Undermining the Learner Profile

As members of the IB community, teachers at my school spend a lot of time planning and implementing strategies for cultivating the Learner Profile attributes in our students. This is exactly how it should be. The Learner Profile is central to the mission of IB and, as such, central to the mission of any IB school. Moreover, investing time and energy into proactively developing these attributes is a positive, strengths-oriented approach that is much more inspiring than a deficits-oriented approach. Thus, when it comes to the Learner Profile, our guiding question is “What experiences can we incorporate into our instruction that will help students to develop the Learner Profile attributes?”

From time to time, however, I think there is value in asking the more critical question, “What elements of of our instruction prevent students from developing the Learner Profile attributes?” This sheds light on some of the practices that might (unintentionally) be undermining our efforts in other areas.

In my own practice as a math teacher, I can think of a few habits that, unchecked, get in the way of my primary goal:

  • Teaching students tricks or shortcuts undermines their thinking skills if they are not required to first make sense of the algorithm.
  • Organizing assignments by topic or skill limits students’ thinking, as they follow the same procedure without having to identify the best skill to use in a given situation.
  • Providing all the necessary information for students to solve a word problem undermines their inquiry skills, and passes up a valuable opportunity for students to generate questions rather than answering questions supplied by the teacher.
  • Having students consult the answer key (or the teacher) immediately after solving a problem detracts from the value of reflecting on the cues available to determine if the solution is reasonable.

None of these habits is inherently bad, and they are all appropriate in some circumstances; however, if they become the standard operating procedure, students lose valuable opportunities to develop important traits. Imagine the unintended message we would send to students if the habits described above were entrenched in the routines of the class: repeat the process your have been shown (don’t think about what to do, how to do it or why it works), let the teacher ask the questions (don’t generate questions of your own), only the teacher has the answer. Together, these messages reduce students’ independence and self-efficacy.

Parents and teachers alike are constantly making decisions about how to help students develop character and intellect. There are too many decisions to make a pro-con list for every one; however, occasional reflection about the about the extent to which our habits support our goals will help to ensure our efforts yield the best possible result. When teachers and parents establish routines that are consistent with a shared goal, we support each other in developing students’ full potential.

 

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