ATL
  • Approaches to learning (ATL)

    Through approaches to learning, students develop skills that have relevance across the curriculum that help them “learn how to learn”. Approaches to learning skills can be learned and taught, improved with practice and developed incrementally. They provide a solid foundation for learning independently and with others. ATL skills help students prepare for, and demonstrate learning through, meaningful assessment. They provide a common language that students and teachers can use to reflect on and articulate on the process of learning.

    Approaches to learning are most powerful when teachers plan and students engage with them in connection with significant and relevant content knowledge in order to develop transferable understanding. All teachers in MYP schools are responsible for integrating and explicitly teaching ATL skills.

    Approaches to learning in the MYP

    The focus of approaches to learning in the MYP is on helping students to develop the self-knowledge and skills they need to enjoy a lifetime of learning. ATL skills empower students to succeed in meeting the challenging objectives of MYP subject groups as well as prepare them for further success if they choose to pursue a rigorous academic programme like the IB Diploma Programme. Ultimately, ATL skills help to prepare students for responsible participation in local and global communities.

    In the MYP, ATL encompasses both general and discipline-specific skills. Many ATL skills are applicable to all MYP subject groups; these general ‘tools for learning’ are then tailored to meet the specific needs of students and subjects. In order to develop ATL skills that facilitate effective and efficient learning, students need models, clear expectations, developmental benchmarks (or targets), and multiple opportunities to practice. While ATL are not formally assessed in the MYP, they contribute to students’ achievement in all subject groups. Teachers provide students with regular, specific feedback on the development of ATL skills through learning engagements and that provide formative assessment.

    Every MYP unit identifies approaches to learning skills that students will develop through their inquiry and demonstrate in the unit’s summative assessment.

    The most effective way to develop approaches to learning is through ongoing, process-focused disciplinary and interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Teachers can use key and related concepts along with global contexts as vehicles for teaching effective learning strategies. Likewise, approaches to learning can be powerful tools for exploring significant content. This dual focus (content and process) promotes student engagement, deep understanding, transfer of skills and academic success.

    Over time, students should develop clear and sophisticated understandings of how they learn best and how they can evaluate the effectiveness of their learning. This kind of self-regulated (independent and autonomous) learning helps students:

    • reflect purposefully on their learning (metacognition) 
    • understand the diversity of human learning needs 
    • evaluate and provide evidence of their learning 
    • meet MYP subject group aims and objectives 
    • share responsibility for creating productive, cooperative and safe learning environments 
    • develop the confidence to try new strategies and explore new concepts and contexts for learning 
    • prepare for further study and responsible participation in local and global communities.

    ATL skills and learning theory

    Considered as a whole and at the highest proficiency, MYP approaches to learning represent the skills that students need in order to become self-regulated, intrinsically motivated learners. MYP ATL skills reflect “dynamic, internally controlled . . . processes that positively influence a student’s tendency to approach, engage with, expend effort on, and persist in learning tasks in an ongoing, self directed manner” (McCombs, 1984).

    Using the vocabulary of learning theory, ATL skills can be described as

    • cognitive- learner-initiated use and practice of active information-processing and retrieval strategies 
    • affective (social and emotional)- self-management of mood, motivation, interpersonal relationships and attitudes toward learning 
    • metacognitive- awareness, understanding and control of personal learning processes.

    ATL skills are informed by and support the development of the attributes of the IB learner profile.

    MYP ATL skills framework

    The MYP extends IB ATL skills categories into ten developmentally-appropriate clusters. From this framework GMHS has developed its own framework based on MYP subjects and units.

    ATL skills are interconnected. Individual skills and skills clusters frequently overlap and may be relevant to more than one skill category.

    Developing student responsibility for ATL

    Some of the key questions to be answered by students with respect to ATL skills include:

    • What are my present skills in this area and what evidence do I have of my development? 
    • What skills can I improve? 
    • What new skills can learn?

    When specific ATL skills become an explicit focus for teaching and learning, students can begin to take responsibility for their own development. Over time, students can identify themselves and their competence in any learning strategy using terms like these:

    • Novice/ beginning – students are introduced to the skill and can watch others performing it (observation) 
    • Learner/ developing – students copy others who use the skill and use the skill with scaffolding and guidance (emulation) 
    • Practitioner/ using – students employ the skill confidently and effectively (demonstration) 
    • Expert/ sharing – students can show others how to use the skill and accurately assess how effectively the skill is used (self-regulation)

    A concept-based curriculum that uses ATL skills effectively enables all students to become stronger, more self-regulated learners.

ATL skill categories & clusters

  • Communication

  • Social

  • Self Management

  • Research

  • Thinking


  • Information on these pages is from the MYP Subject Guides and the MYP Project Guide. International Baccalaureate Organization. 2014. Print.