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The Rise of the Learner Profile

Elizabeth Yomantas
September 1, 2021

As schools reopen this fall, there is pressure to return to “business as usual” and simply resume the way things were before the pandemic. However, during distance education, we have learned so much about ourselves as educators and about our students. We have learned that surviving pandemic education was about far more than rote knowledge or the ability to regurgitate information; rather, survival was based on the skills needed to cope with change and adapt in the face of uncertainty.

Schools should resist the temptation to return to pre-pandemic “business as usual” and embrace innovation and new goals for teaching and learning. 21st-century skills should be at the forefront of teaching and learning in the post-pandemic classroom. By employing principles from the International Baccalaureate’s learner profile, educators can bring new skills to the classroom and embrace new futures where individualized, customized, creative learning can come to life.

What is the learner profile?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is an organization that offers four high-quality education programs for students ages 3 – 19 around the globe. Currently, the IB includes more than 1.95 million students in 7,500 programs across 159 countries. According to their website, the aim of the IB is to “develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world.” The organization is more than 50 years old and focuses on nurturing critical thinking skills and building problem-solving skills.

In 2006, the IB organization published a list of ten attributes that they strive for across their programs. The list, referred to as the learner profile, unifies the organization as all schools who participate in IB programming seek to build the same attributes in students. These attributes are embedded throughout various dimensions of the IB programming. The learner profile aims to develop students who are inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, and reflective.

Why is the learner profile important for 21st-century learning?

Change is on the horizon in education. According to EdSurge, over 1,600 colleges and universities have become standardized test optional as a result of the pandemic. With SAT or ACT test scores no longer required for college admissions, this revolutionary change leads to new and exciting questions for the field of education. If standardized tests are no longer required and therefore educators do not need to invest as much time in test prep, what are the aims and objectives of school? If measurements of rote learning, such as standardized tests, are becoming optional, what new pathways can be set forth for teaching and learning? If standardized tests are eventually eliminated entirely, how can learning be measured in authentic ways?

Additionally, other types of grading and assessment options have gained recent popularity. Some trends in education include gamification, mastery-based grading, ungrading, experiential learning, use of portfolios, and a movement to eliminate grades entirely. As the one-size-fits-all approach to education is phased out, what do we replace it with?

Rather than a standardized test score or a GPA being the sole objective or measurement of learning, what if educators integrated the IB’s learner profile into their teaching? The IB learner profile attributes are publicly available; therefore, educators do not need to be at a school that is a member of the IB in order to implement the attributes into their curriculum.

Building 21st-century learners through the learner profile

Educators can build 21st-century learners by embracing principles from the learner profile. Teachers can make decisions – both large and small – to help embed the learner profile into the classroom teaching and learning.

To embrace the learner profile, teachers can use consistent language across their pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment aspects of teaching. The learner profile should be made visible across all aspects of the classroom.

The learner profile pedagogy

The learner profile can be embedded into classroom pedagogy through modeling and explaining the metacognitive process of developing the attributes in the learner profile.

Model traits

Teachers can model the traits of the learner profile in their pedagogy. If educators want their students to be 21st-century learners, they must also be 21st-century learners. The traits should be reflected in the pedagogical decisions of the educator. For example, if a teacher wishes for their students to grow in communication, they can model effective communication and also provide opportunities for students to grow in this skill. This includes embedding communication practice into learning activities. Furthermore, the teacher can scaffold communication skills by providing specific details, examples, and expectations in order to embrace this skill.

Explain the metacognitive process

Teachers can also model the metacognitive process for developing attributes from the learner profile. For example, if a teacher wishes for the students to grow in risk-taking, they can explain the process of taking a risk. The teacher can share a metacognitive story with the students about when they took a risk. The story could be related to taking a risk as a 21st-century teacher – for example, their experiences of introducing a new text aligned with the learner profile, experimenting with a new technology platform, or raising an issue with administration on behalf of student learning. The teacher can explain the metacognitive process of taking the risk – their worries, their fears, their ability to find strength and resolve, and how they felt after taking the risk. Sharing the metacognitive process can give students an opportunity to understand how they can work through a similar situation in their lives.

The learner profile curriculum

The learner profile can be supported by text selection, making the profile traits visible, and providing opportunities for experiential learning beyond the limits of the traditional classroom.

Choose texts that support the learner profile

Teachers can choose texts that nurture critical thinking, develop literacy skills, and support the learner profile. There are many great texts that can support 21st-century skills and yet still address foundational skills and meet learning standards. Choosing texts that align with the learner profile can create great cohesion across the classroom learning experience.

Make the learner profile traits visible

For teachers that cannot change their required reading texts or do not teach a subject that is naturally text-based, fear not! The traits of the learner profile can be featured through rich conversations with students about the people behind the content studied. For example, in a math class, a teacher can discuss the life of the mathematician that developed the theory they are studying. The teacher can ask the students to critically consider the connections between the mathematician’s lived experiences, development of knowledge, and attributes of the learner profile. A teacher can engage the students in questions such as: How was the mathematician an inquirer? How did they balance the intellectual, physical, and emotional to achieve personal well-being? How did they collaborate with others? If they did not seem to collaborate with others, how might collaboration have changed the outcome of their area of study?

Bring the learner profile to life through experiential learning

By providing the students with experiential learning opportunities, they can practice the learner profile instantaneously. Teachers can connect with local organizations to give students hands-on learning experiences in which the learner profile attributes are nurtured. For example, if a teacher wishes for her students to develop care, they may consider organizing a project with senior citizens to practice empathy, compassion, and respect. Experiential learning can take students out of their comfort zone and make a positive difference in the lives of others. Experiential learning can give students a hands-on experience with the attributes in the learner profile.

The learner profile assessment

The learner profile can be used in assessment through reflection, choice, and embedding the profile onto assessment rubrics.

Reflect on the learner profile

Students need opportunities to reflect on the attributes of the learner profile. Reflection can take place formally or informally. When using the learner profile as a framework for learning, reflection can be embedded cyclically after action. Every learning activity can be followed with structured reflection in connection with the attributes to the learner profile. Teachers can provide guided questions to scaffold the reflection process. From the reflections, students can set goals for how they wish to further engage with the attribute in the next learning opportunity.

Provide assessment choice within the learner profile

If teachers provide opportunities for choice in assessment, students can align their assessment selection in connection with an area for growth from the learner profile. Teachers can label assessment options with attributes from the learner profile. For example, if an oral presentation is an option for assessment, the instructions could be labeled to indicate that the connected attribute for growth is communication and/or risk-taking to speak in front of peers. If an assessment option involves a student constructing their own research question, the instructions could be labeled with the attributes of inquiry and knowledge. Teachers could also encourage students to take risks and try the types of assessments that are outside of their comfort zone.

Embed the learner profile attributes in rubrics

Teachers can consider embedding the learner profile attributes in the rubrics for assessment. There could be a rubric criterion that assesses how the student engaged with the learner profile in this learning segment. The students could self-report through reflection how they engaged with the learner profile throughout the learning. Students could reflect through a voice memo, a video recording, or a written reflection.

Tips for getting started with the learner profile in your classroom

Use the learner profile in small ways

Start small. Teachers should not feel like they need to overhaul their entire curriculum to embed the learner profile. The learner profile can be used in small ways to start – it can be used in a single lesson, a single reflection question, or a single rubric for one assignment. Start small and build over time.

Take time to explore the learner profile together

Teachers can continually reflect on the traits with students, offer space for the whole classroom community to applaud one another in their efforts, or allow space for students to share when they practiced the attributes. The dialogue can be ongoing surrounding the learner profile; it can be a concept that is continually revisited. In doing this, foundational learning skills can be met while engaging in important conversations.

Build with learner profile outcomes in mind

As teachers build their curriculum, they can consider the outcomes of the learner profile as they design the learning experiences of students. If they want to develop an attribute in their students, they can start with the attribute in mind and build their pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment around the attribute. Backwards planning from the learner profile can provide meaningful opportunities for engagement.

As schools go back to school in the fall, utilizing the attributes from the learner profile can offer new possibilities for teaching and learning. Instead of returning to the way things were, teachers can utilize the learner profile to reimagine pedagogy, instruction, and assessment in ways that build 21st-century learners who are ready to face any challenges that may come their way in the future.

Elizabeth Yomantas

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