Using an inductive approach to introduce MYP units

As the new term commenced, many MYP students embarked on new units. For years, my MYP unit introduction lessons followed a pretty standard formula: I would share the statement of inquiry, key and related concepts, and global context with my students. Then we would dive straight into the unit’s content, sometimes returning to those elements, but often as filler (“Remember our SoI…”) rather than as a deliberate strategy to help students develop connections or relationships between those elements. I even had a lovely (sarcasm intended) unit cover sheet that I would ask them to stick into their exercise book as a divider for all of the notes and exercises they would complete throughout the course of the unit. It was an easy way to frame a unit, but it was all very didactic and frankly not the most exciting.

The IB does not prescribe a particular method for introducing concepts, but often MYP lessons (at least in the introductory phase) are delivered deductively: we give the students the statement of inquiry at the beginning of the unit and spend the rest of the time (sometimes several weeks) validating that one generalisation. Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction embraces an inductive approach, which involves engaging students in examples or case studies to notice patterns, make connections and, ultimately, articulate their own understandings.

What if we did this with the statement of inquiry? Often, these statements can feel awkward or forced. By trying to adhere to the “rules”, they can come out bloated and not at all student-friendly. If we let students construct their own statements of inquiry, we honour their intellect, support their agency and give them an active voice in determining the purpose or direction of the unit. We can use the guiding questions to nudge them in the right direction, but think of how much more engaged they would be in this process than in the process of cutting and pasting into their exercise books a teacher-made unit cover sheet that they are likely to never look at again?

So… what would this actually look like? In my Grade 6 (MYP 1) English class, we recently explored the concepts of character, identity, connections, and perspective through an inquiry into different Greek myths as part of an introduction to our current unit, “What makes a hero?”. Students focused on the challenges that heroes overcome (or fail to overcome) and the lessons that we can learn from Greek myths. This inquiry provided an opportunity for students to develop some background knowledge that they will need in order to understand the cultural context of the Odyssey as well as to appreciate the challenges that Odysseus faced on his journey. We will follow this up with a more focused exploration of the defining characteristics of a hero (and test these against the character of Odysseus) and the stages of the hero’s journey.

Admittedly, this is the first time that I have had my Grade 6 students generalise and I was worried that they would not understand what to do or would struggle with constructing a coherent sentence that showed a meaningful relationship between concepts… but I was thrilled with the results. Let’s just say that some of their statements were better than that the one that my teaching partner and I wrote! Here is a sample. They’ll vote in our next lesson on the one that they want to be our shared statement of inquiry.

A few notes/suggestions:

  1. I was not concerned about whether or not my students’ generalisations fit the “formula” of an MYP statement of inquiry (and in fact the one that my teaching partner and I wrote probably doesn’t either). For reference, our key concept is connections, related concepts are character and intertextuality and the global context is identities and relationships (explorations: affiliation and leadership, identity formation).
  2. Having students construct their own SoIs can be exciting — but also a little bit intimidating. We do have to release a little bit of control in this process, but not too much. It may be a good idea to agree upon one SoI, from the students’ individual understandings, that will serve as the principle generalisation for the unit. This will ensure that there is a shared focus to the unit and that assessment is consistent.
  3. I have written before about viewing the statement of inquiry as a springboard to developing more disciplinary understandings. The SoI will frame our unit, giving us a broad purpose, but we have planned to develop the following disciplinary understandings within the 10-week unit:
    • Background knowledge and cultural context can help improve a reader’s interpretation of a text.
    • Authors create dramatic situations which test a hero’s courage.
    • Authors use different types of conflict to reveal character traits.
    • Authors can use illustration and imagery to make their characters more believable.
    • Readers develop their personal response to texts by considering different points of view.
    • Recognising patterns across genres helps readers analyse texts.
    • Effective presentations include elements of storytelling such as voice, narrative structure and emotional engagement.
    • Presenters use speaking conventions and non-verbal communication techniques to engage an audience.

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