How important is ATL?

The MYP was built around Approaches to Learning (ATL) skills. The whole idea of the developing programme in the 1980s and 1990s was to find a way to support students in learning and practicing a range of skills that would set them up for success in the IB Diploma Programme (DP). Over time the focus of MYP development has been around concepts and contexts, but still, at its very heart lies ATL. Students will be successful in the DP and beyond with a firm grounding in generic and subject-specific skills, through which they can demonstrate knowledge and understanding and application of them in unfamiliar situations.

The IB has placed ATL at the heart of the four programme models, seen as of equal importance to approaches to teaching in the attainment of learner profile attitudes. However, has the IB reinforced the importance of ATL through the mechanisms around programme authorisation and evaluation?

Do the Programme standards and practices reflect the importance?

The underlying nature of being an IB World School is described in the ‘Programme standards and practices’, which is at the core of the processes of how schools attain authorization and then keep improving through evaluation.

The IB values ATL as a crucial element to student success, yet the requirements of ATL described in the Programme standards and practices allow for schools to pay lip service and potentially miss an opportunity to develop the best possible learning for their students. Now, schools have few practices to meet regarding ATL (Programme Standards and Practices (2014):

  • The school’s organizational structures support the implementation of all subject groups offered by the school, ATL, service and the personal project (or community project for programmes that end in MYP year 3 or 4). (B1.6a)
  • The written curriculum includes an ATL planning chart for all years of the programme. (C2.1b)
  • There is a system for the regular review of individual unit plans and of the planning of ATL skills. (C2.1f)
  • Collaborative planning and reflection addresses vertical and horizontal articulation. (C1.3)

The chart described at C2.1b may be a detailed exploration of horizontal and vertical planning for the teaching of ATL skills, but it may also be a description of collaborative meetings held by teachers to discuss who is teaching what skill, and when. The expectations of this chart are not high.

What is changing with Programme standards and practices?

Towards the end of 2018 the IB will first publish the new Programme standards and practices for PYP schools, and this will be transitioned in for MYP and DP schools from 2020. The new documentation will attempt to present a view that learning is at the centre of IB World Schools, highlighting purpose, environment, and culture support learning for all.

There are a number of interesting changes that will make a difference in how schools look to implement IB programmes:

  • The number of practices has been reduced from 73 to 42.
  • Structure is changed to attempt to represent how schools organize themselves around IB philosophy and requirements.
  • Terminology and categories mirror IB documentation, for example ATL.

How will the changes impact how we look at ATL?

The future Standards and practices ‘raise the bar’ for schools in terms of requirements and ways in which schools will be expected to provide evidence of meeting these requirements at each practice.

  1. Systems and processes in place to document curriculum, policies, and procedures. The school articulates approaches to capturing and using data that informs implementation. Data informs changes to systems and processes and is used to demonstrate both the sustainability and growth of the programmes.

Implication: schools need to create or purchase a system of collecting data that helps to improve teaching and learning.

  1. Academic integrity policy which makes the school’s philosophy clear and is aligned with IB expectations. The academic integrity policy delineates responsibilities for teaching a variety of practices in academic integrity.

Implication: schools need a methodology to know when and where academic honesty skills have been taught, and in which order.

  1. ATL – The school can demonstrate how it plans, delivers and evidences the development of skills associated with ATL. The school has processes in place to actively engage students in their own learning. Students are articulate in explaining how they best learn and how they deal with challenges during the process of learning. Students use metacognitive tools as part of their learning experience. Students can articulate how they have developed and applied ATL skills; citing moments which demonstrate their understanding of: how these skills have enabled their successful accomplishment; that they have agency in shaping the development and application of these skills.

Implications:

  1. schools must have systems in place to support student metacognition;
  2. schools must have in place processes for students to engage in their own learning;
  3. schools must have in place a way of capturing evidence of the development of skills.
  4. Reflection – The school supports creative opportunities for student to reflect meaningfully on their IB experience (what they are learning, and why), both alone with others.)

Implication: schools must have in place systems where students can routinely reflect on their learning.

What do we conclude from the changes?

Schools need to be ready! The new Standards and practices will be in use for authorization and evaluation from 2020, so schools need to have systems and processes in place that capture which ATL skills are being taught, by whom, in which subject, and to enable students to reflect upon them. Putting in place an excellent ATL programme will go hand-in-hand with the use of systems and processes that support it.