What books do TOK teachers recommend?

Just before the end of the last academic year I asked the following question on the facebook TOK teachers chat group:

The post sparked quite a few responses which I have typed up and linked to amazon. The list was:

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Curriculum Coherence: TOK & P4C concept lightbulbs

Today was the first day of the new academic year with students after a week of inset training.

Last week we had a whole secondary training on TOK for subject teachers which was the final part of training in our work towards curriculum coherence using TOK.

To begin to bring about a coherent curriculum we have decided to look at ways that TOK (Theory of Knowledge) can act as a joint between different subjects. This could be pursued in a variety of ways:

  1. Developing horizontal links between TOK and subjects within particular year levels.
  2. Developing vertical links by embedding TOK lower down the school:
    1. through form time activities
    2. through links to curriculum content in MYP and GCSE
  3. Inculcating conceptual ways of thinking within members of the teaching team over time.
  4. Inculcating thinking routines, moves and steps as techniques that learners of all ages can use to think through problems

Last year we began this process by learning about Philosophy for Communities (P4C) where we learned a suite of techniques that can be used to open up a classroom to dialogic teaching.

We now unpacked what TOK is with the aim of helping all teachers in the secondary understand a little more about what this strange subject is all about and help them get over their “Feary of knowledge”. We hope that this will encourage all our team to be a little more daring in trying to link to TOK in their lessons or plan to present their content in a way that is more exposed to uncertainty and therefore debate. This isn’t something that has to happen all the time but occasionally it will provide opportunity for students to reflect, discuss and debate.

To that end I updated the P4C concept lightbulbs (used in the P4C full inquiry method) to include terms more suited to a TOK classroom and I also weighted it a little more to the science classroom as that is one that I work. These lightbulbs will allow DP teachers to use the P4C inquiry model to open up discussion about the nature of knowledge with their students. What do you think? Can you add any more concepts?

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I survived 18-19

This is my last post for the school year 2018-19. I will be back in August/September with some new material.

What have I done this year?

I certainly don’t do things by halves. In the space of one year I have moved house, country, and continent with my family, engaging with a whole new culture, paradigm and language.  This involved huge adjustments in life (just going to the supermarket was one!) and parenting routines as well as overcoming significant cultural adjustments. It’s been a hard year to be a parent and husband.

At the same time I have changed schools and jobs, taking on a new senior role involving acting as the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program Coordinator, HS Diploma Coordinator and the University Guidance Officer. My new school had recently moved from A Levels to the IBDP and this year was to be the final year for the first cohort. It was exciting to be a first time DPC, working with a new program: lots of potential for positive change and influence where necessary.

I have also moved back to teaching IGCSE biology for the first time in six years and picked up a year 13 class which resulted in me having to adapt my normal teaching SOW to fit their needs. It has been quite a challenge; having taught the IB Middle Years Program for four years where I had to adapt the biology curriculum on an ongoing basis, I had to start over in planning and prepping the IGCSE biology course.

I wrote my reflections on my first term in this role up in this post, and throughout this year, as I wrote about previously, I have led training on academic integrity, leading to a new policy, coordinated the IB Extended Essay (which was a unexpected surprise) and implemented a development plan to embed TOK in the whole secondary Yr7-13 curriculum.

On top of all of this I have continued to work as a university guidance officer and managed kids applications to universities in Hong Kong, China and South Korea for the first time, alongside apps to Canada and the US. Korean University applications are far from simple!

Finally, I have undertaken significant professional development, through the UK’s National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership via UCL’s Leadership Colab’s cluster group at Harrow International in Beijing attending five Saturday sessions. I am now looking to write up my 5000 word project based on my role as IB DPC and implementing change in the Key Stage 5 curriculum. Added to this I have attended the CIS-EARCOS institute on higher education  in Bangkok and the IBO’s global conference in Hong Kong as well as fitted in university visits to four universities in Hong Kong.

Reflections on classroom practice

The teaching has been enjoyable but frustrating when I haven’t been able to deliver a much loved course in the way that I would like, particularly after I have spent so much time reading, thinking and writing about my ideas regarding life science instruction over the last few years. I am looking forward to beginning a new course with year 12 in August, and further developing my ideas surrounding using stimuli material to help link the course to other subject areas and generate big inquiry questions, linked to real world issues. I have enjoyed the IGCSE teaching, mainly because this has been an opportunity to take a course from the start and really think about how my ideas for the IB biology curriculum translate over to the IGCSE curriculum. I am looking forward to continuing the course with a fantastic group of year 10s soon to be year 11s.

The major problem I have been consumed with recently, both for my own classroom practice and from a whole curriculum perspective, is how to make the learning authentic and meaningful for students. By this I mean is how can we help to students to see how what they are learning links to the real world, and real world, current issues – to help them understand the global narrative that they are their curriculum is part of. I also mean how can we inject more meaning into the their performances and the artefacts that they are producing. I summarised my ideas in this post.

Reflections on leadership

As I wrote previously, this was my first year in senior leadership and this year has been a steep learning curve in that regard. Leadership is a proper marathon. You can’t afford to slacken off – there are always relationships to be built, and the wrong smile or word can undo weeks of hard labour on this front. This has come home a lot for me as we wind into the last three weeks of a very long year. Teachers are tired, I am tired, the leadership team is tired…..what is  the learning from this?

One thing I have noticed is that my sleeping thoughts, those just as I am going to sleep and when I wake up are much more preoccuppied with work. Aside from the occasionally sunday night worries, or worries the night before a new term start, this has never happened to me on this scale that I can remember. This year it has been a constant feature of life. Several nights a week, for most weeks of the year I have found myself thinking about things that I am responsible for and have no direct control over. I wish my waking thoughts were preoccupied with my own kids but no mostly these are do with the administration of the Extended Essay or something to do with Academic Honesty.

Since Christmas a huge amount of my time has been taken up with thinking about exams! First it was the mock exams and then the May exams. The amount of behind the scenes work that goes into running an exam session is truly extraordinary. There is the exam secure storage to sort out, so that it meets new and ever changing standards. There is the exam timetable to put together so IB and IGCSE exams are in one calendar, there is the invigilation schedule to plan and organise, and find creative ways to make this easily understood by teachers. In our case there was a re-rooming schedule to organise. Added to this there is making sure that all the correct exam stationary is present and accounted for, that we have received the correct exams, that the examination rooms are set up correctly and in line with regulations, that the invigilators are briefed and know what they can and can’t do, that the students and parents are briefed. This aspect of the job is highly administrative but still requires learning of new procedure and reflection on how to improve the processes that we put in place last year.

The approach to exams this year reminded me of prior learning. Some of the conversations I have had this year with colleagues have surrounded accountability and quality assurance. I refused to make personalised exam timetables for my students in year 12 and 13 this year. Not only is this a MASSIVE opportunity cost for me, but it means that potentially kids miss out on a massive formative opportunity for development. The argument that we should was basically to ensure that they didn’t miss any exams, but so what if they miss a mock exam? Surely that is going to teach that student something valuable. I know it did when it happened to me at university. Secondary leaders and teachers have got to remember that we are in the business of raising adults, we shouldn’t be taking away opportunities for kids to learn, no matter the cost, because better learn it now, the stakes are only going to get higher.

Aside from exams, I have had to guide the teaching team through their first set of IBDP eCoursework procedures. Making sure that teachers knew which items they were uploading and which of these were meant to graded and annotated and which weren’t. We also had to think, as a team, about good marking and moderation procedures and practices as well as what were consistent annotations on student work. Again I think that there is still room for improvement here.

Because the IBDP has such a large volume of coursework that is both externally assessed and internally assessed, externally moderated, student and teacher understandings of academic integrity issues is paramount. Next year, there is still work to be done in this area, particularly in terms of improving our students understandings, but we have made steps in the right direction this year in developing a shared understanding of the policy and procedures surrounding this.

Another aspect of the IBDP curriculum we have been beginning to look at this year is the narrative and coherence of the curriculum both horizontally, within year 12 and 13 and vertically with the rest of the secondary school. The first step in this was to look at how TOK brings the curriculum areas together. This involves developing subject specialists understanding of TOK and what it brings to their subjects and exploring links between the TOK and subject areas. We have begun this process this year with some training on TOK and P4C and will continue with training in this area next year. I have been much inspired by Mary Myatt and Martin Robinson in this area.

I have continued to be mindful of building positive relationships and a positive atmosphere, as I identified this as an area of development for me coming into the role. Teacher issues and resolving them, has been the real stumbling block here. How do you build trusting, respectful and positive relationships but still hold colleagues to account for the actions or lack thereof. Managing challenging personalities remains an area for development for me, as well as maintaining my own positivity and proactive outlook when stress, tiredness, and difficult attitudes can make it even harder to be empathetic and understanding of others at times. How do you be an inspiring leader and get people on board with your vision when, at times, you have to call others out? How do you do this without allowing others to take advantage of your attempts to be understanding and to empathise?

Even if I don’t pass the assessment, the NPQSL course has been really quite valuable to me. I wanted to take this course because I recognised that I had a lack of leadership training, if you will. I wanted some exposure to the theory behind leadership for learning.  I have taken away something from each of the five face to face session and blogged about four of those sessions; here, here, here and here.

Finally, At the start of this year I expressed some frustration to my boss about my lack of line managing anyone. I was new to SLT in my school and with the new leadership position I had expected to be formally part of the appraisal process for staff. I felt that I had a lot to offer in terms of coaching colleagues etc. I have come to learn over this year that leadership isn’t about being anyones boss. Instead it is about relationships. I am pleased to reflect on the fact that several HoDs have sought me out on regular occasions for advice and support. I am pleased to give it to them and pleased that after 8 months in a school I am at a position where despite the lack of official “line management” in the org chart, colleagues have felt that they could approach me with questions and that I am able to support them. Leadership and management is far more than box ticking appraisal and I now reflect that I am happy being an unofficial coach and mentor than having direct reports.

No wonder I have not always felt the best on an emotional and psychological level this year, it has been a ride. Time for a much needed holiday . Looking forward to celebrating my parents 50th wedding anniversary in Otterburn, Northumberland with all my siblings and their families. Oh, and I better get writing that NPQSL project up….

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

I recently read Jonathan Haidt’s the Righteous Mind, at a time that I was considering adding an extra dimension to my blog about my experiences growing up in a super conservative, evangelical family. I was partly inspired to do this by Tara Westover’s fabulous work “educated” about her experiences growing in a fundamentalist mormon family.

The Righteous mind outlines the basics of moral psychology and the differences between those who identify on the political right and those on the political left. It provides an interesting, modern critique of pure reason and society’s obsession with it.

Humans are not rational and rely on intuitions followed by post-hoc rationalisation, Haidt argues. The book goes on to provide a scaffold to potentially reducing misunderstanding and miscommunication across partisan divides. Haidt argues that there are six foundations to morality and liberals and conservatives give emphasis to different ones. This is based on the work that he and other researchers have been carrying out in this areas since the 1990s.

I found it’s defence of intuition and arguments against reason enlightening and thought provoking, and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in morality, religion, politics and the division they cause. I would also strongly recommend it to anyone teaching International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge.

It reminded me of the following resources that I have used in teaching TOK:

The following are quotes from the book that I enjoyed.

Page 6 1. Where does Morality come from?

“In other words the understanding of the conservation of volume wasn’t innate, and it wasn’t learned from adults. Kids figure it out for themselves, but only when their minds are ready and  they are given the right kids of experience.” Comment – Piaget’s reasoning makes sense but his studies were only of small children. If he was right surely mankind would have figured out the laws of the universe much sooner. His model cant apply in all adult learning and is inefficient.”

” If you want kids to learn about the social world…don’t force them to obey God or their teachers or you. That will only freeze them at the conventional level.”

I felt this one above provides some clue into understanding members of my family….that’s another story.

“These subjects were reasoning. They were working quite hard at reasoning. But it was not reasoning in search of truth; it was reasoning to support their emotional reactions.”

This is a good reminder of the difference between exploratory and confirmatory reasoning. I would argue that an important part of education is concerned with trying to help others develop ways to consider arguments from multiple perspectives.

The intuitive dog and its rational tail

“The true believers produce pious fantasies that don’t match reality, and at some point somebody comes along to knock the idol off its pedestal”.

Many christians will claim that something is wrong because God says it is wrong. Evangelicals claim supreme knowledge – they just know. I have been having arguments, with my siblings, about our faith and Brexit, that can be summed up by this quote.

“Yet moral judgements are not subjective statements; they are claims that somebody did something wrong. I can’t call for the community to punish you simply because I don’t like what you are doing. I have to point to something outside of my own preferences, and that pointing is moral reasoning”

All too often, people I regularly engage in discussion with, are making judgements and not offering anything more than their subjective preferences and they think that that is OK. Many Christians I know interpret the bible in whatever way pleases them at the time.

“The main way that we change our minds on moral issues is by interacting with other people. We are terrible at seeking evidence that challenges our own beliefs, but other people do us this favour, just as we are quite good at finding errors in other people’s beliefs.”

“But if there is affection, admiration, or a desire to please the other person, then the elephants leans toward that person and the rider tries to find the truth in the other person’s arguments”.

“The first principle of moral psychology is intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

“If thinking is confirmatory rather than exploratory in these dry and easy cases, then what chance is there that people with think in an open-minded, exploratory way when self-interest, social identity and strong emotions makes them want or even need to reach a pre-ordained conclusion”

“The partisan brain has been reinforced so many times for performing mental contortions that free it from unwanted beliefs. Extreme partisanship may be literally addictive.”

“As an intuitionist, I’d say that the worship of reason is itself an illustration of one of the most long-lived delusions in Western history: the rationalist delusion”.

“Expertise in moral reasoning does not seem to improve moral behaviour, and it might make it worse….Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason….motivated reasoning (confirmatory reasoning vs exploratory)….depressing research findings make perfect sense once you see reasoning as having evolved not to help us find the truth but to help us engage in arguments, persuasion, and manipulation in the context of discussions with other people”.

“How hard could it be to teach students to look on the other side, to look for evidence against their favoured view? Yet, in fact, its very hard and nobody has found a way to do it.”

“Gut feelings are sometimes better guides than reasoning for making consumer choices and interpersonal judgements, but they are often disastrous as a basis for public policy, science and law. Rather, what I’m saying is that we must be wary of an individuals ability to reason. We should see each individual as being limited, like a neurone. A neurone is really good at one thing: summing up the stimulation coming into its dendrites to “decide” whether to fire an impulse along its axon.”

“I concluded by warning that the worship of reason, which is sometimes found in philosophical and scientific circles, is a delusion. It is an example of faith in something that does not exist.”

“The ethic of divinity is sometimes incompatible with compassion, egalitarianism, and basic human rights”.

“The Authority foundation, as I describe it, is borrowed directly from Fiske. It is more complex that the other foundations because its modules must look in two directions – up towards superiors and down towards subordinates”

Her Haidt provides an argument in support for the traditional teacher student relationships but also for leadership.

“Emphasising differences makes many people more racist, not less”

This quote reminds me of my twitter discussion with Alom Shah. I picked up on a statement he made about “all white people” and was promptly ridiculed by several of his followers. I still think that it is unhelpful to draw such lines in discussions of race. At the very least the work of Haidt shows that it is self defeating. If you are trying to reduce racism, you need to reduce division.

Thoughts from Mary Myatt’s Curriculum

At Easter this year I read Mary Myatt’s little book, Curriculum: Gallimaufry to coherence.

This is an excellent book, full of short, sharply written chapters that are bound to get you thinking about the wider narrative of your school curriculum. Now that the International Baccalaureate‘s Standard’s and Practice’s explicitly mention curriculum coherence, this would be recommended reading for any IB coordinator.

These are some of the questions that I asked myself, thoughts I had, or sections I highlighted as I read through the book:

  • Why is a rounded education good?
  • What is the aim of education?
  • Why is important to build links to TOK?
  • Where does my subject fit into the bigger picture of the curriculum?
  • What is the story of the school curriculum?
  • We need to avoid curriculum bittiness by thinking about the big picture – what is the essential ideas of what is being taught in lessons/units? e.g. biblical underpinnings of Macbeth taught in KS3 to inform the learning in KS4 of Macbeth
  • The primary purpose of CPD should be to ensure that teachers can hone their subject knowledge and their pedagogical content knowledge.
  • Schools should prioritise their teachers subject knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge development: school’s that don’t are like restaurant owners that don’t pay attention to their chef’s ingredients quality.
  • Skills are not separate to knowledge. Comprehension of one text does not guarantee comprehension of another.
  • What are the unifying ideas of each curriculum? – these are the ideas that come up again and again within subjects and between subjects.
  • Curriculum is a narrative, we need to get teachers out of their silo so that they can help students see how their subject learning fits in with others.
  • Structuring units via questions might be the right track to do this?
  • What is it that kids need to know in order to access the stuff we are teaching? This needs to be the focus of the vertical curriculum alignment.
  • During INSET time can we set objectives of what we wish depts to achieve in their planning time together?
  • Reducing workload isn’t about reducing work, it is about efficiency and time allocation. Work load is reduced so less is done with higher quality.
  • While I was reading I tweeted the question: “What is source material in the sciences?” and I got this reply:
  • This thinking about source material has made me think again about my approach to teaching IB Biology, but the question I was then struggling with was how to get students to effectively engage with that source material?
  • I got an idea to answer this question during my philosophy for children training. So now I think that while focusing on curriculum is good, and focussing on concepts and ideas is good we need to ensure that teachers are effectively trained to do this.
  • Learning happens when students are made to think about and with the material. This idea is repeated in the work of Daniel Willingham.
  • Observations of teaching – do I know where the best practice is?
  • Feedback is actionable, Grading is summative – both can be marking so long as we understand the point of the marking.
  • Class blog – when we start a topic, students write notes on what they already know about that topic. They can then identify what they are unsure of and finally what questions they have about the topic. The posts can be updated and revisited as students move through the unit/course.
  • There has been a lot of time wasted on differentiation. It labels and limits what students can do and narrows the achievement gap.
  • LOs as ticks on a checklist. Teacher ticks them off as they move through the syllabus. Instead we need to provide time for repetition. I would also add that a way to do this is move from learning objective to learning questions.
  • What is being taught and how to teach it well should be the focus of meetings. SLT to communicate expectations to middle leaders.
  • Learning should be authentic and link to real world issues and problems, and have some real world outcome if possible. Students work should be honoured, for the time and effort that they put into it.