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How Do We Plan Language on a PYP Planner?

Updated: Sep 7, 2020


Originally posted 2014


The webinar below is September 2020





The Challenge



The Solution



The Context

The Limitations




The Genre Approach to Learning ABOUT Language





But what exactly is a concept?


Leading author Lynn Erickson describes a concept as follows:





Can a text genre be a concept?




So where does the conceptual lens fit on the planner?


The PYP Planner doesn't have a special place for a conceptual lens (I hope that may change after the PYP Review). In the meantime a suitable place to put it is in the unit title.





The central idea




So let's recap what we have done so far...




The Learning Outcomes










Looking back at this I noticed I forgot to highlight some related concepts in the lines of inquiry. Look up and see if you can spot the relate concepts I missed. I'll put what I think the answer is at the bottom of this page! 


The Teacher Questions




The Finished Product (well almost)



Frequently Asked Questions What about the Transdisciplinary Nature of PYP?


Depending on the genre a stand alone language planner could complement a transdisciplinary unit of inquiry. For example a language planner on poetry may complement a unit on How We Express Ourselves. A planner about the concept of 'explanation' would complement a How the World Works planner with a science focus. In the latter example the students would be writing explanation texts about their science investigations. Other languages could (and should)  link to the same conceptual lens. For example teachers teaching mother tongue Vietnamese students would have the same (or similar) planner to that of the homeroom English teacher. Being transdisciplinary could be between languages which share the same conceptual lens. Aren't the lines of inquiry too wordy if they are written as conceptual understandings? Can the children access them?


They are written for the teacher and are not assumed to be shared with the students (except perhaps at the end of the inquiry when the students have worked out the understanding by deductive reasoning). So their adult nature isn't an issue


If all the conceptual understandings are agreed in advance how can this be inquiry?


Not all the understandings a learner will develop are included in the lines of inquiry. There are additional understandings about language that the children could well develop about (say) 'narrative' or 'persuasion' . There are however certain generalizations about language and what good readers and writers do which concept curriculum designers such as Lynn Erickson, Grant Wiggins, Lois Lanning  and David Perkins argue are worth pre-planning to ensure understanding. Remember also this approach is driven by questions; the children never see the lines of inquiry or central idea. Inquiry is very much alive.


In your example aren't there are too many lines of inquiry?


This is an interesting point. In Developing a Transdisciplinary Programme of Inquiry the guidance says 3-4 lines of inquiry. So yes for the purists there are too many. However why just 3 - 4? Lynn Erickson says 6 - 8. Does the number really matter? Or should schools be able to use their professional judgement? I'm not sure I know the answer but I think a few extra lines of inquiry really doesn't matter so long as you can explain their importance and how they enhance learning.


Where do the PYP Scope & Sequences fit in?


At UNIS Hanoi we don't use the PYP Scope & Sequences. I foresee that the conceptual understandings in the PYP Scope & Sequences could become some of the the lines of inquiry on language planners.  This would be the system for cross referencing which the Standards & Practices demand. Currently the conceptual understandings  are a little too broad to be easily assessed in my opinion. This also makes them less tangible for students to reach. I say this considering what authors such as Lynn Erickson, Lois Lanning and Grant Wiggins say about 'good' enduring understandings.For example if you put the current scope and sequence conceptual understandings through Lynn Erickson's level 1 - 3 model I imagine most would be just level 1. 


What about phases?


The differentiation comes in the scaffolding and assessment throughout. Each conceptual understanding can be demonstrated to different depths of sophistication. The outcomes therefore become the norm you "grade" the students against - the expected norm really for the parents and the school. We need expected norms as a reference point to help us decide things such as learning support, groupings, transparency for parents. But you don't teach to the grade level outcome you teach to the place on the continuum that the particular child falls. This means as well as the outcomes I listed in stage 1 of the planner, there would also be a rubric (or continuum) which shows what working towards and exceeding the outcome would look like. 


What about the PYP Key Concepts?


You may have noticed that we manage to go through most of the first page of the planner (summative assessment tasks being the exception) without even mentioning the PYP Key Concepts. Interesting that isn't it? Yet the planning system described still makes  sense right? That makes me question the role of the key concepts in planning. Think about it, do they serve any practical purpose? I'm not a fan of the Key Concepts as concepts. That might sound strange but what I mean by that is I'm not a fan of the concept of 'form', 'function', 'causation' etc as something we learn about. All other concepts (e.g. symmetry, narrative, colour, character, voice, cooperation, democracy) we learn about. The Key Concepts don't serve that purpose in my mind. They are so broad they can fit into any inquiry and any body of knowledge. So selecting one or more makes absolutely no difference to what our students learn. The Key Concept Questions on the other hand are quite brilliant as an approach to teaching & learning; as a way of inquiring and critiquing knowledge. No matter the inquiry or subject matter shouldn't we  always be asking "How do we know?" "What are the points of view?" "How is this connected to other things?" (and so on). Just like any good questioning technique or visible thinking routine these sorts of questions are indeed great practice as an approach to teaching and learning. The key concept questions should apply all of the time. We have to select 1 to 3 key concepts for the sake of the planner. The Bubble Planner says so. So dutifully we do that of course. Usually we choose function (How does the text type work?) and form (What is the text type like?) But like I say doing that makes no difference to the inquiry as we would of course always asked that (and other concept questions) anyway.


What about the rest of the stuff for a balanced literacy programme?


We don't include all of our language teaching and learning on these planners. For example we use Words Their Way (an inquiry based word study programme) as a word study centre. We have flexible, guided and independent reading groups which use the genre where possible. That said planning for reading groups is on an individual or group nature based on teaching points and accessible resources available for that child or group of children. So not everything fits. 


So what about those of us that don't use First Steps or another genre approach?


In this case you could still start with the conceptual lens (say poetry) and then, rather than going directly to your outcomes (as you don't have genre outcomes) you would brainstorm the related (poetry) concepts (e.g. rhyme, rhythm, adjective, rich-vocabulary, list, etc.) From these brainstormed concepts you would put them together to wordsmith conceptual understandings. Author Lois Lanning in her book Designing a Concept Based Curriculum for English Language Arts suggests that we have four sorts of conceptual understandings: responding to text, critiquing text, understanding text, producing text. I'm still musing with this idea. I highly recommend her book. 


Is a genre based approach best practice?


I have no idea to be honest. The nitty-gritty of language teaching is not really my strength. We happened to be doing it that way at our school so we just built on what we were used to. I'd like ideas on that! Does anyone have an opinion? By the way if indeed genre planning isn't your thing, the conceptual lens wouldn't  have to be text type, it could be any macro language concept such as: audience, structure, character or persuasion. 


Why do you believe we can't have PYP planners for additional languages?


PYP planning is all about teaching to big ideas. Language immersion is most effective for acquiring a language; not teaching to big ideas about language. If they are just beginning to acquire the language they are not able to use the target language to critique, pose questions, debate and so on so they struggle to access the big ideas we plan for them. We could allow them to debate and ask questions in their mother tongue however  If we allow this during language acquisition classes then we slow down their rate of language acquisition. I am all for students being able to use their mother tongue in every other discipline (mathematics, science, humanities arts etc) but generally-speaking language immersion and comprehensible input are the most effective way to learn (a new) language.

References: First Steps Literacy Website Lois Lanning  Designing a Concept Based Curriculum for English Language Arts Lynn Erickson - All of Lynn's books and educational material

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