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PYP in depth

The Primary Years Programme (PYP) focuses on the heart as well as the mind and addresses social, physical, emotional and cultural needs in addition to those considered to be more academic.

The traditional subject areas are valued, with an extra emphasis on the balance between the acquisition of essential knowledge and skills and the search for the meaning of, and understanding about, the world.

The programme provides the opportunity for learners to construct meaning, principally through concept-driven inquiry.

The threads of students’ learning are brought together in the transdisciplinary programme of inquiry, which in turn allows them to make connections with life outside the school.

This overview of the PYP is encapsulated in the PYP model (please take a look at the picture).

The PYP enables students to develop an insight into the experiences of others, through:

  • the knowledge component of the curriculum.
  • the IB learner profile and the attitudes that support it.
  • the students’ own conceptual development.
  • the expectation that they will engage in socially responsible action as a result of the learning experience.

Inquiry as a Pedagogical Approach:

Inquiry, as the leading pedagogical approach of the PYP, is recognized as allowing students to be actively involved in their own learning and to take responsibility for that learning. Inquiry allows each student’s understanding of the world to develop in a manner and at a rate that is unique to that learner. Inquiry, interpreted in the broadest sense, is the process initiated by the student or the teacher that moves the student from his or her current level of understanding to a new and deeper level of understanding.

Inquiry can take many forms, including:

  • exploring, wondering and questioning
  • experimenting and playing with possibilities
  • making connections between previous learning and current learning
  • making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens
  • collecting data and reporting findings
  • clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
  • deepening understanding through the application of a concept
  • making and testing theories
  • researching and seeking information
  • taking and defending a position
  • solving problems in a variety of ways.

Inquiry involves an active engagement with the environment in an effort to make sense of the world, and consequent reflection on the connections between the experiences encountered and the information gathered. Inquiry involves the synthesis, analysis and manipulation of knowledge, whether through play or through more formally structured learning.

A Concept-Driven Curriculum:

Central to the philosophy of the PYP is the principle that purposeful, structured inquiry is a powerful vehicle for learning that promotes meaning and understanding, and challenges students to engage with significant ideas. Therefore, in the PYP there is also a commitment to a concept-driven curriculum as a means of supporting that inquiry.

The PYP provides a framework for the curriculum, including eight key concepts as one of the essential elements. It is accepted that these are not, in any sense, the only concepts worth exploring. Taken together, they form a powerful curriculum component that inspires the teacher- and/or student-constructed inquiries that lie at the heart of the PYP curriculum.

  • Form: What is it like?
  • Function: How does it work?
  • Causation: Why is it like it is?
  • Change: How is it changing?
  • Connection: How is it connected to other things?
  • Perspective: What are the points of view?
  • Responsibility: What is our responsibility?
  • Reflection: How do we know?

By identifying concepts that have relevance within each subject area, and across and beyond the subject areas, the PYP has defined an essential element for supporting its transdisciplinary model of teaching and learning. Expressed as open-ended questions, the eight key concepts provide the initial momentum and the underlying structure for the exploration of the content of the whole programme. For example, asking “What are the points of view?” is a common practice in IB World Schools offering the PYP. It broadens the thinking of students as they take that first essential step towards international-mindedness—expressing a curiosity about and a willingness to consider another’s perspective.

The Transdisciplinary Nature of the Programme:

The PYP acknowledges the importance of particular subject areas: language; mathematics; social studies; science; arts; personal, social and physical education.However, the PYP also recognizes that educating students in a set of isolated subject areas, while necessary, is not sufficient. Of equal importance is the need to acquire skills in context, and to explore content that is relevant to students and transcends the boundaries of the traditional subjects. “To be truly educated, a student must also make connections across the disciplines, discover ways to integrate the separate subjects, and ultimately relate what they learn to life” (Boyer 1995:82). Ernest Boyer proposed that students explore a set of themes representing shared human experiences. In the PYP, this idea of human commonalities shapes theTransdisciplinary Themes.The programme defines transdisciplinary themes that identify areas of shared human experience and have meaning for individuals from different cultures and ethnicities. These themes are part of the common ground that unifies the learning in all IB World Schools offering the PYP. They provide the opportunity to incorporate both local and global issues in the knowledge component of the PYP written curriculum—what we want students to know about.

There are six transdisciplinary themes:

  • Who We Are
  • Where We Are in Place and Time
  • How We Express Ourselves
  • How the World Works
  • How We Organize Ourselves
  • Sharing the Planet

Students inquire into and learn about local and global issues in the context of units of inquiry, each of which addresses a particular transdisciplinary theme. The students make connections and contributions, and deepen their understanding through the perspective of their personal and cultural experiences. Both the traditional subject areas and the transdisciplinary themes provide focuses for students’ inquiry.

These inquiries allow students to acquire and apply a set ofTransdisciplinary Skills:

  • Communication Skills
  • Research Skills
  • Self-Management Skills
  • Social Skills
  • Thinking skills

These skills are relevant to all learning, formal and informal, that goes on in the school, and in events experienced beyond its boundaries. Students also develop skills and strategies drawn from the subject areas, but aligned with the six transdisciplinary skills. For example, becoming literate and numerate enhances students’ communication skills. The acquisition of literacy and numeracy, in their broadest sense, is essential as these skills provide students with the tools of inquiry.International-Mindedness in the PYP:There is one compelling component that stands out from the common ground that represents good practice in all IB World Schools offering the PYP. That is, the kind of student we hope will graduate from a PYP school, the kind of student who, in the struggle to establish a personal set of values, will be laying the foundation upon which international-mindedness will develop and flourish. The attributes of such a learner are listed in the IB Learner Profile, which is central to the PYP definition of what it means to be internationally minded. The IB learner profile is consciously value-laden, for this kind of learning is what the IB supports, and is the embodiment of the IB’s philosophy of international education. The attributes described in the learner profile are appropriate to, and achievable by, all primary years students. The teacher needs to interpret these attributes in a manner appropriate to the age and development of the student.

Through acknowledging and struggling to meet the diverse needs of the student—physical, social, intellectual, aesthetic, cultural—PYP schools ensure that the learning is engaging, relevant, challenging and significant. What adds significance to student learning in the PYP is its commitment to a transdisciplinary model, whereby themes of global significance that transcend the confines of the traditional subject areas frame the learning throughout the primary years, including early childhood. These themes promote an awareness of the human condition and an understanding that there is a commonality of human experience.

The students explore this common ground collaboratively, from the multiple perspectives of their individual experiences and backgrounds. This sharing of experience increases the students’ awareness of, and sensitivity to, the experiences of others beyond the local or national community. It is central to the programme and a critical element in developing an international perspective, which must begin with each student’s ability to consider and reflect upon the point of view of someone else in the same class. To enhance this awareness of other perspectives, indeed of other cultures and other places, PYP students are expected to be learning a language additional to the language of instruction of the school at least from the age of 7.

To summarize, when seeking evidence of international-mindedness in PYP schools, teachers need to look at what the students are learning, how they are demonstrating that learning, and how to nurture students within the school community. They need to consider whether students are making connections between life in school, life at home and life in the wider world. By helping students make these connections and see that learning is connected to life, a strong foundation for future learning is established.

Assessment as Feedback:

The prime objective of assessment in the PYP is to provide feedback on the learning process. Bruner states that students should receive feedback “not as a reward or punishment, but as information” (Bruner 1961:26). Teachers need to select assessment strategies and design assessment instruments to reflect clearly the particular learning outcomes on which they intend to report. They need to employ a range of strategies for assessing student work that take into account the diverse, complicated and sophisticated ways that individual students use to understand their experiences.

Additionally, the PYP stresses the importance of both student and teacher self-assessment and reflection. The assessment strategies and instruments—rubrics, anecdotal records, checklists, anchor papers, continuums, portfolios of work—proposed by the PYP are designed to accommodate a variety of intelligences (Gardner 1993) and ways of knowing (Bruner 1986). Where possible, they should provide effective means of recording students’ responses and performances in real-life situations that have genuine problems to solve. These authentic assessment strategies may be used in conjunction with other forms of assessment, such as standardized tests, in order to assess both student performance and the efficacy of the programme. In its approach to assessment, the PYP recognizes the importance of assessing the actual process of inquiry as well as the result of inquiry, and aims to integrate and support both. The teacher is expected to record the detail of the inquiry initiated by students in order to look for an increase in the substance and depth of the inquiry. 

Information cited from the IB website