My Day Out: ATLs on the Waddenzee

In my last post, I looked ahead to my PDW trip to Holland with Grade 10 and I can now report that I survived my experiential learning adventure and am back on dry land. From a logistical perspective, the trip was undoubtedly a success; a credit to my colleague Jacqui who pulled it all together and to the staff and students who threw themselves into sailing and literally the North Sea during the week. As a group of staff, we generally felt that the trip had successfully offered students the chance to experience ‘controlled freedom’ and far greater real world autonomy than on previous trips. But how did the students feel and did the dreaded ATL skills help or hinder us in maximizing learning opportunities and planning with greater intentionality?

In an attempt to blend the principles of SMART target setting with the aims and objectives of the ATLs, we gave the students the following pre-trip goal and success criteria:

Goal: to build a team that can function and flourish with a degree of independence.

Success indicators for a functioning boat:

  • Life on board runs smoothly. Students complete their allocated tasks without needing to be reminded.
  • Meals are prepared and served on time.
  • Cooking, dining, washing and communal spaces are left clean and tidy.
  • Respect is shown at all times. If someone isn’t pulling their weight, they are encouraged to do so politely.
  • Timings and curfews are observed.
  • Everyone looks for opportunities to help each other and the crew to fulfil all required tasks e.g. sailing/production of the media product.

Success indicators for a flourishing boat:

  • Students help each other to complete tasks on time.
  • Students go out of their way to include others in group activities.
  • Students develop new friendships.
  • The atmosphere on board is respectful and encouraging; students praise each other.
  • Students execute a creative, inclusive and carefully planned media product.

We also provided a short list of ATL skills that we felt were going to be most applicable to the circumstances of the trip. Students were asked to consider how they:

  • Negotiate ideas and knowledge with peers and teachers
  • Delegate and share responsibility for decision-making
  • Help others to succeed
  • Take responsibility for one’s own actions
  • Exercise leadership and take on a variety of roles within groups


During the week, boats approached the ATL skills differently, with some teacher chaperones holding daily ATL focused debriefs and others preferring to wait until the end of the week for a look back at the role that they may have played. In hindsight, our student goal statement was reasonable but could have been SMARTER. Boats staying afloat, no-one starving and an absence of conflict, injury or disappearance would seem to confirm that all boat crews successfully managed to function; but did they flourish? This term was chosen in conversation with my colleague Phil for its Artistotlean connotation of well-being and socio-emotional accord but its measurability will forever be up for debate.

In an attempt to counter this concern, the MYP has provided the following scale for ATL assessment:

Screen Shot 2016-10-23 at 17.37.18.pngOn board ship, students were tolerant of our conversations about ATL goals without ever seeming to take ownership of them. From a ‘measurement’ perspective, we didn’t give them a clear rubric instead asking them to refer to the skills in a post-trip blog post and its in these reflections that the most meaning can be found. After all – to exceed in the table above, students must ‘assess their own effectiveness’ and ‘use a skill with unfamiliar content’. The most authentic recognition of this success can be found in their own words.

“Our trip was the perfect combination between fun and work, balls and apples in fresh water, dancing and singing, and just a little bit of crazy.” – Liya

“Students on our PDW trip where encouraged to work collaboratively and communicate in a group to actually sail a boat; to be open-minded to new experiences and cultures as we lived and worked together over that week.” – Sam

“We flourished by not complaining, and being happy to step in and help each other with tasks or with planning. It was different from last year’s PDW in that way.” – Sophia

Whilst it might be naive to say that explicit references to the IB learner profile and our favoured term flourishing would have appeared without our goal and ATL focus, these quotes still help to capture the value of our intentionality. Looking ahead to how we could get the most out of this privileged experience, albeit through the imperfect lens of the ATLs, appeared to allow teachers to highlight a wider range of teachable moments.

Next year, more time could be spent on producing a pre-trip blog post and on asking boat crews to devise their own personal and collective skill goals for the week. Similarly, enabling staff to read and respond to what students have written will help to develop a more authentic impression of what students really take from this experience. Daily challenges could also be set to break up longer blocks of time and these could focus on testing more specific skills. Reviewing what is clearly a successful trip will only help to make it stronger but we must also ensure that over planning doesn’t undermine what experiential learning does best: combines authentic learning experiences, spontaneity and fun.


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