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This article has been written by Paul Morris, Series editor of the MYP by Concept series. For more information on the series, please go to www.hoddereducation.co.uk/MYPByConcept

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MYP Textbooks? Surely not!

To many who have been teaching, implementing or developing the IB Middle Years Program, the idea of an MYP textbook may seem oxymoronic. Surely the point of the MYP has always been that it is an open curriculum framework, flexible enough that teachers can adapt it to their own contexts, open enough that learners can bring to it their own inquiry and through their learning construct meaning? The textbook is a concept that is freighted for some with ‘old’ thinking about prescribed content, transmission, ‘coverage’ – all decidedly pre-twenty-first century.
As someone who has taught and so learned with the MYP since its early days, I was keenly aware of the apparent paradox. Equally, as a curriculum coordinator who implemented and developed MYP in two different iterations in three different cultural contexts, I knew that the strengths of the MYP (openness, flexibility) were also its greatest challenges. The MYP demands of teachers the highest level of practice within and beyond the classroom; it demands of learners that they assume the driving seat as they journey through cycles of inquiry. As well as contributing to MYP curriculum design and teacher support materials, I led workshops and delivered in-school training on MYP, and it was clear to me that there never could be enough exemplary material. Teachers, like learners, have their strengths – I have worked with outstanding classroom practitioners who perhaps do not take easily to the writing of curriculum and assessment. It was not uncommon that participants in my workshops would ask, ‘why aren’t there any good quality materials out there for the MYP?’ and with time I began to wonder the same.

Impact of the “next chapter”

The ‘next chapter’ changes implemented in 2012-13 both enhanced and built upon the constructivist underpinnings of the program. I was impressed: the introduction of a conceptual framework that was both transdisciplinary and subject-focused encouraged transfer and deep learning; the specification of global learning contexts allowed for open inquiry that connected the local and personal to the global and shared. These elements together provided for greater commensurability of MYP learning experiences across school contexts, and thus the possibility of establishing an assessment framework that was reliable without becoming prescriptive in terms of content.
This version of the MYP is as unapologetically challenging to teachers and learners as were those before. The commensurability implied by the conceptual framework made it possible to imagine materials that could serve as a springboard for teacher and student inquiry. When I began to work with Hodder Education on a proposal for a suite of materials to be developed in cooperation with the IB, the brief given by Robert Harrison, Head of MYP Development at the IB, was “we would like to see a textbook that is nothing like a conventional textbook.” A challenge, to say the least!

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Precedents 

There were precedents: I had worked with IB Publications on a series of texts called ‘Discovering the MYP.’ The thinking behind that series was to provide ready-to-use materials that served to familiarise both teachers and learners with the key elements of the MYP. They were transdisciplinary in approach. There were other materials out there that aimed to provide subject-specific depth by taking only the subject-specific or ‘related’ concepts and elaborating learning activities around those. It seemed to me that this approach led to a somewhat abstracted and potentially rather discombobulating learning experience. ‘Key’ (big, transdisciplinary) and ‘related’ (subject-focused) concepts only gain rich meaning through their interaction, their significance only made real when a global context is deployed to give them direction and impact. This was, after all, the point of the MYP curriculum design cycle.

Approaches to learning

We wanted to make sure that our materials were richly layered as the program demands: so activities would be designed with a focus on particular ‘approaches to learning’ skills, with interdisciplinary opportunities highlighted, and (with a view to those learners who would transition into the IB Diploma Program) connections made to the broader scope of knowledge frameworks, as elaborated through Theory of Knowledge. Design was important in signposting the layers and interactions between elements, providing for visual impact with relevance to the end users, the learners.

 

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Inquiry

And what of inquiry? Teaching and learning materials can guide and structure student inquiry. The material is therefore organised in terms of an overarching statement of inquiry that gives each chapter its focus and form, and the ‘narrative’ of the inquiry then unfolds through the factual, conceptual, debatable questions presented, signposted throughout the chapters at the top of each spread. With the permission of Harvard’s Project Zero, we incorporated Visible Thinking ™ routines as a way to stimulate learners’ imaginations, to prompt new questions. At the end of each inquiry, learners reflect back on where they came from, how they got there, and then are prompted to consider where they might now go. If this leads some teachers to take their learners in whole new directions – and so out of the text – all the better, mission accomplished!

Assessment as stimulus

The MYP 4-5 titles were also designed to align with the prescribed content framework for the IB’s pioneering e-assessments, and practice problems and summative assessment tasks reflect the e-assessment blueprint in their concept-based design. For the MYP 1-3 Sciences titles, we embedded the Next Generation Science Standards, both in scope of content and in the use of Approaches to Learning to develop key Sciences thinking skills.

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Next steps

At the time of writing the MYP by Concept series is poised to provide this structured support across all five MYP years, and across the program. Already released or just about to be are English Language and Literature, French, Spanish and English Language acquisition (across all phases), History, Integrated Humanities, Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics. All the texts launch with online teaching and learning resources, too, including unit planners, visual stimuli, task-adapted assessment rubrics and differentiated versions of tasks. It has been rewarding to receive so much enthusiastic feedback from teachers around the world, and we’re constantly energised by requests for new titles. The input of so many writers in so many different contexts internationally has also led to development of the design, and we are now developing new features for forthcoming titles – watch this space.

Text as facilitator

Texts, like teachers, should be facilitators. Whether print or online, they are tools to equip students with the higher-order thinking they need to dive beneath the ever-changing surface of instant information and ask why, how? Twenty-first century teaching and learning materials should leave learners with more questions than they thought they ever had, and this has been our guiding principle in developing the MYP by Concept print and online resources.

Contribute to the MYP discussion on Twitter with #MYPChat, @HodderIntl or view sample materials from the MYP by Concept series at www.hoddereducation.co.uk/mypbyconcept
 
This article previously appeared online in an abridged form in International Teacher Magazine.
© Paul Morris 2016-2017