Reflecting on PYP Planners

I have rarely found the process of reflecting at the end of a Unit of Inquiry via the PYP Planner (sections 6-9) an informative or productive process – as a teacher or as a coordinator. Don’t get me wrong, reflection is an important approach to teaching that all lead learners must use. Taking aside the often debatable, reflective questions asked in these sections of the planner, personally, there is something missing…something that makes the process inauthentic…

Most of this reflective process is done solo by the teacher, collaboratively with teachers on the same unit or with a PYP coordinator. Although this should take place, there is one stakeholder, the most important in all schools, that does not get any input for these sections of the reflective process – the students! Teachers and coordinators should make room for students step in the reflective process on the PYP planner. They should involve the very people they planned the unit for!

Why don’t teachers ask the set reflective questions with their students? With support (and modifications for age and language), students should be able to answer all of the questions.

Section 6  – student understanding of the Central Idea….

Students should be able to give feedback on how you designed assessment tasks. They should actually be architects of the assessment tasks. Therefore, they should be given to reflect on their effectiveness.

Students should be able to give evidence of how they showed an understanding of the Central Idea. After all, isn’t this the purpose of a summative task?

Students should be able to draw links between the Central Idea and the Transdisciplinary Theme. This allows the teacher to see if students actually have an understanding of the Transdisciplinary Theme they are inquiring into. This would allow students to see how their Unit of Inquiry is linked to a larger picture. It would push teachers to actually ‘unpack’ the Transdisciplinary Theme.

Section 7 – the development of PYP elements…

Students should be able to identify the Key Concepts, Approaches to Learning, Learner Profile attributes and Attitudes from the unit and cite evidence of their development with these PYP elements. Teachers should be making these PYP elements explicit in their daily teaching. Students should see what PYP  elements they are trying to improve.

Section 8 – student initiated inquiries and action…

There would be no better way than having students fill out this section. It is often hard to recall or collect all the inquiries that happen over 6 or so weeks. Students should be able to show what questions they developed from the unit and explain what actions they took that were initiated from the unit. It will come straight from the source

Section 9 – often used for keeping notes on success or areas to improve…

Students should have a large voice in this part. They would be able to tell you what worked for them and what you need to improve as an teacher.

All this would require teachers to be open minded and open to criticism. However, this would be a valuable and crucial method of reflection. Providing students with opportunities to have their voice present on PYP planners would give a true reflection on the learning that actually took place. It would make these sections of the planner more authentic. It would also reduce the subjective view a teacher could make.

It is time to put planners in the hands (or minds) of our students! It is time to put students in the centre of the reflective process!


Having just completed a unit where I felt the students had a great understanding of the central idea, I was struck by a horrifying thought. I wasn’t entirely sure how that happened. How could I use this experience to help me in the future? In some ways, the reflection that takes place after a successful experience can be more important than the reflection that takes place after a disastrous experience. I’ve made pancakes for my daughter so many times and I can count on one finger the number of times I’ve done it well. In fact I can write a book about all the things not to do when making pancakes. Of course I wasn’t paying attention that one time the pancakes were actually edible so my poor daughter is destined to eat burnt and crispy pancakes for the rest of her childhood.

All the disastrous experiences don’t necessarily show you the right way to do something. So I went about searching for an answer.

When I analyzed everything our class had done I noticed that we had completed far more check-ins for understanding than usual throughout this unit. When I say “checking-in” I simply mean taking the time to talk to my students about how they’re going. Checking-in in our class can happen very informally. For instance, if we have a few extra minutes I might just ask the students to look at our lines of inquiry and central idea, and tell me what they’re still trying to figure out or ask what they want to spend more time looking into. Another idea the students really like came from my friend and fellow Inquiring Minds contributor, Adam McGuigan. It is simply a massive thermometer posted on the wall attached to a teacher question, concept or line of inquiry. The students post their answer to the question along the thermometer based on their own perceived level of understanding. The students can revisit this thermometer throughout the unit and adjust their level of understanding.

One of the most powerful moments in our recently completed unit focusing on beliefs and values was a simple task of analyzing student questions and having the children sort them into groups. We realized that a lot of children were still struggling to explain how they express their beliefs and values. It was at this point that one child raised their hand and explained that they were Muslim and they showed this by going to the mosque every Friday, praying at home every day and reading the Quran. All of a sudden children were raising their hand wanting to explain how they expressed their different beliefs and values. This went on for 15 minutes. The next day we followed up this conversation by trying to match beliefs and values with the ways in which we might express them. We used many of the examples from the day before. When we checked in again a few days later the children felt so much more confident in their understanding of the lines of inquiry and central idea.

In my mind checking-in is more than just formative assessment. The key component is actually listening to children. It’s not just about finding out what they know and what they don’t know. It can also lead you in new directions and it provides children with an opportunity to help each other in their journey towards understanding.

I would love to hear how others check-in.

It should be noted that my wife is a fine maker of pancakes.