Ripples & Reflections

"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong." Elkjaer.

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Bold Moves for Schools

This is a quick-and-dirty review of a book that ticks all the boxes for a curriculum nerd like me: Bold Moves for Schools, by Heidi Hayes Jacobs & Marie Alcock, from the ASCD (2017, 207 pages).

It’s a practical and comprehensive, yet concise and quotable handbook of where to take curriculum, learning and leadership for modern learners. Educators in international schools will see many familiar themes emerge, from student agency and creativity in the curriculum to effective assessment, learning spaces and teacher development. There is much here that can accelerate a well-implemented IB curriculum (or standards-based learning model), and this book will sing to coordinators as it does to me.

“Innovation requires courage coupled with a realistic sensibility to create new possibilities versus “edu-fantasies”. Moving boldly is not moving impulsively or for the sake of change. Moving boldly involves breaking barriers that need breaking.”

As a “pragmatic idealist” I like how the book connects a future-focused, genuinely student-centred education to the best of what we’re already doing. It avoids falling into the trap of trashing the traditional, instead framing bold moves through the antiquated (what do we cut?), the classical (what do we keep?) and the contemporary (what do we create?). Jacobs & Alcock insist throughout the book that these bold moves are mindful, that we are not “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” and that “meaningful curriculum composition versus meaningless imposition” is the goal.

How can we build a genuinely exciting contemporary educational experience that keeps the joy in the learning, the future in mind and the students in the driving seat? Through a systemic approach that focuses on what works and what could be: one which empowers teachers as self-directed professional learners and curriculum architects. For anyone trying to effect change in an existing (long-established) system, this respectful, well-reasoned handbook is worth a look.

“What is most critical is that the outcome reflect quality.”

I hope that much of what is in this book is not new to most curriculum leaders – particularly in the IB context – but it is great to have a volume that pulls it together in one place, with practical resources. This would make a great book study (guide here) for curriculum leaders and teachers. You will find interesting surprises, resources and provocations littered through the text, worthy of further discussion.

You may even make some bold commitments as a result…

Quick follow-up: I was at a Bold Moves Bootcamp with Marie Alcock recently, and it was great. There is a post about one of my outcomes (a DOK4 filter for transfer) here.


Check it out

Without being too spoilerific, here are some useful links and resources from the book:



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Webb’s DOK4 & Transfer

115013bLast weekend I took part in a fabulous Bold Moves Curriculum Mapping Bootcamp, by Dr. Marie Alcock at ISKL. I was there to think about next steps for curriculum planning at CA, and it was a great opportunity to pick the brains of a true expert (and get lots done). I like the bootcamp model for PD: short, focused and with the opportunity to take immediate action with great feedback from colleagues in similar positions.

Through one of the discussions about high-quality assessment, Marie dug into Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) framework. It’s not a “wheel” of command terms as is often (and incorrectly) presented, but a way of framing how deeply students need to know and use information, skills and concepts. Similarly, DOK is not the same as Bloom’s Taxonomy, and is not a pyramid or a hierarchy of knowledge that “peaks” at DOK4. It can be accessed from any of the other three levels, and effectively sits in parallel.

For a decent explainer of how DOK levels work, see this by Erik Francis for ASCD Edge – I used his DOK descriptors in the teacher plansheet tool.

In practical terms, as explained by Marie, students should be able to access DOK4 from any one of the other DOK levels. This is important, as DOK4 essentially can act as a filter for transfer.

How else can the student use the knowledge, skills and content at this level? 

This means that in curriculum and task design and differentiation, teachers can set up situations for all students to pull their learning (even if only at a recall/DOK1 level) through to DOK4 by applying it in a new context – as long as it is the same skill/target. For example, this might mean taking a scientific skill and applying to a new experiment, or a writing technique applied to a new genre. This is knowledge augmentation. MYP Teachers will see the immediate connections here to higher-order objectives in the criteria.


Teacher Plansheet: A Practical Use

Transfer is a notoriously difficult skill to teach, even though it is included in the ATL framework, and so I sketched up this planning tool (pdf) in the hope that it can visualise how DOK4 can be used as a filter to make transfer explicit. Follow the arrows as you think about putting a target standard or learning outcome to work. What level (DOK1-2-3) is expected of the student? How else (DOK4) could it be used? For some excellent, practical resources on applying DOK in the various disciplines, check out Dr. Karin Hess’s Cognitive Rigor and DOK rubrics and resources.


Transferring the Transfer: Thinking Collaboratively

How else might this tool be put to use? Here are some quick thoughts on how this might work with the collaboration of the relevant experts or coaches in the school.

  • Technology Integration: using the DOK4 filter as an opportunity to amplify and transform (RAT model) the learning task (but still meet objectives).
  • Service Learning: In moving from “doing service” to service learning, could this be used to help frame students’ focus on planning, or post-service reflection? As students learn about issues of significance, how can they put it work through transfer to meaningful action? As they reflect on their learning, can they connect new and existing disciplinary knowledge?
  • Interdisciplinary Learning: How can students take their learning and use it meaningfully in a context that requires transfer between disciplines?




Capturing the Criteria & “Zooming In”


Shortlink to this resource:

Update Sept. 5 2017 based on edits summarized in this update from the IB.

After some parent-teacher conferences recently, I was asked to show all of the MYP assessment criteria together and realised I couldn’t find something that met our needs for a single-reference, quick overview of the MYP assessment objectives and criteria.

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 17.52.59Here is an attempt to put the big ideas and rubrics together in one place, so that colleagues can quickly see vertical and horizontal articulation and connections, and so that parents have a resource to hand to help understand assessment.

You might find it useful.

To make your own copy, click “File –> Make a copy”.

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  • This involved a lot of clicking and is bound to have some errors. Big thanks to Mitsuyo-san, our data secretary, who helped with this. 
  • Descriptors in bold did not make it across from text to spreadsheet. Use original descriptors in student assignments.
  • This is intended only as an overview of the programme. Teachers must exercise caution with this, and default to the published guides on the OCC for assessment rubrics, clarifications, rules and guidance.


Edit: added 3 May 2017

Why the green bands? 

In each of the subject-area bands, you’ll find the Level 5-6 row accented with green. This is part of something I’m trying to work on with colleagues and students in terms of zooming into the objectives-level of assessment, and was something I used in #HackTheMYP.

The basic idea is this: 

  1. As a model of a 4-band rubric, we typically see the third band as ‘meets objectives‘. This means that the rows below are approaching and above are exceeding.
    • Try it: add up the scores for all 5, all 6 or a combination thereof. What does it come to when you apply the total to the 1-7 conversion chart? This is the kid that meets the outcomes of our core curriculum. 
  2. When we focus only on the top-band descriptors we may inadvertently end up doing one of two things:
    • Causing students to get stressed by default as they’re aiming for the ‘exceptional’ descriptors first. “The gap” between where they are and want to be is too big; or,
    • Falsely making our core expectations for all students fit the 7-8 band, thus leaving nowhere to go from there – creating a “low ceiling” and no room for extension into genuinely meeting those top descriptors.
  3. If we zoom into the 5-6 band first – in task design and as a student – we are able to set an appropriate expectation for all learners, see how and where to scaffold and support those who need it, and provide a “high ceiling” for innovation, application, analysis, synthesis, etc.
  4. It should then become easier to create the task-specific clarifications. If we can clearly describe the 5-6 “core” band first, we should then make sure that the levels above and below can be really clearly distinguished. In my experience, this is easier than starting at the top and working back.

If you’ve tried this idea (or similar), how did it go?


For a similar discussion and great resources, but in an SBG context, check out Jennifer Gonzalez’s (@cultofpedagogy) posts on the “single point rubric”:

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Standardization: Cycling away from the moderation “event”

A quick post to share a resource, based on some of our work at CA. I love cycle diagrams and was thinking about the process of moderation, planning and the challenges of effective collaboration when there are grades (and a big pile of ‘done’ grading) at stake. 

If you’ve ever tried to ‘moderate’ work that’s based on two or more teachers’ hours of effort in grading, you’ll recognise the challenge. The proposal here is to reframe stadardization as a cycle – various points of entry to working together on a common understanding of assessment – so that teachers align their assessment standards more closely. Post-hoc moderation events may tend towards defense of our own grading work; who wants to go back and change all that work?

Do you think you could put the cycle to work in your own context? 


Visualising the Curriculum: A Design-Cycle Approach

design-cycleThis year, two of my professional learning ‘Tankyuu‘ goals are to develop the curriculum review cycle for our school and to investigate ways in which we can best communicate our curriculum to the school community: parents, teachers, students and outside agencies.

What kind of MYP Coordinator would I be if I didn’t at least attempt to apply the Design Cycle to this design challenge ;>

Over the coming couple of months, I’ll post updates and ideas to the blog, following the cycle as well as possible. Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have found the right vehicle for curriculum communication and can start on putting it together.

Why do we need this?

As an international school with a diverse student body, light turnover in faculty and families coming in and out throughout the year, we need to be able to clearly articulate what our students are learning in a way that is understandable to all stakeholders. Where cultural expectations of curriculum might differ, as well as interpretations of an inquiry education (defined below), we need to show the common threads, the ‘safe knowledge’ and the space for exploration in our programmes. As an accredited international school and authorised IB World School, we need to be able to show that learning is built upon clear expectations and that articulation is maintained. As we look towards connecting our curriculum standards to our programme of inquiry, and as we seek to help our parents understand what we do as a school, finding a clear way to reach them is paramount.

Defining Inquiry

Inquiry is creative, critical, reflective thought, built on a foundation of well-taught knowledge, skills and concepts, that invites learners to take action on their learning and ask “what if…?“. (link)

The non-negotiables

Here are some parameters I’m setting before getting started. There will be more as the research develops and the design specifications take shape.

  1. We already use ATLAS Rubicon for curriculum documentation at the school. Teachers have done a lot of work on this over recent years, and we are moving towards using it as a tool for curriculum conversation rather than form compliance. Although it does not currently help our communication with parents, I will prioritise using ATLAS to its fullest potential over suggesting anything new and will not suggest any tool that generates extra work for teachers. If possible, the communication tool will draw from ATLAS to produce something clearer, leaving ATLAS itself as a ‘safe space’ for curriculum development.
  2. Communicating our curriculum needs to help parents understand the connections between curriculum standards, programme frameworks, our learning principles and an inquiry education.
  3. It must be attractive, usable and accessible to parents from different demographics.
  4. It must meet the requirements for CIS/WASC accreditation and for IB programme evaluation (such as producing clear subject group overviews for MYP). As we prepare for a synchronised visit in a couple of years, I’d like to be done by then.

Next Steps

In the inquiring and analysing phase of the cycle I’ll be looking for research on effective curriculum communication tools from the parent perspective, digging deeper into the potential for ATLAS and looking at some products that are available for curriculum visualisation. As I go, I’ll continue to develop the design specification.

If you’re interested in following this journey, I’ll categorise posts with ‘Curriculum’ and tag them with ‘Visualizing Curriculum’. If you have any comments or ideas, please leave them below or let me know on Twitter (@sjtylr)



The MYP 5 Design Cycle, with descriptors. Adapted for Canadian Academy from the IB MYP Design Subject Guide (2014).



Taking on the Challenges of Interdisciplinary Learning

Here’s a quick post of some work we’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks. Now that the foundations of MYP: Next Chapter are bedded in, with teachers using the guides, working well with the assessment criteria and coming up with some interesting inquiries, it’s time to tackle interdisciplinary units (IDU’s).

Although the school had some (nominally) IDU’s before, these tended towards more thematic connections; the publication of the IB’s”Fostering interdisciplinary teaching and learning in the MYP guide demands a higher level of sophistication and planning, as well as the use of a separate set of assessment criteria. In the interim period before MYP:NC, we disconnected a few IDU’s to focus on strengthening disciplinary practices, so that when we re-connected, they would be stronger and more authentic to those involved. As a result, more teachers are asking for ways to connect, some of the IDU ideas are evolving and becoming more adventurous and a keen group of teachers have attended (or are about to attend) IDU workshops.

The challenge as coordinator? How to manage and encourage this, whilst ensuring the energy remains in the connections without being diminished by the perceived added burden of a new planner, criteria and restrictions. My solution (for now) is to take on the formal documentation of the new IDU’s and build some support resources, so that the teachers can get on with it. In this prototyping year for the new IDU’s there will be plenty to test and evaluate. One of the key differences in this approach compared to our normal unit planning is that I manage the IDU ATLAS planners: while teachers discuss and plan together, I observe, question and clarify and record the results into the planner. The planner itself won’t be ‘complete’ until at least the second cycle through as we reflect and tinker, but at least we get to test the unit in ‘beta mode’ and see how it grows.

I’ve tried to capture the flow of the IDU in this poster, the purpose being a visual supplement to the IDU guide that will help us through the process clearly. As usual, it’s made in GoogleDrawings, so that I can embed, refine and include links where needed. I’d love to read your feedback in the comments below or on Twitter.

IDU Planning Poster Taylor

IDU Planning Flow-Chart for CA; an attempt to make the IDU guide more visual and quick-reference and to create a flow that will work for our busy teachers.

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“Culture does not make people. People make Culture.” Chimamanda Adichie

Another great TEDx Talk from Chimamanda Adichie, on “We should all be feminists.” She describes her journey as a feminist and her interactions around feminism with others.

“A feminist is a man or a woman who says ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it and we must do better’.” 

I loved this quote about Culture, but the whole talk is worth watching and sharing:

Chimimanda Adichie: "We should all be feminists."

Chimimanda Adichie: “We should all be feminists.”

Since reading about culture and curriculum (Denis Lawton’s ideas), I can’t help but see the connection between what we value and what we teach. As educators we should consider the ‘story’ we promote about gender issues and although I have some way to go, I do try to promote positive gender roles in class and made some significant changes to sexuality education last year.