The 'My Place in the Story' Framework

Updated: 24 hours ago

The world is already at our fingertips. The internet has opened us up to pretty much every corner of the world and it is not difficult to strike up connections we have never met who are in the other side of the world. At the same time 24x7 reporting brings us snippets of events that are taking place anywhere around the world.

Trying to make sense of this global connectivity; trying to place things that are happening in relationship with the communities that we find ourselves in; trying to understand how we can both make sense of and respond to these things - these seem to be among the most important skills we should be developing at school.

Education needs to not just shift from content to concepts but from learning to development. It turns out knowing stuff is no great determination of human contentment but being able to see meaning and derive purpose in big ideas is. Therefore, I argue, we need concepts in the curriculum to be more about transcendency than transfer. We need to support students in making personal meaning from the things that we talk and learn about. This thinking is informed by some remarkable work by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang For a concise understanding of this emerging field I encourage you to read this article or listen to this podcast , or even better do both.

The IB would call this kind of thinking International Mindedness. To help understand what international mindedness is they developed the Learner Profile. These are 10 attributes that they believe:

"help individuals and groups to become responsible members of local, national and global communities"

Essentially international mindedness fulfils the stated aim of all IB programmes:

"to develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world."

The route to internationally mindedness is a tricky one to articulate. So this is something I wanted to turn to. Could there be a simple framework that could be used in the design, delivery and review of units that would help build in international mindedness more explicitly into the programme?

Built on the premise that international mindedness is as much about knowing and changing oneself as it is about our immediate communities and the global systems, I have designed the 'My Place in the Story' framework.

This framework encourages the learner to consider every aspect of a matter in terms of what they know, what sense is made from it (ie how are they going to connect with the material) and how they are going to respond. By asking these questions at the three levels of the self, their community and globally, the framework embeds IB values into the learning experience.

Because the aim of the model is to support student's informed narratives about themselves and the world around them, the key concepts envisioned have been designed to be accessible from any topic in any subject. This makes them much more universal and accessible (simpler too I hope)

Transcendence over Transfer - Concepts as Coffee Houses

These key concepts are a fundamental rethink of the notion of the term. Until now key concepts have largely been conceived as vehicles for the transfer of ideas from one subject to another. In that sense they are most often seen as being interdisciplinary in their nature. Often to determine the notion of the concept activities dividing examples into examples and non-examples of the term have been used to aid students classification of the term. Definitions have been given and the assumption has been that they represent universal ideas.

In this rethink of concepts they are seen as places where ideas can form. They are ill defined as the student needs to fill them with their own understandings. This means we are not seeking a particular interpretation of the concept to transfer. This means that they are not since as universal in terms of meaning but that they are universal in terms of relevance. They are as a result more transdisciplinary than interdisciplinary in nature. I would suggest therefore that when a student builds a conceptual understanding it is not through transfer but through transcendence.

In simpler terms I see concepts as being shared spaces where students can explore, form and articulate their ideas. They are more like coffee houses than checkpoints. Here, thoughts from all the different subjects meet to discuss their perspectives on a matter. By creating banner places (shared labels) for these meetings to take place (like the coffee houses of old) we create the space for explorations of meaning.

That does not mean that concepts do not transfer but the more I dwell on the matter the more I am convinced that super concepts are better examples of concepts that truly transfer common ways of thinking. They work because they off a mechanism by which analogies from one subject can inform how to think about matters in other subjects - in a process called analogous thinking.

Application in the classroom

I have already begun to use this model with students as we reviewed a recent unit. They were given a blank version of the 'My Place in the Story' model ...

...and asked to write into each box thoughts that they had developed and questions that they still had. Initial feedback is that they found that it opened their awareness of the topic as they did it. One asked why we hadn't done it earlier in the unit. He has a point.

I think this activity could have been even more powerful by asking the students to review the unit through this framework in the light of the global context. To this end, I have personally begun to experiment with writing down questions in each box for each of the global contexts. I can report it is possible to do and illuminating when doing it (I found that it generated a couple of needed "conceptual questions" for the unit). What makes this great is that it starts to create unique link between every key concept in every global context. This to me is an indication of the universal access of the key concepts chosen.

There are several directions that I think this model can further develop. I can see that it offers a stronger framework for two previous ideas of mine (the transfer questions and the global contexts questions - I want to work on that a bit to see if I can solidify that link). For now though I feel that this is has some incredibly powerful potential. It has already been shown that it can link international mindedness more closely to the key concepts. By additionally linking it with the global contexts it offers much greater synergy between three fundamentally important parts of the programme.

Lastly, I believe this offers the most coherent progression from PYP key concepts and that this is a powerful selling point for the model.

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