Sunday, 13 December 2015

Teachers as inquirers together: the PYP and mathematics

My school is now taking up the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP) for all learning including maths. The philosophy of the PYP is to make the students into "inquirers, thinkers, communicators, risk takers, knowledgeable, principled, caring, open-minded, well-balanced, and reflective."

Heavy on abstract nouns, eh? But a nice pick. Inquiry is especially central.

Now, as Dan Meyer recently tweeted, inquiry can mean a lot of different things to a lot of people.

But (and I think I've got another blog post to write on this) it does mean something. It means, for one, that the students should be questioning, and that their questions should count for something, maybe a lot.

And, if we extend it to teachers, they can be questioning, asking how they can develop too.

In England there's been exchanges with teachers in Shanghai, in an attempt to see how they get such a good ranking on the PISA tables. One of the commonly remarked on differences is that teachers in Shanghai "have more time to...  have teaching research groups, and they can observe other teachers teaching in the classroom. They can engage themselves in a lot of professional development activities."  (link)

I'm also impressed with this, from the PYP document Making the PYP happen (PDF link p84):

How mathematics practices are changing

Structured, purposeful inquiry is the main approach to teaching and learning mathematics in the PYP. However, it is recognized that many educational innovations (or, more accurately, educational reworkings) suffer from the advocacy of a narrow, exclusive approach. The PYP represents an approach to teaching that is broad and inclusive in that it provides a context within which a wide variety of teaching strategies and styles can be accommodated, provided that they are driven by a spirit of inquiry and a clear sense of purpose.
The degree of change needed to teach mathematics in this way will depend on the individual teacher. For those teachers who have grown weary of imposed change for which they see little point, it should be stressed that teachers are not expected to discard years of hard-earned skill and experience in favour of someone else’s ideas on good teaching. It is suggested, rather, that teachers engage in reflection on their own practice, both individually and in collaboration with colleagues, with a view to sharing ideas and strengths, and with the primary aim of improving their teaching to improve student learning. In doing so, they will be modelling the skills and attitudes that have been identified as essential for students. 
So, what's good for the students is good for the teachers. Rather than a curriculum that is imposed, there should be space to interrogate our practice, and to learn from each other's ideas.

What might this look like? Well, I was very struck by Elham Kazemi's idea of teacher time-outs. Even if we don't go for this particular idea, there's something about the spirit of collaboration in this video that is really constructive. As Elham says: “not to watch and evaluate each other, but to problem-solve and inquire into teaching, and, most important, student thinking, together”.

Of course, I'm part of a lot of online collaboration as part of the wonderful #MTBoS maths teacher blog-O-sphere, but face-to-face is good too.

And in fact I've had some great experiences thinking together with colleagues this year, working with Estelle on valuing talk in the classroom, and with Rosie on philosophy and big questions, visiting each other's classrooms and trying things out. Although I already have great planning sessions with Julie, my colleague in Year 4, I'd really like to spend more time with colleagues in other year groups seeing together what inquiry could mean in practical terms in maths lessons.

1 comment:

  1. I have a hypothesis: more important than any particular practice is thoughtful reflection on practice and experimentation (followed by more thoughtful reflection). The real trick, though, is what tools and habits we develop around that. If possible we harness all 6 factors for influence (see Greny. Within that scope, enlisting a collaborative, friendly co-teacher, co-explorer is probably the most powerful.