Diploma Program point-of-view. There were too many things that I felt it didn’t do to prepare my students for the content -heavy IB Diploma. I didn’t buy in fully to Interdisciplinary Units (IDUs). I didn’t fully understand the importance or centrality of the Areas of Interaction (AOIs). (In my defense, neither did very many other people. With the recent release of the document “From Principles to Practice” (.pdf 1.26 MB) it has become much clearer. This is a must read – cover to cover – if you are an MYP teacher.) In short, I was teaching my MYP courses like they were Diploma courses.

The MYP is not designed to be a pre-IB Diploma course. It’s organization and structure do not explicitly follow from or lead into the Diploma Program**. The only thing that seemingly binds them is the IB Learner Profile. But if you teach MYP for the sake of MYP, if you use the AOIs to give focus to your units, if you use significant concepts to forge links between subject areas, if you strive to integrate the Approaches to Learning skills into every lesson, students will be well prepared to tackle any content-focused Diploma course, including Theory of Knowledge.

Thanks to @melanievrba, @krea_frobro747, @BrianLockwood, @ericmacknight, and  @amichetti for a fantastic discussion. I hope we can do this again!

** – While the organization and structures of all three IB levels (including PYP) are all explicitly different, I would like to see the introduction of a common vocabulary between the three programs. That would make everybody’s life so much easier!

10 thoughts on “Twitter, Professional Development and MYP

  • September 21, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Hi Clint,

    Thanks for this! I’ve posted a query on the OCC TOK forum, and another on the OCC AoI forum, asking whether TOK teachers find that MYP grads arrive well prepared for TOK, and whether MYP teachers feel that their schools do a good job of teaching ATL. I’ll be interested in seeing the responses.


  • September 22, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    @Eric Thanks for posting your questions on the OCC. I’ll be very interested to hear what the responses are as well. I also hope that we can add to this MYP conversation, both on blogs and on Twitter, in the future. I’m finding it a fascinating way to expand my thinking on pedagogy and implementation.

    BTW, I’m curious to know your thoughts on my idea of “MYP for MYP’s sake”. Do you think it is enough to let MYP and DP take care of themselves (as much as reasonably possible!)? Or is it important to always have that DP finish line in mind?

  • September 22, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Hi Clint,

    I don’t think it’s ethical to run the MYP and the DP in isolation from each other. The question at each grade level, after all, is ‘Are we preparing students to succeed next year?’ If the IB believes in the Diploma Programme, then they have an obligation to do everything possible to ensure that students coming out of their Grade 10 courses are well prepared to succeed in the DP courses. But this is easier said than done, given the basic structure of the two programmes.

    There was a flurry of stories a few years back on studies showing that in fact the MYP was not doing a great job of preparing students for the DP, so the problem goes beyond our topic—preparing students for TOK. It’s not difficult to see how this happened. The two programmes were designed by different people, quite a few years apart, and with different assumptions. The DP was from the start an exam-based curriculum; the MYP was not, and still isn’t. In fact the MYP is not a curriculum at all: it’s a curriculum framework. Within its structure a variety of curricula from around the world can be employed.

    So when you set out to achieve coherence between the MYP and the DP, it’s a bit like trying to hook up two train cars that run on different-sized tracks. In fact the coherence has to be achieved at the building or district level, so long as the MYP is not an exam-based program: each school or district must decide what curriculum to pour in to the MYP framework, and that choice will determine how closely their MYP program fits with the DP curriculum.

    This decentralization and non-standardization of the MYP curriculum has its advantages; it makes the program usable by countries all over the world. But there is a price to be paid for that.

  • September 24, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Eric, thanks for the great comment. You are really making me think about things that I might normally just gloss over!

    I agree that there seems to be little coherence between the MYP and DP, for exactly the reasons that you state: one is exam-based while the other is inquiry-based. This was one of my main gripes with MYP in the beginning! I do not know enough about the history of how and when the programs developed (perhaps maybe I should do a bit of research here!) but it is obvious, as you say, that they were developed at different times by different people. Heck, they even have their offices in different countries (DP in Cardiff, MYP in Geneva; but I think that is changing soon)!

    I’m not suggesting that these programs be run in isolation of one another. Of course it is important to have a clear articulation of your entire curriculum from PreK to Grade 12. I believe, however, that since DP is the ‘finish line’ it’s content takes precedence over the inquiry and conceptual basis of MYP. If we teach MYP courses with the true intent of the program in mind – particularly the idea of holistic learning and effective use of Areas of Interaction to guide our inquiry – I have found that MYP does a fantastic job of preparing students for DP. In fact, in general, our subject-by-subject results (on a scale of 1 – 7) improve as students move from Grade 10 to Grade 11!

    As far as I know, there are not set prerequisites for any DP course. A subject like TOK will certainly be challenging, at first, for students precisely because it is a new way of approaching their concept of knowledge and understanding. But can’t this be accounted for in the 100 prescribed hours of class time? We don’t necessarily require our students to have a working knowledge of Economics to take HL Economics. They really just need to know how to think and to learn. Can’t the same thing be said about TOK?

  • September 24, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Hi again Clint,

    I’m enjoying the conversation too; I just wish there were more people joining in!

    I strongly suspect that HL Econ students do better when they enter the course with a good deal of background knowledge in several different areas. Perhaps what I’m saying about better preparation for TOK is similar.

    I remember years ago teaching in Morocco, where most of my students had come out of the French mission schools, in which they learned to memorize whatever the teacher dictated or wrote on the board. I will never forget the look of blank terror on their faces when I asked, “What do you think?” They had never been asked that question!

    I tend to get less extreme but similar looks in a new TOK class. Clearly my students coming out of Grade 10 have done a lot of good work, and learned a great deal; but they have rarely or never been asked to think about thinking, which is what they have to do in TOK. I have taught in the MYP, and in Grade 10, and I know that I found it difficult to fit in anything like ‘pre-TOK’ content.

    My simple but heretical idea is that the often-overlooked ATL component of the MYP could be turned into a weekly or bi-weekly course that combines explicit treatment of learning skills and strategies with a bit of pre-TOK thinking about thinking. “AoIs should not be taught as separate subjects” does not impress me as a persuasive argument against my idea. I know that’s the MYP policy: I’m questioning whether, in the case of ATL, it’s the right policy.

  • September 25, 2009 at 11:06 am

    It’s important to remember that many schools DO run MYP and DP independently. So the issue of whether it’s “ethical” or not is a moot point, in my opinion. MYP does not need DP and DP does not need MYP. The two *should* be able to stand on their own independent of one another, and indeed they do in many, many schools worldwide.

    However, in a school where MYP *and* DP are offered, it is important for articulation to exist. And perhaps that means that curriculum is altered. A curriculum in an MYP school that does not run DP will (and should) look different from a curriculum in a school that runs MYP *and* DP.

    It’s also important to remember that the DP *does not have a curriculum*!! So many schools over look this. There are exams, and in some subject areas, the school has choice about the syllabus, but learner outcomes and objectives are not stated.

    Both DP and MYP are frameworks, and it is up to schools to make of them what works best for their particular community. Eric, I’m afraid we’re going to have to agree to disagree here — I cannot imagine an MYP school teaching AtL as a separate course. And I daresay I would not want to work in a school that takes such skills out of the context of subject-area learning. But I think that is because of my personal philosophy more than anything else.

  • September 25, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    @Eric Can we agree that students learn better in context? If so, then why remove ATLs from their subject-based context? I will agree that, at times, it may be necessary to run a specific Homeroom/Advisory/Life Skills lesson on referencing (for example), but even then it should be done when the students actually have something to reference. Let’s talk about personal reflection and metacognition after the Econ test so that we can apply it to something concrete. Let’s identify some areas where we can apply pre-TOK thinking and bring them up in the math or science or art class. I think, especially for the younger MYP students, to take these very important skills and discussions out of the specific subject classes and into a weekly or bi-weekly class would not be helpful. In fact, it may even reinforce the idea that these are not school-related skills.

    @Adrienne You raise a good point about the independence of MYP and DP. Does that mean, then, that MYP (or DP) workshops should think about running sessions that focus on curricular modifications depending upon circumstance (MYP w/ DP or MYP w/o DP)? Maybe not on a subject basis but for MYP coordinators and administrators? And while it may be technically true that DP does not have a specific curriculum, I think that point is moot. The DP is so syllabus- and exam-driven – and the stakes are so high – that there is only one real outcome or objective: Pass. I don’t know if I could point to one Diploma program where that is not the case.

  • September 25, 2009 at 8:11 pm


    Does that mean, then, that MYP (or DP) workshops should think about running sessions that focus on curricular modifications depending upon circumstance (MYP w/ DP or MYP w/o DP)? Maybe not on a subject basis but for MYP coordinators and administrators?

    I would argue YES – definitely, for coordinators and admin. There are schools which operate MYP and then students exit into their “local” diploma program. This happens in many schools in Canada, for instance. So yes, those schools would need to ensure that the MYP framework is being addressed, but that local curriculum needs are also being met.

    The DP is so syllabus- and exam-driven – and the stakes are so high – that there is only one real outcome or objective: Pass. I don’t know if I could point to one Diploma program where that is not the case.

    Qatar Academy. Many schools in Canada and Australia. In those schools, there is an actual curriculum for the DP program. Why? Because the community felt it was important. Or, because there are additional external curriculum requirements that must be covered. In the case of QA, I can tell you that we (as a team of teachers) felt that although DP was comprehensive, there were some skills that just were not adequately covered if students chose English A1, for example. A1 is all about literature and essay-writing; students do not do any real-world writing unless they are in A2. So, we wrote these extra bits into the curriculum. That is, there is an actual set of learning outcomes for the course. And at QA, this was done for every diploma course on offer.

    The added advantage of schools who choose to have curriculum written for their DP subjects is that issue you were complaining about earlier — articulation. It is *so* much easier to articulate between the MYP and DP when you have solid curriculum for both! If you’ve done any work with Grant Wiggins or Jay McTighe’s UbD and backward planning — not just from a unit planning perspective but from a curriculum writing perspective, you may feel (like myself and others) that teaching without a curriculum, even when exam-based, is like flying a plane without a co-pilot. Curriculum makes sense. Even in Canada’s “regular” educational system, which are also exam-based, the exams are related to the learning outcomes. From a curricular standpoint, I have a difficult time understanding how it could be otherwise.

    Also, in some of these schools, Grade 12 IBDP students do not leave school after exams in May. *Gasp!* Why? Sometimes it is for legal reasons — particularly in the US when there are state mandates about the number of days’ attendance. But also it is because the school has learning outcomes to cover that can be addressed after the exams, and this can vary from subject to subject.

  • September 25, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Hi Clint and Adrienne,

    I wonder why having an ATL class every week or two must be seen as taking ATL out of the curriculum in subject areas. With TOK, the effect is just the opposite: explicit discussion of knowledge issues in TOK leads to their increased integration in subject areas—when the subject-area teachers are aware of TOK!. I know this is true from personal experience teaching IB English A1. We touch on a certain question in a discussion and one of the students says, “That’s just like TOK!” Bingo.

    Imagine, for example, that students have an ATL class in which they review three different ways of taking notes, and that all subject-area teachers know this. Wouldn’t this enhance the teaching and practice of note-taking skills in all subjects? I never suggested that we “take these very important skills and discussions out of the specific subject classes”. I’m looking for more and better attention given to ATL, not less.


  • September 25, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    @Eric MacKnight
    But wouldn’t it be better if those skills were taught in subject areas rather than a separate class? In the DP, this is possible but highly unlikely given the very content-driven nature of the DP. However, MYP is *not* meant to be content-driven, and therefore the integration of AtL skills within subject areas is not only very possible, but easy, and preferred. I would even make so bold a statement as to say that if an MYP subject teacher is not teaching those AtL skills within his/her class, then s/he doesn’t get what MYP is about and either needs more training or to move to a different type of school.

    Having an AtL class every week IS taking AtL “out” of the curriculum because the curriculum of any subject area MUST include the teaching of AtL skills. Principles into Practice pretty much dictates this; it’s a non-negotiable.

    Keep in mind, Eric, that MYP deals with students as young as 11 years old. The integration you are talking about in your TOK example may work well with 16-year-olds, who are at a different stage in their cognitive development (more able to make abstract connections). However, pre-adolescents are not able to do this as they still think in very concrete terms, and therefore the connections must be embedded within the curriculum: this is the very nature and purpose of MYP!

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