Leading through Change: Adopting a blended learning approach for explicit development of ATL skills

Richard Greaves, MYP Coordinator at Victoria Shanghai Academy shares the What, When, Who, Why and How of explicit development of ATLs.

Sometimes, initiatives that are undertaken in schools are done so as the result of a long, deliberate planning process. Ideally, they are carefully aligned to the mission and vision of the school and are either there to directly satisfy an action point on the school development plan or work towards this goal as part of a structured chain of initiatives. Sometimes they happen through chance. In our experience, developing student ATL skills outside of discrete subjects was certainly opportunistic, but has offered positive benefits beyond the original intention.

The prospect of losing physical space in any school is always a challenge. When this space is the main hall it throws up all kinds of concerns such as “Where can we host large cohorts at the same time?”, “Where will we put on our performances and Exhibitions?”, “How do we minimize the impact of PHE and The Arts”. With my curriculum hat on “What can we do with the time when students are normally in assembly?” was the more exciting question. For most year groups the simplest answer was to supplement individual subject time where we could identify it appeared to be of benefit. For one year group, the solution became more interesting, our MYP Year 3 would have non-subject time based purely on ATLs.

In the school context, this was a logical avenue to explore. As a mature IB world school, the idea that ATLs were fully embedded in our practice with students showing high degrees of articulation in their development in these skills should be a logical assumption.

In practice, the school had fallen a little bit towards the trap of citing ATLs as stamps recognizing the skills that students should acquire during their learning, as opposed to their rightful place at the forefront of planning and delivery.

Whilst in time, reviews, meetings, plans and PD would start correcting this situation, a more visible project to champion ATL development in our learners would increase the discussion around these skills.

At the same time as “The great ATL revolution” (as I optimistically called it) was taking place, backwards planning and research activities in academic departments had been identifying certain key skills as targets for development. This was based on the specific individual characteristics and strengths shown by diploma level students in our school context. The conclusions of these were that we could aim to foster greater research and critical thinking skills throughout the MYP in order for students to flourish more within the DP.

So in a short timescale the “What” (developing Critical Thinking & Research skills), the “When” (one period per week instead of assembly) and part of the “Who” (MYP Y3 students) had come together to give us quite a compelling “Why” (linking multiple whole school objectives).. With the time available and the group well defined the focus could now be on the “How”.

Again, through fairly serendipitous timing, we had already been in conversation with Callido and their online and facilitator guided sessions revolved around the exact skills that we were aiming to add.

One additional bonus was, like many schools in recent years, we were looking to increase the emphasis on student agency including finding ways that students can be more active in their learning. The blended learning strategy that Callido provided for us fit this brief very well, with students working through units at their own pace up to check points where facilitators consolidated their learning.

One challenge of adding something completely new into a mature curriculum is in acknowledging that however brilliant you think your idea is, other people have to share that vision to make it happen well. From a Senior Leadership perspective you often have additional visibility on multiple initiatives happening within your school. Therefore, when you see a project that can pull together many objectives in one go, it is naturally quite exciting. However, it is worth remembering that those who do not have that continuous day to day whole school focus and (quite rightly) concentrate more often on their own specific areas, may not share your initial enthusiasm.

So it is important to go back to basics in bringing together a team and establishing a shared vision and purpose, and marking a clear route forward. In launching an initiative such as this, the remaining part of the “Who” is also very important.

Teachers firstly with the capability to engage and understand the concepts of the course, flexible practitioners who are keen to take on a new challenge, contribute to the success of the project and communicate the progress.

In reflecting after a full year of delivery, the project was a success. Firstly, and most importantly, when benchmarked against similar cohorts using the pre and post course assessments, the students showed excellent progress in the development of their skills. These reports gave us excellent visibility of the value of the course and also external endorsement of our own thoughts on student capabilities in the areas covered. Interestingly, in looking deeper into our own course surveys, we found that the teachers had to adapt to the online sessions more because they were not receiving the continuous feedback they would expect in normal lessons, whereas the students were very enthusiastic about the benefits of learning online at their own pace.

The best endorsement came from seeing the use and discussion of these explicitly taught skills in individual subject lessons at a more advanced level.

With the project focussed on MYP Year 3’s acting very much as a pilot, plans are now being made to role similar programs out to all students in the MYP. This will allow the explicit learning of ATLs outside of subjects to be one of continuous development throughout the MYP and not just a booster year in the middle.

-Richard Greaves

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