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Deep into assessment


I’m about two weeks out until the first summative assessment and I’m still learning things about the IB rubrics I did not know before. The Middle Years Programme objectives really need careful consideratiIMG_0538on, and I’m finding more and more that they are loaded with skills that we don’t usually take time to teach.  For instance, the individual and societies investigation objective, how often do we allow students to make their own plan of action, to formulate their own research questions or to collect and record their own information for an investigation? Not often, I’d say, and it particularly hit home as I had 19 blank looks when I said, “Ok, let think about how we will create an action plan for the maps we’re about to make that are due in two weeks time.”  I knew they were going to need a lot of support in formulating a research question, but I thought I’d give them a table and let them go at planning out two weeks of work. Wrong! And wrong on so many levels, first these 7th graders had never really created a plan for school work on their own before and second the objective isn’t about me giving them a table to plan on. So, I had to leave my content for a few days and teach these kids how to plan for something and to teach them different ways to plan out an event -basically, ATL skills. The next day we planned for a birthday party to be given in two weeks time, this they were familiar with. In groups, they brainstormed all
IMG_0537the things they would need and I walked around the room to make sure they listed specific things not just generic stuff. Then they were asked to sequence what they would need first, second and so on. We randomly called on a few groups to present and we had great conversations about how they left room in the schedule for things that might not go well and about how much time certain things would need. We looked at the different ways we could organize events and discussed how different people use different methods to organize their plans. We talked about the realities of life and that things rarely go according to plan and that you have to adjust your plans to meet your goals sometimes. This took a couple of days, but it was well worth developing the skill so that they could apply it to their school work. They will need more practice, of course, but it is nice to know that they will see this objective again and have multiple shots at it.

I learned some things about clarifying the rubric as well. I learned that I can take the command terms, IMG_0540qualitative terms, terminology and phrases from the rubric and give generic definitions, but then change the generic definitions to fit my summative task. This really helped me focus in on what I had to teach in the unit.

Here is what I did for one objective strand – formulates and effectively follows a consistent action plan to investigate a research question (This is the 7-8 level descriptor)

Clarifications for self-assessment:

  • Formulates: creates an original action plan


  • “does not follow a plan” – You just decide on the spot what you will do next
  • “occasionally follows– You sometimes check your plans to make adjustments and you sometimes follow your plans for making your Rapid Transit System (RTS) map.
  • “mostly follows– You check your plans every couple of days and make adjustments and most of the time you follow your plans for making your RTS map.
  • “effectively follows” – You check your plans every couple of days and make adjustments and you follow closely your plans for making your RTS map.


  • “formulates a limited action plan” – You copied and pasted the action plan table and have done very little to it since the day you got it.
  • “a partial action plan” – You have an action plan that is no particular format that is not complete from start to finish.
  • “a sufficiently developed action plan” – You follow a chosen format that you mostly stick to from start to finish.
  • “a consistent action plan” – You follow a chosen format that you stick to from start to finish.

The teachers are starting to write their clarifications this way and it is informing their instruction as well. One other note, the culture has started to shift around assessment in only 4 short weeks because all teachers are using the MYP rubrics for summative assessment. I think it says a lot about working as a team. If only a few of us were to have implemented the rubrics it wouldn’t have caught on as fast, I’m convinced that it is because we are all using them, that is why we are wittnessing a shift in the culture so soon.



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IB Bob’s Journey


My name is Bob Smith and, in 2001, when I began my journey into the educational world of the International Baccalaureate (IB) at John Glenn Middle School in Indio, California, we had three new Bob’s on staff. One Bob was a PE teacher, one Bob was a resource teacher, and me, the new Middle Years Programme (MYP) Coordinator, so PE Bob chose Bobby, resourse Bob chose Bob and for me, well the staff coined my name – IB Bob. I know it sounds somewhat arrogant, but it’s been fun to introduce myself as, “IB Bob, who UB?”

If the IB has taught me anything on this journey, it’s that I will never run out of things to learn about how to be a better teacher and to best support student learning.

Throughout the years I’ve worked in large public middle schools and high schools, as well as, a small private high school. I’ve worked as an IB District Manager for an urban school district and as a private educational consultant. I’ve witnessed the transformation of the IB Middle Years Programme, itself, doing my best to guide IB administrators and teachers through the transformation. All through this time, I’ve strived to put into practice and make practical the IB Middle Years Programme pedagogy and philosophy.


In July of 2017, I moved to Northern India to take on the job of an IB Middle Years Programme Coordinator, as well as, a year 2 or 7th grade Individuals and societies (I&S) teacher in the Himalayas at Woodstock School. I’ve wanted to create a blog where I can share my experience with other Middle Years Programme Coordinators and teachers, especially now that the Next Chapter is wrapping up and there are few good examples of MYP unit planners or of IB classroom practices out yet. So, here is my attempt!

IB MYP World Schools come in all shapes and sizes, my candidate school is a private international boarding school for boys and girls in grades 6 – 12; so I’m not here to say, “This is how you do it,” but to show you one way it can be done. Each Middle Years Programme Coordinator and teacher will have to take what is said here, and make it their own, according to each one’s circumstances.


Our school started on July 19, and I arrived on July 5. The school had applied for candidacy last April, so some things were started without my knowledge. About 10 days into the school’s orientation for new staff, I learned that the administrators had changed the electronic grade book to a standards based grading system for MYP years 1, 2 and 3 and that each of the 4 MYP objectives for each of the 8 subject areas were now the standards that teachers had to report on. So, in one fell swoop, like Canadians changing to the metric system, we were going to have to use MYP criteria to score all our first summative tasks from our first ever MYP units!

The benefits from a seismic culture shift are that there is not much you can do but learn the new ways and learn them fast, if you want to survive. So, my focus with the teachers before school started – 4 days away – was on MYP objectives and criteria. Fortunately, many of the returning staff were taking the Online IB MYP category 1 subject area courses and were into their second module. I say fortunately, not because the teachers were engaged and happy about their course, but because most were confused and frustrated with their new learning, and this gave me an opportunity to set up meetings with them to conduct face-to-face mini workshops prior to their next online learning module that they were to undertake. This way we could choose concepts and a context that we understood how to drive the content through. We were able to create summative tasks that showed a relationship to the statements of inquiry (SOI) the teachers had made.

Here are a few samples:

From Language and literature: Year 1 Creative expression

SOI: The craft of using self-expression and style can enhance communication.

Summative task: TASK: Creative expression (Assessed with MYP criteria C and D )

Your goal is to show your understanding of how the craft of using self-expression and style can enhance communication. You are a freelance poet and your audience is interested in Impressionist art.

A publishing company has contacted you to use your craft as a writer to creatively express, in words, artwork from the Impressionist era for a coffee table book. The company has given you 4 weeks to work through the creative process and to produce your response to a piece of Impressionist art for the book.  Considering this is going to be a published book, the company has requested that you carefully edit your work, paying close attention to vocabulary, grammar and punctuation.

You will craft a creative response to a piece of artwork from the Impressionist era.

Your piece will be evaluated by how well you produce text (Criterion C) and by how well you use language (Criterion D).

From Individuals and societies: Year 2 Thinking Geographically about the Earth

SOI: Communication constraints and adaptations over time, shape our understanding of place and space.

Summative tasks: TASK 1: Rapid transit system map (assessed with MYP criteria B and C)

Your goal is to show your understanding of how communication constraints and adaptations, over time, shape our understanding of place and space. You are a freelance cartographer. Your audiences are the inhabitants, visitors and tourists of a future urban center.

The situation is that by 2030, almost 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas and 95% of urban expansion in the next decade will take place in less developed countries. The Geographic Information Systems: Cartography & Publishing Services (GISCAPS) has been hired by several city councils to plan out a rapid transit system for developing urban areas around the world. GISCAPS has hired you to plan and map out a rapid transit system for one of their cities. You will work with a team of cartographers to plan and map out a rapid transit system for your developing urban area.

Your team will plan out a region’s rapid transit system (RTS), and then make a map that communicate how to use the region’s RTS.

Your work will be judged by how well you investigate your question (Criterion B), and by how clearly you communicate your information as well as how completely you followed the criteria given to you at the start of the project (Criterion C).  

TASK 2: Test: Analysing Maps (assessed with MYP Criterion D)

Students will be given 5 maps from different times and will be asked to analyse them for origin and purpose, for any constraints the cartographer faced during that time and for possible adaptations made after that cartographers time that would improve the map.

From Performing Arts: Year 3 Short Play (Note: The arts meet twice a week so one unit will take up the trimester)

SOI: Communication can show personal identity and/or perspectives regarding power and privilege.

Summative task: TASK: Short play (Assessed with MYP criteria A, B, C and D )

Your goal is to demonstrate your understanding of how communication can show personal identity and/or perspectives regarding power and privilege. You are an actor, playwright and director. Your audience will be YouTube viewers.

You’re a member of an activist theatre troupe with a strong identity. You have resolved to create a YouTube video to communicate your perspectives on power and privilege.

You will create a short play of no more than 5 minutes that communicates your group’s perspective on power and privilege.You will also create and keep a process journal.

Your work will be evaluated by how well you think creatively (Criterion C) and how well you respond to your own work as well as others’ (Criterion D). You will also be evaluated by your knowledge and understanding of theatre-making (Criterion A) as well as your skills as an actor (Criterion B).

From Performing Arts: Year 1 Ostinato Composition (Note: The arts meet twice a week so one unit will take up the trimester)

SOI: Composition can be built on patterns that start and stop in a specific time duration and place and space.

Summative task: TASK: Ostinato Composition  (Assessed with MYP criteria A, B, C and D )

Your goal is to show your understanding of how composition can be built on patterns that start and stop in a specific time duration and place.

You are a musician and a composer. Your audience will be young children.

You have been asked as a local composer and musician to demonstrate a composition based on ostinato patterns to Early Years classes who are learning about ostinati in their music class at Woodstock School.  

You will compose and perform a piece of music containing a 3 layered ostinati and describe to your audience how you composed your piece of music. You will also create and keep a process journal.

You will be evaluated by how well you demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of Ostinato music (criterion A), by how well you think creatively and demonstrate your rhythmic skills (Criterion C and B) and how well you evaluate the elements and principles of your piece (Criterion D).

From Mathematics: Year 1 Numerical Expressions, Factors, Multiples and Proposals

SOI: Logical relationships can be used to analyze systems in order to share finite resources in a fair manner.

Summative task: TASK: Proposal (Assessed with MYP criteria C and D)
Your goal is to show your understanding of how logical relationships can be used to analyze systems in order to share finite resources in a fair manner. You are working for a refugee or flood relief organization and you are in charge of distributing resources. Your audience is the program director.

A group of victims, many of them families, have arrived in your area and need help from
your relief organization. You have a limited amount of clothes, toiletries, food, water, and shelter to distribute among them, which you must do in the most fair and equitable way possible.

You have 5 minutes to pitch a proposal to your boss of how you plan to distribute the resources. You should use a variety of visual aids and a written proposal in the form
of your choosing. These materials should justify your choices, both mathematically and in the real life context.

Your boss will judge your work by how well you apply mathematical concepts to the real life event of distributing resources (Criterion D) and how well you communicate your knowledge and understanding of factors and multiples (Criterion C).

I knew you wanted a math example!

I’m proud of my teachers efforts to quickly put together their statements of inquiry and summative task(s), and I know we have a lot more to discuss and learn. As we have moved through the units, teachers have commented on how the objective stands have focused their teaching and have even brought up the need of certain skills students will need in order to meet the objectives, but we will save a staff intro to approaches to learning skills for the coming units. Right now it’s on an individual need to know bases, and I feel we are off to a good start.


IB Bob




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Reflections on Transformations


I helped to bring the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) to John Glenn Middle School of International Studies in Indio, California, so I saw the impact that an IB education could have on our students. But it was not until I taught a European history advanced placement class to sophomores at a non-IB school that I realized what a change had taken place in me as a teacher, as a life long learner. My life before the MYP had been about teaching different subjects as series of facts in a relatively two-dimensional model. My focus had been centered on content, content that would be typically forgotten by my students because they could not see the relevance to their lives. I cannot imagine teaching that way again, and I was not able to teach that way even when I was employed to teach advanced placement at a non-IB school in my last teaching job. The MYP had changed me. I now work as a consultant for public and private schools and I continue to help others see the value of an IB-educators’ approach to teaching and learning.

It is said that you never really know anything until you teach it. Had I not had the opportunity as a coordinator and then as a workshop leader to teach other adults, I do not think I would have come to appreciate just how much the MYP helped me to grow as a teacher. As an MYP coordinator at John Glenn, I witnessed teachers doing amazing things with their kids. With just a little encouragement from me, I saw them employ strategies that I had never dreamed of during my first years of teaching. All of a sudden we were sharing ideas because the MYP was also changing the way we talked to each other. As coordinator I explained to our staff that the MYP mandated that teachers talk about curriculum with other teachers, and that we not only talk about our kids but also take action to make sense of their days by planning engaging and rigorous units. We had to make sense of their day mapping out our curriculum both vertically and horizontally. The MYP challenged us to be more professional. Rather than our talks centering on content and test scores we began to look at student engagement and relevancy. When I became a workshop leader for the IB, I taught heads of schools and coordinators about the backwards by design approach to unit planning, and that the unit planner was not just a series of boxes to be filled in but a set of connected thinking steps to plan formative experiences that would support student success at a rich and engaging summative task. I hoped that my workshop participants understood the importance of formative assessments that they are more about giving feedback and guidance to help kids do better, that they should set kids up for success at a summative task. I shared with them that by using a criterion related assessment model; both kids and teachers could work together to recognize the skills necessary for kids to succeed at each level of the rubric not just the top. I tried to help them to see the importance of process as well as product, and the necessity for kids to see failure as part of success. And of course I shared how important it was for us to help kids look at and take action in their world from a more global perspective. My examples were not only about the wonderful Personal Project as a culminating experience for all MYP kids but that in each and every unit we plan we should recognize the importance of student engagement. I found that as I taught others the value of shifting our teaching from a two-dimensional to a three-dimensional model that I was also convincing myself. I was even coming to realize that the adversarial relationship between teachers and students could melt away if we were no longer planning for a gotcha at the end of a unit!

If teaching others helped me to reconsider and reflect upon my old practices then I had to take a long hard look at those old practices and find new ways to improve myself. Working with teachers to help them use the MYP unit planner forced me to question “the boxes and arrows.” What were those boxes framing? What were those arrows implying? So, I became an inquirer. I wanted to understand more about the importance of having concepts in a unit of study. And why was it so important to put it in a global context? I wanted to know who was writing about inquiry and conceptual understandings and were we just talking about it as a strategy or did we really have some strategies for teachers to use when they got back to school on Monday? So I began to inquire into authors who dealt with these ideas. I read Wiggins and McTigh, Lynn Erickson, Freire, Wagner and Daniel Pink. From understanding how hard it is to really set up an environment where we optimize cognitive transfer to the importance of merging key and related concepts, this “good teaching” was all coming together. Tomlinson taught me to separate behaviors from skills. They were all writing about some of the same things, about how we as teachers can optimize student success if we plan for it with the child at the center. These were things I had not even thought of before. We teachers had never been taught to be designers, but that really is what we were being called to do in the MYP, to design units of work that would engage kids at an age-appropriate level. I had rarely questioned what I taught or how I taught before this. I was pretty much doing to them what was done to me, unloading content, day after day, and rarely wondering if it was “sticking,” but often feeling that it wasn’t when it came time to assess them. The MYP was not only about planning good units in a backward design, it was about merging the conceptual big ideas with the content and putting the whole unit in a relevant context to engage kids.

I could have written about the many students whose lives have been changed by the Middle Years Programme, but I’ve chosen to write about my own experience and how the MYP has changed me as a teacher. After all, I had wanted to be a teacher ever since I could remember, since I was in the first grade. I was a good teacher or so I thought. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the IB Middle Years Programme that I realized just how isolated and complacent I’d become as a teacher. The IB MYP empowered me to think about why and what was important in educating young people and talk to other teachers about what worked and what did not. It forced me to inquiry into new ways to teach. It asked that I clearly communicate my expectations and to be caring and knowledgeable in what I present to students. It required me to be reflective about my practice and open-minded to new ideas and strategies in a world of rapid change. The attributes of the learner profile not only apply to IB students, but to IB teachers as well. The IB MYP had affected me in a way that we, as teachers, hope it will affect our students– it made me a life long learner.


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Let’s get our words right: what do we mean by “failure”?


I am a teacher. Have been since middle school when, under the watchful eye of the intrepid Wilberta (Bert) Lipps, who had been my grandmother’s swimming teacher some five decades earlier, I taught five-year-olds to swim and helped the over-65 group to stay fit in early-bird swim sessions. Since then, I have learned that being a teacher – no matter where you are – is not easy.  I continue to see this today each time I work with dedicated, hard-working teachers in my role as consultant for Cornerstone Educational Consulting.

Bert was at least seventy years old by the time she was my swimming instructor. She worked us, lap after lap, satisfied only with my personal best. She was honest with me, clear when I hadn’t reached expectations (I knew what she expected and I will swear to this day that she had eyes in the back of her head), and not once did she do the work for me or tell me I had failed and she needed to move on.

Recently I ran across a blog post that expressed honest concern about failure, from the perspective of a teacher and a parent. I thought Of Bert.

Josh Stumpenhorst ( worries about trends in some arenas toward sugar-coating what kids don’t know. He is thinking through our responsibilities toward learners for helping them know how to cope in the face of failure. I whole-heartedly agree that we should not tell kids they are performing better than they  actually are, though I do think that this communication needs to be delivered in a manner that encourages learners to try for more – to do better.
Bert was harsh sometimes, true. But it never occurred to her that I wouldn’t reach my personal best. It therefore never occurred to me.
First, it isn’t about making kids feel good about themselves; it is about helping kids learn by the very act of being honest (not brutal, but honest) with where they are in their learning. If they don’t have an accurate picture of where they actually are in their learning, kids – any of us really – are misled and uninformed. Not good. Not productive. Telling them where they are in their learning is not looking at them and saying, “you Failed.”  It IS helping them understand what they need to do in order to do better. 
Second, celebrating failure? Where does that come from? As teachers and parents aren’t we duty bound to actually help kids learn how to do things better? That isn’t celebrating failure – that’s ensuring that they know what to do next when they haven’t reached a temporal goal. Again, the rule ought to be don’t lie; it also ought to be not to hang learners over a cliff making them guess blindly what they could do to be better. 
The problem, I think, is two-fold. 
Begin with how we define failure. The word itself suggests that what’s done is done and there is no going back. And that is just not how life works. Think about it. As adults, excepting death of course, we nearly always have an opportunity to try it again – though we don’t always take up those opportunities. Why would we tell kids such opportunity is past? Don’t we teach them the wrong things when we don’t help them progress?
I’m reminded of the root of the word assessment – from assidere, meaning “to sit beside.”  If what we are discussing is learning, then assessment should be treated as a means to show someone, honestly and in a manner that can be understood, how to proceed. It is in the process.
Failure is a loaded word; as such, it can distract even the most dedicated of parents and teachers from discussing what we really need to be doing to increase learning. The word failure is, according to Webster, “an abrupt cessation of normal functioning.” or “a fracture”.  That cessation or fracture is fear-laden – and that definition, when applied to learning, is misleading at best. At worst it teaches unreasoning fear and an aversion to risk, the very qualities we aim to help our students overcome.
I wonder if we shouldn’t be more careful with our words. Falling short of something (as we see with students and learning) is a challenge, yes; a deficiency, O.K. But nine times out of ten, it isn’t yet a failure. 
If we are truly sitting beside and learning beside kids throughout the process, as Bert did with me in the swimming pool all those years ago, the instances of outright failure will diminish significantly. Let us stop using the mistaken reasoning of teaching kids “how to fail” as an excuse for not teaching them how to succeed.


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