Approaches to Learning skills and the Personal project

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By Patricia Villegas

How can we use the Personal Project to self assess our implementation of Approaches to Learning skills?

We all know that the explicit teaching and systematic development of Approaches to Learning skills along the whole MYP years enable students to apply the skills successfully in their personal project. Yet, how many schools today can look at the personal project results and feel that they have achieved that? Reflecting on the personal project results with fellow coordinators, many showed signs of surprise and concern. What happened? Where did we go wrong?  What can we do to improve?  How can we help our students develop mastery of skills?  How can we help them develop metacognition?

The reports show poor research skills, which subject was in charge of that? Who taught what? These were the most common questions that came up again and again in our meeting.

From experience, having worked for 17 years as Approaches to Learning area leader and PP coordinator, MYP coordinator and IB academic director articulating the PYP-MYP and DP, something I learnt was that any possibility of success in the implementation of ATL depended on the concerted efforts of the whole faculty systematically developing the skills explicitly. This was later on confirmed when as senior moderator and examiner of PP, I saw the progress of different schools around the world.

I think that we should take this as an opportunity to reflect and assess our implementation of the programme.  Let’s see which Approaches to Learning skills we do have evidence that have been developed and which skills still need strengthening.  Let’s see where we are in the learning curve and what needs to be done. Reflective communities learn from their challenges, take ownership and take actions.

Some actions that have brought about good results in the MYP communities have been to:

  • Look for evidence of all Approaches to Learning clusters in the personal project samples shared with IB in order to identify patterns.
  • Analyze the personal project results identifying the Approaches to Learning skills that need strengthening across the subjects in collaborative horizontal planning time.
  • Make agreements among all subjects and MYP years as to how for example research is approached and develop a school research procedure to foster consistency and supports schools academic honesty policies.
  • Assign Approaches to Learning cluster to groups of teachers so that they can further investigate them and develop explicit strategies to teach them across the years such as self management, communication
  • Develop a task bank of critical thinking skills that address the command terms so as to use them among all 8 subjects all along the MYP years
  • Develop a four-year action plan using the Approaches to Learning skills present in each PP assessment criteria as aims that drive the action plan.
  • Do backwards planning to develop an Approaches to Learning skill progression that is feasible, realistic and attainable by our MYP year 1,2,3 and 4 students and track the skill.

We are all aware that this of course, does not happen overnight, it is a planned process. Reflecting on the personal project results can be a start that requires collaborative planning times focused on tracking ATL skills and analysing evidence across the MYP school years.

As the MYP guide From Principles into Practice[1] reminds us:

“In planning curriculum, teachers often move among inquiry, action and reflection; these inquiry-based aspects of curriculum planning are iterative and interrelated rather than strictly linear.” “… Reflection can lead to action in terms of modifying units and ATL planning. 


[1]  International Baccalaureate Organization (2014), From Principles into Practice, page 59/60

Patricia Villegas has been an IB educator (IBEN) in the Americas region since 2002. She was principal examiner for MYP Personal Project, examiner for interdisciplinary, MYP site visitor, workshop leader and OCC faculty manager for MYP projects. Her background is in teaching of English as a foreign language from Profesorado Joaquín V Gonzales, Buenos Aires, Argentina. She holds a Master of Arts in Education Management at Bath University (UK).

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