What does self-directing learning look like in an IB classroom?

An ATL coordinator tells us how we can give students lifelong skills to navigate unchartered territories. The starting point? Teachers becoming learners themselves.

There is a reason why Radhika G from Pathways World School, Aravali fell in love with teaching in general and with IB in particular. The IB programme made her question everything as a teacher, including her beliefs and set notions about her profession. It nudged her to re-evaluate and redo everything. For a history teacher, this is a significant leap of faith.

“It is not just about content anymore and that is why I love the IB philosophy. It is about skills like communication and organization. It is amazing that students are allowed to think and perform activities based on these skills.”

A teacher who believes in letting children learn and explore on their own, Radhika was in the banking sector before she took a break from corporate work for a summer teaching job. She never went back! She laughs, “I have been with IB for about 10 years now!”

Radhika is currently the ATL coordinator for her school and teaches history. According to her, ATL skills form a crucial part of learning but implementing them is no easy task. “Delivering ATL lessons is not a joke,” she says.

The zone of optimal learning

When asked about her biggest challenge as a teacher, Radhika says, “With every class, you want to enter something called a flow, where everyone is just zoned in and you know that they are in the epitome of a good classroom. There is a lot of student ownership and leadership that is present. To make this happen, you need a lot of backhand planning by the teacher. You need to have your resources in place so that you can deliver lessons like a pro. This can be a bit of a challenge because teachers need to keep refreshing themselves with new content coming in everyday in every subject. It is no longer chalk and talk. You do a lot of hands-on work. You need to start seeing, going out and exploring with the students, who are so smart these days. They have an in-depth knowledge of everything.”

Teachers, she opines, struggle with preparing for ATL lessons and she ascribes this to how ATL lessons take much more time to research and deliver when compared to anything else.

"These are implicit skills but are not dealt with explicitly. It becomes easier with Callido’s resources. Callido’s lesson plans for each grade, and the way they are scaffolded really helps us.”

As an ATL coordinator, she references Callido’s online modules and informs teachers what needs to be done on a weekly basis depending on which grade has their ATL lessons planned.

The one skill needed to create autodidacts

With information becoming available to students, they can self-direct their learning and take ownership, but Radhika believes that self-awareness and personal goal setting matters. For instance, there are presentations and content that are readily available online and that anyone can access. However, the point is that students need to be encouraged to question everything they are doing. Why am I getting a PPT made when I can make a movie? Instead of simply knowing or understanding this, can I critically think or ascertain why this is of use to me? I am studying about the World War I today. How will this be useful to me? How is it relevant? That is how, in Radhika’s views, we need to approach everything in education.

With student ownership, she maintains that teachers need to start letting go and not control their students too much, especially if you want them to become autodidacts and self-directed learners. A teacher’s role is to ask questions and help them understand the path they need to take. Teachers need to keep challenging students and changing tracks to make things interesting. “If they did a debate last class, they don’t want to do one now,” says Radhika.

“So you need to do research work, plan as much as possible and try to get a lot of students take ownership of their work. I believe that that’s when they learn best.”

With resources devised by Callido, for example, students are always excited about ATL lessons. IB requires teachers to do explicit topics on ATL and with online modules, Radhika feels that the school has been able to make good progress in a year.

“We as teachers are also grappling with the entire new system and with these resources, it is much easier for us to get inside the system. Children are excited for ATL lessons and are so drawn into them that we need to tell them to stop! Even Callido’s teacher presentations are good because we are given step-by-step work. It is very helpful.”

ATL, she maintains, is the way ahead, even though it is a bit of an uncharted territory for most teachers. For so long, the traditional method of teaching has been focused on content but with content being so accessible and changing every day, the skills to tackle that content matter. “When you as a teacher are building on a student’s skills, you are actually building on yourself,” she says. “We realize just how important social skills are and how we need to be aware of biases that we may have,” she notes. “When you are aware of these shortfalls we may slip into, it helps not just the students to grow but you also grow as a learner and a teacher.”

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