PYP Planning: Moving from Where We are to Where We Want to Be

pyp bone diagram



The ideal is to plan for different learning needs, to vertically align curriculum and to effectively collaborate… The present reality suggests we’re falling short.

The top two forces working against achievement of our planning goals are:

  1. a lack of meaningful faculty input regarding various aspects of staff development and collaboration.
  2. the lack of differentiated professional development experiences.





The Primary Years Program: A Constructivist, Internationally-minded View of Learning

constructing knowledge student nIn a PYP school, the entire community works synergistically to support students on their own journey of inquiry as they construct new understandings in a diverse world.


In a Primary Years Program (PYP) school, all learning is guided by the principles of internationalism and open-mindedness. People from diverse backgrounds, with their unique experiences, bring rich perspectives to the understanding of the world we share. It is from these various perspectives and experiences that new understandings are constructed.

Student versus teacher control: Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of teaching and learning in a PYP school is that the teacher is permitted to step back. While direct instruction remains an integral and vital part of any teacher/student relationship, in a constructivist classroom it is balanced with student-driven inquiry and open-ended learning. Thus, in a PYP classroom it is common to see the teacher in the role of facilitator, supporting learning rather than directing it. One of the key teacher roles is to model the behaviors of a reflective life-long learner.

Grouping strategies: In a PYP classroom, grouping strategies are varied and balanced. Whole group, individual, paired and small group instruction, inquiry, assessment and reflection all play a role.

Use of physical space: Variety and balance again is the watchword in a constructivist classroom. There may be areas of the classroom set up for individual exploration of a topic, group work or for students working in pairs. Materials will be readily available to the students, and may include not only items to support artistic expression and exploration, but ICT, science, geography, literature and other resources as well.

Strategies for language learning: Language learning strategies, too, will be rich, balanced and varied in a PYP setting. They will include separate instruction in a non-English language for all students, the honoring and support of students’ home languages, and additional support, as necessary, for English language learners.

Assessment practices: Assessments will not be limited to traditional pencil and paper tests, but at all stages – formative, ongoing and summative – it will be varied to include opportunities for students to show the depth of what they know and are learning. Students may use various media, including ICT, to demonstrate what they understand. The teacher adjusts assessment strategies as student inquiries grow. Assessment is not viewed as a “final stage” but is part of an ongoing, cyclical, reflective process.

Classroom management: Essential agreements regarding interactions among all members of the classroom community are constructed with meaningful input from students. Learner profiles and attitudes guide students in making responsible, principled, thinking choices.

Written by Jack Donachy in collaboration with Barbra Donachy. See more about life in Mongolia at


Summative Assessment Model for an Interdisciplinary Unit of Inquiry


Ten thousand hours, 100 swings a night. Meaningful practice is the bedrock of mastering skills. Having the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and skill acquisition is part of what makes school fun.

Below is the framework for a third or fourth grade unit of inquiry on exploration. Following this framework is a GRASPS-formatted summative assessment project.

Explorer Unit Theme

Goal: Your goal is to communicate information about an explorer.

Role: You will first be a researcher. You will then be the presenter.

Audience: You will be presenting to your teachers and your classmates.

Situation: You will be the expert. Your audience will probably not know very much (or anything) about the subject of your Google Presentation. You will explain why you chose the person/topic you chose, their contributions to our understanding of their field, and the benefits others derived from their exploration.

Product/Performance and Purpose: You will create a Google Presentation incorporating relevant text, photographs, video clips and (optionally) music.

Standards & Criteria for Success: Your presentation should be about 10 slides and include the following:

  • An explanation of why you chose your person/topic.
  • Facts about what contributions your person made to his or her field.
  • Facts about obstacles and challenges faced.
  • An examination of how the exploration benefitted (or harmed) others.
  • Logically sequenced slides.
  • A simple bibliography documenting the sources for your information.



Presentation to Parents: Understanding Assessment in a PYP School

student project learning

Assessment in Primary Years Program schools, where learning is acquired through interdisciplinary student-driven inquiry, can be confusing to parents. It’s up to teachers to explain the what, how and why of what we’re doing. The following PowerPoint presentation was created to that end.Slide1








The Central Question: Why do We Assess?

students assess their work & others n

Third grade students use Post-it notes to comment on classmates’ work. With thoughtful guidance from teachers, young learners can play a meaningful role in the reflective process that is at the core of assessment.


Many educational institutions get hung up what they teach and assess, or perhaps go no further than discussing how they teach and assess. The central and most important question though is, “Why do we assess?”

Missing from the education of my youth was the use of assessment as a means to synthesize new information. A biology teacher would give us 20 vocabulary items to memorize and correctly identify on a weekly test, but beyond that, we seldom if ever used those terms in any meaningful way. History and other social sciences, math, foreign languages and even literature were generally taught in a similar manner: knowledge was acquired through memorization, and proof that learning had occurred was measured with multiple choice, true/false, or short-answer tests.

Only those of us in athletics were lucky enough to be able to routinely engage in meaningful assessment. In sports, new skills were acquired, new understandings about those skills were explored, and in meets, matches and games we had the opportunity to “put those new understandings and skills to the test.” After the contest, as individuals, in collaborate peer groups, and with coaches we engaged in reflections about how we had performed. These sports-related assessments were the most fun part of school.

There is no reason academic assessments can’t be equally engaging.

Reflective Teaching & Learning: What Comes to Mind when You Think of Assessment?


Reactions to the word “assessment.” Click the photo to enlarge.

Mention the word “assessment” and most people have a reaction. As I was writing down my thoughts, I found them falling mainly into two categories: things I like regarding assessment, and items that call for awareness and a balanced approach.

Two additional thoughts seemed to merit caution. First, for everyone involved, assessment can at times cause stress. And second, since the best scientific research has invalidated the theory of “learning styles,” I believe it’s time that educators respect that science and drop this term from their vocabulary. We have learning preferences, and as reflective educators and learners we should be aware of that. As to the theory of learning styles, people interested in this topic may want to Google the search phrase learning styles theory debunked and read some of the numerous articles that come up.