Janice Ireland looks at Shaping the International Early Years Curriculum to Make Learning Visible in Primary 1 at PDO School:
An Interview with Laurence Burgess (Deputy Head Teacher) and Sarah Josefsen (Early Years Milepost Leader) from PDO School, Muscat, Oman.
Amidst a boom in the oil and gas industry in Oman during the 1960’s, PDO School in Muscat (funded and supported by Petroleum Development Oman) became the centre of expatriate life for families. During these formative years Royal Dutch Shell School, as it was known then, was the only school in Muscat that provided education for expatriate children.
Today, whilst there are many other international schools in the region, PDO School is recognised as a market leader in the field of high-quality international education.
PDO School’s state-of-the-art building that opened in 2015 has breathed new life and fresh energy into the ‘Passion for Learning’ that has driven the school forward for over five decades. The school’s Early Years wing provides a safe and secure hub for children to learn and has been carefully planned to make the most of what a new building can offer. Visitors to the setting are immediately drawn into the buzz of excitement and joy that surrounds each learning area.
The Early Years provision is recognised by specialists in the field as an outstanding example of child centred best-practice. Staff make choices about new initiatives only after they have been trialled, evaluated and adapted so that they match the school’s shared vision of ‘Fostering a passion for learning by providing all children with a nurturing yet challenging environment in which they strive to reach for their full potential.’ Parents can be assured that new initiatives have an evidence-base demonstrating that they improve learning long before they become part of everyday practice.
We began by talking about PDO School’s curriculum of choice, The International Early Years Curriculum (IEYC) and the ways teachers make Learning Visible for all children. Although many of the approaches highlighted within this article are shared across the whole of the Early Years setting, this case study focusses specifically on Primary 1 (P1) provision.
The International Early Years Curriculum
Question: The IEYC suggests that ‘learning happens when developmentally-appropriate, teacher-scaffolded and child-initiated experiences harness children’s natural curiosity in an enabling environment.’ How did PDO School approach implementation in P1?
Laurence and Sarah:
We first looked at the IEYC when we already had a well-planned and well-resourced curriculum, but we decided to trial an IEYC unit and evaluate its impact on children’s learning. After our first unit ‘To the Rescue!’ we saw the potential the curriculum offered for inspiring children and as a tool for teachers and decided to gradually roll out implementation.
Our approach is to be flexible in how a unit develops and this often means we extend some ‘Learning Blocks’ beyond the recommended implementation timings, depending on children’s enthusiasm and how their interests develop. We have nine Early Years classes and so sharing resources and joint learning areas needs careful forward planning – working as a team is essential!
We always begin a new IEYC unit with an ‘Entry Point’; this is an exciting and memorable event that launches a new theme and is aimed at encouraging children to think and become motivated about the experiences that will follow. For example, when we launched ‘Blast Off!’ we set up an area where an imaginary alien spaceship had crash landed. This really captured children’s curiosity and acted as a catalyst for child-initiated learning. Children generated ideas about living in space whilst adults observed and recorded ways to scaffold and extend learning at group, class and individual level.
When we launch a new IEYC unit we pose some ‘Big Questions’ linked to the central theme and staff encourage children to express their ideas. Thoughts are recorded through words, illustrations and by adults scribing, in this way all ideas are used and valued, no matter what developmental stage a child is at. Throughout an IEYC unit we revisit the initial Big Questions and evaluate how ideas and new learning has progressed. This helps teachers move forward with our planning in a way that supports children’s interests and learning needs.
Observation is key to ensuring that we ‘Enable the Environment’ so that we can harness children’s natural curiosity and child-initiated learning can take place. We reflect on our observations, evaluate children’s next steps and provide appropriate resources and space so that children can explore and extend their ideas.
We encourage children to develop their personal and social skills by embedding the ‘IEYC Personal Goals’ into all aspects of learning. For example, when the children are using shared spaces such as role play areas we talk about ‘Respect and Cooperation’ and this helps to promote teamwork and helps children see things from different perspectives. The children come from many different cultures and pre-school experiences and having a consistent set of Personal Goals has really supported the development and value of ‘International Mindedness’. We encourage children to learn and share ideas with children from other classes which helps them to cultivate ‘Respect’ and ‘Thoughtfulness’.
We’ve really strengthened our ‘Learning-Link’ with the home through the IEYC. We use online Class Pages to share information and involve families – hopefully extending curiosity at home.
We always look for ways in which we can make relevant and interesting links between the IEYC and language and mathematics development. We have a high proportion of children who are learning English as an additional language and so it’s important that the curriculum is accessible to everyone. With Blast Off! we encouraged children to use spaceship and astronaut checklists that involved identifying numbers, shapes, letters and words – some children even designed their own checklists. This enabled all children to learn at their own level and it brought language and mathematical development to life as well as many other exciting challenges such as mixing the right colour of rocket fuel for our resident alien ‘Starbeam’ to get home!
Janice Ireland – Director at Learning Partners
Janice Ireland is an independent education consultant specialising in Early Childhood Education. In 2016, Janice was commissioned by Fieldwork Education to lead the research and design of the IEYC. Janice works closely with the Shell and Shell affiliated group of schools and uses her expertise in the areas of school improvement, curriculum implementation and professional development.
FEATURE IMAGE: KEO – RAS AL HAMRA/PDO INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL Oman