Planning IB PYP in the Specialist / Single Subject Classroom

With no prior experience with teaching in an IB PYP school, starting out last year in my new school as the Classroom Music Teacher was quite a daunting experience.  I was truly blessed though to have great support in my Principal and other staff members who encouraged me to teach my music program from my previous school and try and link in to the class UOI’s where I could.

As I do in any situation I set about trying to impress as much as I could and link as often as I could to the classroom UOI which I thought would be the best PYP inquiry teaching.

What I found though was the skills/techniques I wanted to teach the children were not being done chronologically/developmentally as I tried to focus too much on the OUI taught in the classroom.  I was a little frustrated with this and didn’t understand how I could honour my discipline of teaching musicianship and authentically link to the PYP units being taught.

At the beginning of this year I went to the 3 day course “Making the PYP Happen in the Classroom”.  This was my first experience of IB PYP Professional Development and yes at the start I was completely overwhelmed by the whole thing.

While I learnt an incredible amount about how to teach using the PYP inquiry method my biggest question still wasn’t answered:

How can I teach classroom music in an IB school, using the inquiry methodologies to AUTHENTICALLY link to the class UOI and at the same time HONOUR my developmental curriculum.

This answer came 3 months later at an Arts Workshop for Single Subject Teachers presented by Theo Mandziy (Coordinator of Primary Single Subject Programme and Visual Arts teacher, Australian International School, Singapore)

At this workshop I realised I was focusing too much on the ‘UOI’ and not on the skill development of the children because I mistook linking with the classroom to be more important than the skill set I was teaching.

I was focusing on the topic/theme/idea eg using an indigenous song and then singing, dancing or playing instruments to it, rather than focusing on the skills & techniques and using my language during my lesson to link into the “concepts” being taught.

Theo presented 3 ways of planning:

  1. Specialist Driven UOI

This may be a wonderful concept & idea but Theo said it is very hard to pull off, especially if you are only part time.  This is where the Specialist subject teacher/s plan the UOI and the classroom teacher links in with it.

  1. Link with a class UOI

Specialist teachers don’t need to link with every UOI, as long as you find at least one UOI to link with in the year that is suffice.  To find this UOI look for authentic and purposeful links to the work in both classrooms, which allows you to honour the discipline that you are teaching.

You can write your own UOI that links with it or even take a line of inquiry from the classroom UOI.

The best way to link in is with the PYP Concepts being taught. Here the key is ensuring the language (key words/ideas) used in both class settings is the same or similar.

These links can be done before, during or after the class UOI is taught.  For example this year I have linked with the Year 6/7 OUI on Ancient Civilisations by teaching my Ancient Celtic Music unit before the class did theirs and this worked fine.

  1. Stand Alone OUI

Single subject teachers don’t need to teach all 6 transdisciplinary themes because it is unrealistic & not authentic to the disciplines being taught.  So while we need to teach 6 UOI over the whole year it may be more appropriate to teach from certain themes eg. “How we express ourselves”.

Our Stand Alone Units may also be taught throughout the whole year with no fixed start or end date.  For example you may use Musical Elements as your UOI.  Beat for example can be taught all year round as you refer to it along the way.

How have I now implemented this in my classroom?

I have since revamped my program have a look at my example overview from my Reception (5 yr olds) class:

IB PYP Single Subject Overview plannerview a pdf version here: IB PYP Single Subject Overview planner

I have 6 UOI, 4 year long ones & 2 that link to the classroom UOI.

To honour my discipline, I still use my developmental curriculum ‘The Interactive Music Room: A developmental classroom music program for interactive whiteboard, Book 1- beginning primary’ which I have adapted from ‘Music Room: A developmental classroom music program, Book 1 – Beginning Primary’.

However while this resource has been written with inquiry learning in mind, I always add other resources to this to enhance the UOI being taught and bring personal meaning to the students learning.

In the future I will post a blog on how I present and display this in my lessons.

I am and will be constantly looking at how I can better improve this.  And in no way do I believe I have conquered this task of a 100% answer to my initial question, on how to authentically plan a PYP UOI as a specialist/single subject teacher.  But I do believe I am now on the right path, or at least on the verge!

For me I have loved (and will continue to) the chase of aspiring to plan in the most effective and authentic way in a PYP school.  I am becoming a better teacher for it and can’t wait to see the results.

How has it changed me as a teacher?

The skills, techniques, activities, songs and instruments haven’t changed.  It has been the vocabulary I use when teaching which has changed as I focus more on the way I deliver information to the children to keep the lines of inquiry at the forefront of my lessons.

My questions to other PYP specialist/single subject teachers out there are: How do you plan?  What has worked for you in your school?  How do you link to the classroom UOI while staying true to your discipline?

Read part 2 in this series showing the overview of my 2014 planning.



Teach to transform!


19 thoughts on “Planning IB PYP in the Specialist / Single Subject Classroom

  1. Hi Cheryl,
    I am also teaching as a music specialist at an IB School and has been struggling with the same problems. I’m glad that I found your blog, it gives me lots of new ideas. I look forward to read more about your IB planning =)



    1. Hi Serena, great to hear from you. Nice to know I’m not the only one grappling with this. Glad I could help with my blog. I’d love to know how you go with some of the ideas and how you implement & improve them.

  2. Thanks a lot Cheryl, I am so glad my PYP coordinator send the link to your blog!
    I did not go over all the posts and articles yet, but I feel this is what I needed.
    Reading this post reminds me about my experiences.
    I will follow your blog and certainly will come back with questions and hopefully I can help you as well.

  3. Dear Cheryl,

    Saya juga mengajar di sekolah IB dan saya menemukan pertanyaan yang sama dengan anda. Namun, lebih dalam lagi, saya memiliki pertanyaan yang cukup fundamental. Saya percaya bahwa dengan musik kita dapat mengajarkan apapun secara tekstual dan kontekstual, 6 tema transdisiplin yang direkomendasikan IB hanya beberapa diantaranya. saya percaya kita bisa mengajarkan 6 tema transdisiplin tersebut melalui musik. sesuai dengan rekomendasi IB (perencanaan, pelaksanaan dan penilaian yang sudah disebutkan dalam dokumen Making PYP Happen dan target atau goal siswa dalam Art Scope and Sequences) dan menggunakan paradigma IB adalah cara belajar yang terbaik menurut IB.

    Pertanyaan saya, apakah bedanya sekolah IB dengan sekolah yang dianggap IB sebagai sekolah Konvensional jika kita guru musik IB mengajar musik secara stand alone?

    Semoga pertanyaan ini bisa membantu anda mencari lebih dalam.

    Terimakasih 🙂

    1. Thank you for your thought provoking questions. These questions are the same ones I have been thinking about too. Yes I agree that integration can happen and it could be possible to teach across the 6 transdisciplinary themes in music if that was your focus, but is it necessary?
      At an IB conference I attended it was stressed that your first importance is to teach the discipline/skill set of music and to plan IB into this so as to fully respect the subject of music, while still teaching the IB inquiry approach.
      When you take into account as a specialist subject we are only one part of the class’s education then we need to collaboratively plan together with the other subject teachers to ensure that the 6 transdisciplinary themes, concepts, skills, knowledge, attitudes and learner profiles are being covered in the whole education of the child.

  4. hi there. looking forward to reading more about the pyp music in your blog as i may have to teach it too and it scares me! (but interests me too)

  5. Hello Cheryl,
    It’s nice to see a different way of IB planning in Music. I would love to plan skill based stand alone year long units for my students, but my supervisor insisted that I should collaborate with all the classroom units with all year levels, unless I find a better way to fill out the UOI for each year long unit. With my collaboration unit, I would just add on to the year level’s UOI since we are sharing the same central idea, but I wonder if I am required to fill the UOI on my own on the skill based unit.
    How do you fill out your UOI for your stand alone year long unit, and what about UOI for your collaboration unit?

    1. thanks for your comment, I have been thinking of writing another post on this incorporating some downloads of my planning from this year. I will post it soon basing it on your comment above.

  6. Hi Cheryl

    As someone who follows the teaching pedagogy and philosophy of Zoltan Kodaly I have found the challenge of incorporating inquiry based learning within a method which is concept driven in the Primary Years. However, I have found that there is commonality within both in regards to philosophical approaches to both. Kodaly’s views on the importance of folk song (and his work as an ethnomusicologist) ties in very nicely with the concept of ‘Who We Are’ – in that the cultural heritage of communities within any time and place can be reflected through the indigenous song of a country. Then working out to the global folk song heritage (as children’s songs are the same all around the world). As singing is the core music activity within Kodaly methodology I have found this works really well….and the girls really love to know the stories that are the cornerstone of the Australian bush ballad.

  7. Thank you for your post Donna. I agree with you, Who we are and How we express ourselves are the major concepts that I focus on linking in with the class UOI. Sticking “true” to music teaching pedagogy and philosophy is that challenge we face and I believe tweaking the way we deliver this is how we can incorporate inquiry learning.

  8. Hi! Thank you for this post. I’m on my third year in teaching IB PYP. I’m also trained with Kodaly Method of teaching. Linking the two philosophies has been a challenge for me. Good to know that I’m the only one with the same challenge! Looking forward to reading more posts regarding this.

    Thanks a lot!

  9. Did you read my mind? Like the other posts, I’m a music teacher (and band director) at a wonderful IB school. I’m struggling as well to implement IB strategies in my room. Like you, I want to be authentic. And I feel that music and PYP go hand-in-hand, it’s finding the linkages that makes it challenging. I can’t thank you enough for your blog!

  10. Hi there, I began teaching music at an IB school a year ago and faced exactly the same challenges. However, while at an IB training on Music and Inquiry, I learned that specialists are not required to teach 6 UOI per year. We can do as many or as few as we see fit. It is all right there in making the PYP Happen!!! Now I do four. Three stand alone’s per grade level and I authentically integrate with one UOI for each grade. I am hoping to develop a well articulated, skills based, developmental PYP music program that I can share of the OCC by year’s end! Wish me luck!

    1. Yes this year I am trialling blending my previous stand alones into 2 stand alones (Making & Responding) to marry it with the Australian Curriculum and then at least 2 integrated, unless there is no way of integrating. We’ll see how that works after reflection at the end of the year, so far going OK!

    2. Now that I’ve had a little more experience with PYP and MYP I’ve got the planning more in sync with my Kodaly philosophy. I’ve created a year long skills stand alone unit (which came from my scope and sequence) and then interrupt it when I link. However I always start the year with a whole school ‘How we use the Learner Profile in Music’. This is working much more effectively for me.

  11. Hi can anybody share their overview, I have been teaching at a PYP school for the past 4 years and still struggle with the whole system. I have 319 kids that I see on a weekly basis and teach mostly skills.
    Your help welcome please, suggestions.

    Regards Michelle

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