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I have had the privilege of teaching students in all four programs of the International Baccalaureate programme. I’ve taught Early Years (EY), Primary Years (PYP), Middle Years (MYP) and Diploma Programme (DP), and I can say, with all certainty, that the similarities in the PYP and MYP Music create really authentic and meaning fun links between the two programs. 

Both PYP and MYP Music use the Learner Profile

The Learner Profile is the heart of the PYP, and it’s supposed to be the heart of the MYP, as well. “Making the PYP Happen” states, “What, then, is a PYP school? … It strives towards developing an internationally-minded person. What is an internationally minded person? It is a person who demonstrates the attributes of the Learner Profile.” (IBO, 2021, p. 3)

When we talk about the Learner Profile, many people naturally assume that it’s good for primary students, but gets placed more on the back-burner as the students get older. However, the Learner Profile is supposed to be at the forefront throughout all the IB programs. 

In my MYP classroom, I have music-specific Learner Profile posters hanging behind my desk so that I can refer to them constantly. If a student asks, “Do we need to use citations for our score analyses?” I point to the Principled poster. If a student is a bit nasty to a friend, I point to the Caring poster. If a student asks why they need to do reflections throughout the creative cycle, I point to the Reflective poster.

Our goal is to teach through the Learner Profile, and the best way to do that is through the Creative Cycle. Happily, both PYP and MYP Music use the Creative Cycle, so let’s discuss it next…

Both PYP and MYP Music use the Creative Cycle

PYP Music Creative Cycle Poster featuring animals playing instruments and dancing

The four parts of the PYP creative cycle are planning, practicing, polishing, and performing. We can break these down further to see how the Learner Profile relates to each section. 

As a quick reminder, the creative cycle and the inquiry cycle are the exact same thing. At the beginning of the creative cycle, you are setting up the learning. It’s where the pre-assessments are, the fun hooks, and the teacher-led engagements.  Once the students are released to inquire, then the magic starts to happen. 

In the planning stage, the students are deciding what their creation or performance will look like.  They are choosing who are in their groups and are deciding on the piece / direction in which they want to go. (In MYP, this is called their artistic intention.)  A PYP example might be having grade 3 students composing and performing a 2 part piece using a pentatonic scale. They need to decide who is in their group, which tonic they will start on, which two pitches they’ll be removing, which types of mallet instruments, they’ll be using, etc. Thinker – Knowledgeable – Inquirer – Open-Minded – Caring

Once they’ve done all their planning, they need to start working. This is the practicing stage. In our example, maybe our PYP students have chosen to start on a tonic of G and have removed F and B bars from their mallet instruments. The problem is, maybe they are playing too many Es. Their piece doesn’t sound quite right… they take a video and everyone listens together. Reflective – Risk-Takers (courageous) – Communicators Maybe they realise that they’ve removed the wrong bars. They remove C and F instead and starting working again. Throughout the lessons, they are constantly recording themselves and writing reflections to improve their work. They are collecting and acting upon feedback. At one point, their teacher mentions that their piece needs to have more of a focus on G, because it’s sounding like it’s in the wrong pentatonic scale.

Finally, the group is almost finished and they are starting to polish. They do a final recording and their homework is to go home and show their parents and at least three friends not in their class.  Here, they learn that their balance is off and their timing needs work in the B section. More fixing to do.

And now it’s the end. Our grade 3s are doing to perform their creation.  They take a final video during a live performance. After watching it, they do a final evaluation in which they talk about what their inspiration was (principled), how they worked together effectively as a team (caring – communicators) and how successful their performance was (thinkers – knowledgeable).

I used a PYP example here, but it’s the exact same for the MYP. The words are different, though. Instead of saying, “Planning,” we say “Artistic Intention.” 

Both PYP and MYP Music use Transdisciplinary Skills / ATLs

Infographic of icons related to thinking springing from man’s head, representing thinking skills.
A magnifying class in front of a laptop showing a graph, representing research skills.
An open laptop depicting a cartoon conference call, representing communication skills.
Two groups of people talking with cartoon speech bubbles, representing social skills.
Cartoon clock has appointments attached to times, representing self-management Approaches to Learning skills.

This explanation will be short and sweet. There are five sets of skills that all IB students must master. They are thinking skills, research skills, social skills, self-management skills, and communication skills. In PYP Music, these are called Transdisciplinary Skills and in MYP and DP Music, these are called Approaches to Learning Skills.

The definitions of these change as the students get older. For example, in PYP Music, one of the substrings of Self-Management Skills reads, “Exhibiting skills in which precision in delicate muscle systems is required.” (IBO, 2009, p.23). That would be a skill that a teacher would help them achieve – in an Early Years class, students would be doing scissor work during craft time. 

In MYP, the definitions put more onus on the students.  The MYP substrand reads, “Identify strengths and weaknesses of personal learning strategies” (ManageBac).

So basically… same same but different.

Both PYP and MYP Music use Transdisciplinary Themes / Areas of Interactions

Not everything in the IB comes with a perfect one-to-one match (e.g. attributes and the learner profile). However, in the case of PYP and MYP Music, there is a perfect match between the PYP Transdisciplinary Skills and the MYP Areas of Interaction. 

Let’s look at Sharing the Planet and Fairness & Development. In both PYP and MYP Music, it’s defined as “…an inquiry into rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and with other living things; communities and the relationships within and between them; access to equal opportunities; peace and conflict resolution” (IBO, 2009, p.12; IBO, 2018, p.32).

They have the exact same definition – word for word – in both the PYP and MYP guide books.

PYP Music
Transdisciplinary Theme
MYP Music
Areas of Interaction
Who We AreIdentities & Relationships
Where We Are in Place and TimeOrientation in Time and Space
How We Express OurselvesPersonal & Cultural Expression
How the World WorksScience & Technical Innovation
How We Organise OurselvesGlobalisation & Sustainability
Sharing the PlanetFairness & Development

Basically, the PYP transdisciplinary skills have simplified language for younger learners.  We aren’t going to get a 3 year old pre-kindergarten student to understand Personal and Cultural Expression, but they can easily understand How we express ourselves.

Both PYP and MYP Music use Key Concepts and Related Concepts

Concepts are one of the five essential elements of the PYP programme (knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes & action). They are the big ideas that allow students to think really deeply. 

(Side Note: Concepts are also an awesome way to link single-subject units to the programme of inquiry when the topics seem superficially linked.)

PYP Concepts: Form, function, causation, change, connection, perspective, responsibility, and reflection

These concepts are used across the entire Programme of Inquiry, regardless of subject area. Music will use these concepts, just like Maths, Physical Education, and Language. The difference between PYP and MYP Music is that MYP Music is given four specific concepts that it is encouraged to use, but with the caveat that others are option. 

MYP Music Key Concepts: Aesthetics, Change, Communication & Identity.

MYP Music Related Concepts: Audience, Boundaries, Composition, Expression, Genre, Innovation, Interpretation, Narrative, Play, Presentation, Role & Structure

Each MYP subject area is given a list of key and related concepts that they are encouraged to use. However, there’s nothing stopping anyone from jumping from one subject area to another. If I know Humanities has a great concept I’d like to try out, it’s no problem for me to grab one of theirs. In the same way, the PYP Music concepts are great, and I’d be very happy to use one of theirs. 

Make sure you don’t repeat yourself. Too many people think the Arts is only going to use Personal and Cultural Expression with Aesthetics. It’s vitally important that we explore Music using a wide range of lenses. I’ve had a grade 9 student explore her identity as a musician by teaching herself the guitar (she considered herself a pianist and wanted to expand her identity). That was a very cool inquiry. Otherwise, she would have done Personal and Cultural Expression, which would have been, “I’m gunna learn a song.”  It would have been lacking the depth and introspective nature of an identity inquiry.