Learning First Framework

As of August 2016 ZIS will transition from the PYP to the Learning First Framework. The Learning First Framework is a whole school curriculum framework guiding teaching and learning.

A great deal of consideration went into the review process. The decision was undertaken only after many months of internal consideration, deliberation and questioning, to ensure the decision was aligned with what our research has shown us is best for student learning in our context.

Please review the questions and answers below, which should answer many of your most important questions.


Why are you transitioning away from the PYP?

We are transitioning away from the PYP because we would like to focus on developing a whole school curriculum framework that ensures connection and cohesion across the entire school. We want to develop systems that guide teaching and learning that function across the whole school and not just the Lower School. Currently the PYP only addresses the Lower School curriculum.
We also want the flexibility and autonomy to respond to educational approaches that work for our students. For example, successes in writing workshop have demonstrated to us that learning in literacy should not be driven by units of inquiry, but that the learning goals should be mapped out first, and linked to units of inquiry where appropriate.
Equally, we want to be able to develop our single subject areas to be aligned with the rest of the school. Subject area expectations would be aligned using common language and format throughout the school.
We also want the autonomy to decide on appropriate and relevant professional development such as writing workshop and mathematical practices, rather than the PYP professional development that is required by the IBO.
Finally, we want to use the Learning First Framework documents we have developed for whole school use. The PYP requires us to use the IB PYP documents and language.

If PYP goes, where you will you get your curriculum content from?

The PYP only provides the framework (structure); the school has always developed the  curriculum. This means we will continue to use the curriculum we currently have and work towards making enhancements and improvements that align with the rest of the school.  

If you are no longer following the PYP, what programme will you be following?

By transitioning to the Learning First Framework, we will be able to introduce greater consistency in terms of language, learning standards and learning outcomes across the school. The academic curriculum next year will in many ways be a continuation and extension of what we are already doing in the Lower School. The learning goals for the academic programme will continue to be delivered through units of inquiry and through single subject areas using an inquiry approach and meaning and significant content. We will continue with units of inquiry, though the number and organisation of them may change. Languages, PE and the Arts will continue as they are now, with additional flexibility to respond to what we know about student learning, where appropriate. Literacy learning will continue with reading and writing workshop, and Mathematics will also continue with our current approach.  Without the requirements of the PYP we will be able to structure the learning of the Lower School to be aligned with the rest of the school.  Please refer to the questions that follow for more details on this.

What will remain the same for my child in August 2016 and as you develop the learning programme in the Lower School?

Much of what students are experiencing now will remain the same, including

  • the ZIS mission

  • the best of what is currently happening in the academic element of the programme in the Lower School, including:

    • inquiry-based learning, when appropriate, and our general approach to learning and best practice

    • concept-based learning that allows for in depth understanding rather than focusing on facts

    • a transdisciplinary approach, when appropriate, that allows students to make meaningful connections across subjects

    • student-led conference and learning paths

    • a culminating event for Grade 5 to showcase student learning

    • continued development of reading and writing workshops

What about inquiry-based learning? My child is thriving in the current inquiry environment.

We will continue to use inquiry as our main teaching methodology in the Lower School, as it is consistent with what we know about how students learn. We will use our knowledge and understanding of students, their strengths and goal areas to ensure that learning is relevant and meaningful.  

Why are you changing now?

As a result of the strategic orientation of the school, we have undergone a curricular review.  The results are that a Pre-School Grade 12 curricular framework would have huge benefits for the entire school.  Currently the Lower School is an authorized PYP school and would begin the next PYP Evaluation cycle next year.  We think it is better to focus on a whole school curricular process rather than focus on one campus. The Learning First Framework will provide common Character Standards, Learning Principles, Learning Standards and Learning terms that ensure alignment and consistency across all curricular areas.

How long have you been thinking about this?

We are always reviewing our curriculum in light of recent educational research to ensure we are meeting the needs of our students. For the past several years, we have been actively collaborating with other international schools as part of the Common Ground Collaborative (CGC).  This collaboration has led to the development of many of the school wide teaching and learning documents that are necessary in developing an aligned and coherent PS-Grade 12 curriculum model.  After many months of work, it became clear that, in order to continue developing our curriculum, we would need to consider leaving the PYP.  In November 2015, after a rigorous review process, the Board endorse the proposal for the change.

When will this change take place?

The change will take place in the 2016/17 academic year.

My child’s teacher is a highly experienced PYP teacher. Will his/her experience no longer count?

We hire highly experienced and qualified teachers, who understand best practice in a primary school. Teachers with experience in the PYP will have a deep understanding of inquiry, of concept-based learning and of a transdisciplinary approach. We will continue to draw on the experience and expertise of these teachers.

The input of all our teachers into curriculum development is, and will continue to be, highly valued.

Are you going to lose teachers as a result of this decision?

We do not expect to lose any teachers as a result of this decision. Much of what we are currently doing within the PYP framework will be carried on as we move forward. Our teachers are seeing the benefits to student learning of more recent developments, such as reading and writing workshop and our approach to Mathematics, which are not within the PYP framework. Going forward, they will have the flexibility to set goals that are developmentally appropriate, and are based solely on best practice and what we know about how students learn.

It is our responsibility to ensure that all our teachers have a professional environment in which they can continue to grow and thrive. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure that this remains true for all our teachers.

Where is the accountability to an outside agency that the PYP currently provides?

PYP authorisation means that the school has fulfilled the minimum requirements for implementing the PYP programme. ZIS is the oldest accredited school in Switzerland through the Council of International Schools (CIS) and New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).  Accreditation from CIS/NEASC means that an objective assessment of our school and all elements of our programme, including curriculum, has taken place, with a PS-G12 focus. This kind of accreditation is more suitable for our purposes and is recognised internationally as an industry standard.

Will you continue to follow the IB Diploma and AP programmes?

Yes. We will continue to offer the IB Diploma and AP courses in Grade 11 and 12.   The IB Diploma is an internationally recognised high quality diploma that provides our students with an excellent preparation for their next steps after graduation.

The Advanced Placement (AP) allows us to have available a broad range of subjects on offer that allow students access to higher level courses and provides a valuable preparation for university studies following graduation.

Will your curriculum be recognized by other schools?

Yes. The high quality education we offer to students at ZIS is widely understood by other international schools and CIS/NEASC accreditation ratifies this understanding. Accreditation from CIS/NEASC means that an objective assessment of our school and all elements of our programme has taken place, with a PS-G12 focus. Schools recognise that this accreditation means we are offering a high quality curriculum.  

In addition, we are working closely with other highly recognized and established international schools as part of the Common Ground Collaborative.

My child has always been at PYP schools and will transfer to one should we have to leave Zurich. In the future, how will my child transfer to a PYP school after experiencing the ZIS curriculum?

A student moving from ZIS to a PYP school will experience a similar approach and philosophy of learning. The content may be different, but the approach to learning will be familiar. The PYP is conceptually driven and offers a transdisciplinary approach to learning. We will continue to support this approach in our curriculum. Concepts have been embedded into our PS-Grade 12 learning goals.

It is worth noting that transferability between PYP schools is not wholly seamless - it is seamless in some ways (inquiry, transdisciplinary approach, the learner profile) and not in others (content, consistency, outcomes, assessments).

Will you still be an IB School?

Yes, we will still be an IB School as we will continue to offer the IB Diploma in Grades 11 and 12.

What does the IBO think? What is the response from the IBO?

We continue to enjoy a professional partnership with the IBO and the regional office of the IBAEM . They fully understand our reasons for no longer seeking authorisation with the PYP.  We will continue to collaborate with the IB through our work with the Diploma Program.

Were parents consulted on the decision?

We welcome the views of our parents on what and how the school is doing. Over the years, we have received significant feedback from parents who value the inquiry-based learning in the Lower School but who also have suggestions for other approaches to learning; from this we felt we had a good sense of the parent view on the PYP.

The process that resulted in the decision to move to a more flexible curriculum involved the Strategic Leadership, the Board, members of the curriculum articulation team and external educational consultants. We believe that these groups were best-placed to understand the issues from the perspective of student learning and to make the right decision for our students.

Why are hundreds of schools worldwide joining the PYP and ZIS is leaving it?

Many schools join the PYP so that they can gain IB World School status; ZIS will retain its IB World School status as we will continue to offer the IB Diploma in the Upper School. Equally, many schools join the PYP as it provides a support network and a framework where there may be no curriculum in place; with the Learning First Framework, and many years of experience as well as recent work from the curriculum articulation project, we have a robust learning programme from PS to Grade 12. The PYP remains a great framework for many Primary schools; however, our work in curriculum is moving us beyond the framework it provides.  Additionally, we are now ready to focus on developing curriculum that ensures that learning is connected and coherent across the entire school.  

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