Category Archives: education

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








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.

Four Learning Theories: Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism and Connectivism

Let’s begin with a brief description of four well-known theories about how people learn.

1. Behaviorism: Learning is a response to external stimuli.

2. Cognitivism: Learning is a process of acquiring and storing information.

3. Constructivism: Learning is a process of building an understanding.

4. Connectivism: Learning is a process of connecting nodes or information sources; it is dependent upon technology and recognizes the role the Internet plays in helping people expand their learning.

Allowing for what we currently know – or think we know – about the brain, it is easy to see that each of these learning theories are both correct and limited. Given that understanding, there are elements of each of these theories that I find myself agreeing with, and there are elements of each that make me uncomfortable.

Consider Behaviorism. All of our lives, we are subject to conditioning by positive and negative stimuli. Praise and scoldings, pay and poverty, a comforting touch or a slap – all of these external stimuli impact our learning. And I disagree with the most narrow views of Behaviorism which hold that these external stimuli don’t foster higher level thinking. Our quest for love, acceptance and a comfortable life are probably the most motivating elements in our world. Some of the most sophisticated, high-level thinking humans have produced – in the form of art, exploration or simply mastering the math skills necessary to earn a good paycheck are driven by these external stimuli. But when Behaviorists ignore internal predispositions of learners, they oversimplify the learning process.

Cognitivism, with its emphasis on discrete facts and memory, is also a vital part of learning. Attending lectures, memorizing poems, music, sequential moves in sports and math facts are quite enjoyable for most people possessed of healthy minds, and this kind of learning has the further benefit of creating connections in our brains that also allow us to remember shopping lists and phone numbers and in other ways make negotiating life easier and less stressful. I think what makes me most uncomfortable about Cognitivism is not anything in the theory itself, but the attitude among some educators that it is somehow not an important or relevant part of how we learn. But, like Behaviorism, in and of itself, it’s an incomplete explanation of learning.

Constructivism is another facet of learning that all healthy minds engage in. A reality is that many schools – perhaps most schools – are poorly equipped to adequately facilitate this type of student engagement. And so we have example upon example of some of the greatest minds in history either literally dropping out of school or de facto dropping out of school in order to pursue a Constructivist model of learning under the tutelage of a mentor. What concerns me, though, is that many self-identified Constructivists take an approach as narrow as the Behaviorists. They overstate their case and ignore other important pathways to learning. Students who do not have a solid grasp of facts – and an ability to readily recall and remember what they do know – may be lacking the foundational blocks necessary to engage in meaningful construction of knowledge.

Connectivism is intriguing. But again, caution against too narrow an interpretation is warranted. While the theory of Connectivism may have emerged in response to our ability to acquire and share knowledge electronically, the principal is surely much older than this new technology. Anyone familiar with science, literature and the arts appreciates that circles of friendships and acquaintances – inquiry circles before anyone used that phrase – spawned some of the best thinking, writing and artwork of any given era. Humans have always been Connectivists, just as they’ve always been subject to external stimuli (Behaviorism), have had a need for and found enjoyment in acquiring and memorizing facts (Cognitivism) and have always sought out their own means of creating meaning out of the world (Constructivism).

My question is this: Why do so many educators see learning primarily through only one lens?

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