Approaches to Learning, Approaches to Life

Christine DeLuca

Assistant Principal for Grades 2-5, Christine DeLuca, explains how the foundation of ISZL’s Primary curriculum teaches students a lifelong curiosity about the world around them.

Learning - Student writing on whiteboard

Assistant Principal for Grades 2-5, Christine DeLuca, explains how the foundation of ISZL's Primary curriculum teaches students a lifelong curiosity about the world around them. 

In the autumn of 2021, the upper primary at ISZL hosted a local teacher for a week. Her goal was to learn more about international education and experience a different approach to teaching and learning. While she spent most of her time in Grade 5, she was also able to observe Grades 2-4 and to participate in the students’ full programme.

Before she left, I sat down with her to ask for her perspective and impressions of our school. She felt that our school is vibrantly international, but what impressed her the most were our students. She remarked on how open they were when welcoming her, while explaining their work, asking her questions and being very curious about who she was. Whilst she had visited many other schools, she felt this was something that made our school a very special and energising place.

What is it about our international curriculum and diverse population that supports students to be more open-minded, confident and curious? The International Baccalaureate’s (IB) Learner Profile provides us with guiding principles and a shared vocabulary across the school and in our dialogue. Through consistent use of the Learner Profile, values such as being open-minded, caring and principled are transmitted to students in an authentic context.  Engagement with the Learner Profile allows students and staff to internalise these qualities, so that they consciously drive our interactions and decisions.

The IB Approaches to Learning (ATLs) are also an integral part of teaching and learning within the Primary School. The ATLs (formerly known as Transdisciplinary skills) are the skills that allow students to learn how to learn. Students develop these skills as they access different areas of the curriculum. The five approaches to learning are:

* Thinking skills:
* Communication skills
* Social skills
* Self-management skills
* Research Skills

These are woven into all subject areas and within all school contexts, from the lunchroom to the swimming pool and in the classrooms. The Five ATLs follow students across all three IB programmes and are emphasised in developmentally appropriate ways throughout a student’s IB education.

The IB’s major objectives are “to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect” and “to encourage students to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners” (IB 2008). To align our school with these goals, it is essential to implement student-centred learning approaches that support holistic development. Rather than being introduced and taught in isolation, the ATLs are taught within a meaningful context where they activate learning and allow students to make connections across disciplines. They are easily transferable within everyday life and are the skills we all use to engage in learning, to communicate with others, to think creatively, to research new ideas and to manage our time, to name just a few.

Learning - Student producing mutiple coloured shadows at science museum

Skills for life
I often ask parents in workshops to analyse the skills they need to navigate a typical day. While I’ve never heard mention of the need to perform long division, many will say they have to negotiate with others, manage finances, give a presentation, learn a new language or research a topic. While discrete skills are still important and taught within a student's school day, the ATLs are the lifelong skills that all of us tend to rely on within our day-to-day interactions at home, with others and in the workplace. They are the tools that allow our students to build a firm foundation upon which they can construct new knowledge and learn to manage life as global citizens.

The development of ATLs and their related subskills is closely linked to the Learner Profile attributes. For example, while developing respect for others, our students are becoming “caring” as well as “communicators” as they learn to listen effectively and respectfully to others. Evidence of students activating the ATLs can be seen in their research reports, their strong presentation skills, their ability to resolve conflicts, collaborative group work and especially in the Grade 5 Exhibition.

Our school visitor’s observations are a form of assessment, informing us that we are doing something right. The world needs more curious, caring and open-minded people. Academic knowledge without life skills has limited use in today’s rapidly changing landscape. Through the experience and guidance of their teachers, the work we do with students aims to fulfil the school’s Vision to “help every student turn their learning into action, creating the opportunity to stretch themselves further and achieve more than they believe possible.”

IB Learner Profile As IB Learners we strive to be:

* Inquirers
* Knowledgeable
* Thinkers
* Communicators
* Principled
* Open-minded
* Caring
* Risk-takers
* Balanced
* Reflective

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