Why MYP? The Path to Authorization

I am pleased to share that our middle and high school recently received authorization to become an IB MYP school after a three year process that included a great deal of curriculum design, in-house professional development, and outside MYP training. Though our school has had the IB Diploma Program since 1998, the  shift in instruction and planning was both noticeable and immediate as teachers quickly transitioned to planning units and lessons using the MYP curriculum planner. In addition, all teachers now identify and communicate via an “opening slide” the following information for each lesson: Area of Inquiry (Essential Question), ATLs, Key Concept, Related Concept, and Global Context. In this respect, the MYP has provided further consistency across the disciplines while allowing students to better understand the connections between the different subject areas.

I wrote two posts last year that aimed to answer the “Why IB?” question by looking specifically at the IB learning standards, key skills that are emphasized, and of course the importance of providing a curriculum that is rooted in international mindedness and global awareness. In an effort to better align to the DP while aiming to best prepare students for an ever-changing global society, the IB recently introduced a number of changes to the MYP. In many ways, the changes to the MYP are a representation of what all schools should be doing, regardless of philosophy, both locally and abroad. There are countless reasons why a school should support (or at least explore) a shift to the MYP. Here’s the top five…

It’s Fully Inclusive: Perhaps the most validating and comforting aspect of the MYP is that it is driven by a philosophy as opposed to a set of content standards. Given that, the fully inclusive MYP is designed to provide all students with rich inquiry-based experiences regardless of the level of the courses (honors vs. non-honors) that they opt to take. All students in the MYP complete the personal project, assessments are authentic and varied, and support is provided both inside and outside of the classroom to ensure that all students are fully successful. This ongoing commitment to equity and access distinguishes the IB from other “college-level” programs.

The MYP “Core”: Similar to the Diploma Program, the MYP is driven by a set of “core” principles that are embedded into all aspects of the program. This includes the IB Learner Profile, key concepts, approaches to teaching, global contexts, and of course the all important community and personal projects. Whereas the community project is designed to engage students in community service that allows them to “think globally while acting locally,” the personal project is a culminating MYP experience that allows students to research and apply their learning to a specific area of study. This year, ALL sophomores at DFHS will complete an MYP Personal Project and they will be the first class to receive an MYP School-Based Diploma. In addition to providing students with “real world” opportunities that “round out” the educational experience, both the community project and the personal project mimic the DP CAS and EE requirements and will ultimately help to prepare more students for the Diploma Program in grade 11.

Coordination & Continuity: Too often, there is a lack of coordination and articulation among individual schools that make up a school district. Teachers typically have limited time to coordinate with colleagues in other buildings and, in some instances, different philosophies drive the respective schools based on the belief systems of the principals who lead them. In this regard, the MYP makes perfect sense. In Dobbs Ferry, it is our belief that the MYP will not only further align our middle and high school, but will also ensure that all students are regularly engaged with rich inquiry-based experiences that promote critical thinking, real world application, and deep understanding. Furthermore, it provides a specific framework in terms of content and skills so that all coursework is properly aligned in grades 6-12.

Focus on Instruction: When I started at DFHS six years ago, our first professional development session was guided by the following question: “What are the qualities of an effective lesson?” This simple yet loaded question prompted a good deal of debate at the time and ultimately served as the jumping off point for all future professional development at our school. As I’ve noted in past posts, there is nothing more important than what is happening inside of the classroom. For school leaders, this has shifted the paradigm of leadership from managerial to instructional and has prompted teachers to rethink how they approach all aspects of teaching and learning. While content acquisition is certainly important, the emphasis has shifted to include learning experiences that allow for self-direction, application, and problem solving. This concept is at the “core” of the CCSS and it’s what IB Schools have been doing since the program was founded in 1968.

Interdisciplinary Teaming: While interdisciplinary grade level teams can be seen as a “given” in most middle schools, the challenge is to find high schools that provide a structure that allows teachers to collaborate in this manner on a consistent basis. By moving to MYP, the high school schedule is designed with the understanding that students must be prepared for an “interdisciplinary” world that continues to change with each passing day. In doing so, MYP teachers connect their disciplines by identifying both key concepts and related concepts while having students examine the global context (“the why?”) of what they are studying. Transitioning high school teachers to this mindset does not occur overnight and requires a different degree of understanding from teachers who may have difficulty thinking outside of their discipline. At DFHS, we introduced interdisciplinary teams four years ago and have reached the point where we will have comprehensive interdisciplinary units in place for next year. See “Embracing Process in a Product Driven World” (Post on 11/11/13) for more on the importance of focusing on process when introducing teachers to the idea of interdisciplinary teaming.

Please feel free to comment! Your thoughts and experiences with the regard to the MYP are both valued and help

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