The Universal & Essential Action Cycle

Beginning to teach at an International Baccalaureate school can be an intimidating experience.  Terminology alone, from “transdisciplinary skills” to “line of inquiry,” can be difficult to understand and incorporate into teaching, especially if you have a background that emphasizes direct instruction.  However, becoming familiar with the Action Cycle, or learning cycle, can help ease that transition–whether you’re a new IB teacher and or are simply interested in cultivating a more inquiry-based, student-driven classroom.

Trying It Out

Ms. Twist’s use of the action cycle with her preschool students (found on Pinterest) inspired me to try it with my fifth graders.  I started by taping a poster of the learner profiles to our filing cabinet and writing each student’s name on a magnet.  I then placed the Action Cycle above as a reminder.  Each morning, students placed their magnets on the learner profile in which they wanted to improve, with the goal of taking action throughout the day.  At the end of the day, we would briefly discuss it together.  Some shared anecdotes, recognizing personal growth as they made deliberate decisions; others realized they had forgotten about it that day, and committed to improve the next.  Across the board, a culture of ownership and purposefulness was cultivated, and students began to make connections to the Action Cycle in other areas.

Choose, Act, Reflect

Sam Sherratt
Sam Sherratt

The process of making choices, taking action, and reflection (not necessarily in that order) is part of the human experience.  From decisions on diet to the way we browse the Internet, the cycle repeats itself many times daily for most individuals.  However, its prevalence is not necessarily clear to kids, especially if their freedom to make independent choices is often limited (or even just perceived as such); and if that’s the case, we can’t count on them acting responsibly or making a habit of thoughtfully reflecting on their decisions.

Metacognition & Growth Mindset

Whether or not you teach at an IB school, it’s important to bring the ideas of the action cycle to light in your classroom.  Metacognition and the growth mindset have lately been widely discussed topics in the education world, and evidence of their benefits for students is mounting:

“Students with strong metacognitive skills can foresee problems that may arise during a learning experience, and they are able to better allocate their cognitive resources for learning to cope. Furthermore, they are better able to monitor their learning experience and determine the information they understand or the information they need to investigate more.” (Muesser C. Nat, et al, “Impact of Metacognitive Awareness on Learning in Technology Enhanced Learning Environments,” p. 3)

Cultivate the Action Cycle

Below, we have listed some ways to highlight the principles of the action cycle in your classroom.  If you have more to share, please do so in the comments!

  • Jack Lyons
    Jack Lyons

    Spark discussion: What would happen without one of the action cycle components?

  • Empower students with choice as often as possible.  Try homework projects, student-created rubrics, or passion time.
  • Adopt Love & Logic language as part of your classroom management.  Not only does this teach students the cause and effect of their action, but it also highlights the fact that they always do have a choice.
  • Model how action-cycle-conscious individuals make purposeful choices, take responsible action, and reflect on learning.  Think aloud as you do so!
  • Don’t skimp on lesson wrap-ups.  Often, we get to the end of a lesson just in time for recess, but it’s critical not to underestimate the power of a wrap-up, and its potential for rich reflection

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