Stand-alone or Integration?

by | Feb 1, 2024 | Transdisciplinary | 9 comments

As a PYP workshop leader and experienced PYP coordinator, I hear a lot of the following questions:

  1. How many integrations do we need to do per year?
  2. Do specialist teachers (Arts, PSPE) need to do 6 units per year?
  3. Do we need to create a stand-alone unit?
  4. Can we connect to one line of inquiry?
  5. Where do I write my learning experiences when I’m integrating?

I always refer to the IB documentation when I answer these questions, which I plan to do in this short blog.

Let’s start with the PYP programme requirements taken from the learning standards and practices:

  • The school commits to the PYP as the framework for planning, teaching, and learning across the curriculum. (0401-01-0512)
  • The school ensures that all subjects are represented within the programme of inquiry at each year or grade level. (0401-01-0513)
  • Teachers use the PYP planner template(s) or otherwise document the way that they use the PYP planning process to collaboratively design, plan and deliver the programme. (0401-02-0111)
  • The school demonstrates a commitment to transdisciplinary learning by ensuring that the programme of inquiry is collaboratively designed, planned and facilitated between the classroom teacher and specialist teachers to deliver the subjects included in each unit of inquiry. (0401-02-0112)

We will add to the above section what is written in the document: role of subjects taken from – Developing POI – Learning and Teaching or from the scope and sequence:

Transdisciplinary unit of inquiry: Learning and teaching of subject-specific knowledge, conceptual understandings and skills is included within the school’s programme of inquiry whenever possible and appropriate. Using the PYP planning process or planners, the teaching team integrates the subjects seamlessly into the units of inquiry.

Subject-specific inquiry: There are times when teachers will teach subject-specific knowledge (such as language conventions and order of operations in mathematics), conceptual understandings and skills outside the programme of inquiry using purposeful inquiry. The teaching team uses the planning process or planners to structure and plan for this type of inquiry to ensure that authentic connections are made with programme elements while maintaining the integrity of the subject.

Preparing for, or following on from, a unit of inquiry: The direct teaching of subject-specific knowledge, conceptual understandings and skills in a unit of inquiry may not always be feasible but, where appropriate, introductory or follow-up learning experiences may be useful to help students make connections across the curriculum. Teachers plan and teach learning experiences that prepare the students to participate in a unit of inquiry. Following on from a unit of inquiry, students may extend a subject-specific related interest into another line of inquiry.

Skills-based teaching: This refers to the teaching of subject-specific skills not directly related to units of inquiry but to support mastery and increase students’ skills base in areas such as literacy, numeracy, arts and physical, social and personal education (PSPE). While these skills might be developed outside the programme of inquiry, teachers are mindful that subject-specific skills contribute towards the exploration of the programme of inquiry. Furthermore, teachers continuously monitor, document and measure progress in order to effectively support the mastery of subject-specific skills through grouping and regrouping.

As you can see, the IB documents don’t mention anything about the number of units; they focus on authentic integration, the balance between disciplinary and transdisciplinary learning, and the collaborative planning process.  They also refer to the KUD model (know, understand, do), inside POI, and outside POI.

This leads to the following understandings:

  • It is not required to integrate in all units.
  • Having a balance between integration and stand-alone is key.
  • The planning process is very important regardless of the planner’s template.

    Let’s have a look at this sample Grade 3 POI:

    TimelineUnit 1Unit 2Unit 3Unit 4Unit 5Unit 6
      TDWho we areSharing the planetHow we express ourselvesHow the world worksWhere we are in place and timeHow we organize ourselves
    Central ideaDeveloping physical fitness contributes to the individual’s health and well-being.  People conserve limited resources in different ways.  Arts reflect cultural differences and personal opinions.  Inventions change the world of work and leisure.  Human circumstances and challenges lead to exploration.  The interconnectedness of cities shapes human life.
    Visual ArtsPreparing for unit 2IntegrationIntegration  Following on unit 3Stand-alone: Artists express their creativity in different ways.  
    MusicStand-alone: Musicians use elements of music to express ideas and feelingsIntegrationIntegrationStand-alone: Musicians use creative processes to innovate.
    PEIntegrationFollowing on unit 1Stand-alone: Mastering swimming techniques requires ongoing practice.Stand-alone: People collaborate to achieve a goal.  Stand-alone: Gymnastics and dance allow bodies to move in creative ways.
    Sample Grade 3 POI

    As you can see, the visual art teacher has 3 units per year (2 integration and 1 stand-alone)

    The Music teacher has 4 units per year (2 integration and 2 stand-alone)

    The PE teacher has 4 units per year (1 integration and 3 stand-alone)

    The teachers can use the same central idea across grade levels but change the learning experiences and the assessment.

    Many teachers will ask me where we start and I always say the PYP is a puzzle and you need all the pieces to see the full picture:

    • Programme of inquiry and unit of inquiry.
    • Scope and sequence (IB one or any other curriculum).
    • Number of classes and students you teach.
    • Location where you teach.

    All these points will paly an important role of how you develop your written curriculum and what do you want to prioritize. An important step will be to align the learning outcomes that connect with the POI unit, and they will teach the other learning outcomes outside POI, using a planner or not (ideally, I would encourage specialists to use a planner, this will create consistency and keep track of what is done), what is essential is we are using the same approaches to teaching:

    1. Based on inquiry.
    2. Focused on conceptual understanding.
    3. Informed by assessment.
    4. Designed to remove barriers to learning.
    5. Developed in local and global contexts.
    6. Focused on effective teamwork and collaboration.

    My message to all PYP coordinators and specialist teachers is the following: the PYP requires a lot of flexible and creative thinking; if you feel you are stuck or forcing things… then maybe you need to look at things you are implementing from a different perspective and introduce change…. To sum it up, keep in mind the words: balance, authentic, inquiry based, conceptual and transfer. 

    Would love to hear your feedback and questions about teaching inside the POI or outside.

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    sherin thabet
    sherin thabet
    5 months ago

    شكرا علي
    هل يمكن مشاركة نموذج مخطط وحدة التدريس القائم بذاته للغة العربية مراحل pup1-2-3

    Amani ALGhonaim
    Amani ALGhonaim
    5 months ago

    Starting from where the team is now.. Building the UOIs for the School’s spicific POI.. Focusing in science and Social studies at first then Building Transdisciplinary connections through reading the IB scope and sequence documents thoroughly or studying ATLs.. Then collaboratively Documenting the five elements (knowledge, skills, concepts, attitudes & action) in both POI UOIs & SA UOIs.. This process enabled the team to see clear connections and take better informed descions when developing the transdiscinplinary aspect of the written curriculum!

    5 months ago

    Thanks alot 🙏

    Padma sekar
    Padma sekar
    5 months ago

    So beautifully explained Mr Ali. These are always a mystery and to unravel this is always a process. Thanks for giving more insights.

    2 months ago

    شكرا استاذ علي .. الوضوح و المباشرة في طريقة الطرح تجعل الموضوع أكثر سلاسة وفهم

    Layla Ahmed
    Layla Ahmed
    2 months ago

    طرح متسلسل واضح مباشر
    بارك الله في جهودك أستاذ علي
    حضرت معاك ورشتين : الكتابة الإبداعية .. ومقدمة في برنامج PYP
    و كلاهما كانتا أكثر من رائع
    و الفائدة منهما كبيرة جدا

    Fátima González
    Fátima González
    2 months ago

    Love it, Ali. Clear, helpful, sharp and short. Thank you so much!!