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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Philosophy 4 Children

This week on Sunday and Monday I took part in Philosophy 4 Children training at our campus. One of our curriculum objectives in Secondary is embed the concepts of Theory of Knowledge (a core component in the IB Diploma Programme) horiztonally and vertically through the Secondary Curriculum. The TOK course is concerned with developing students conceptual understanding of how knowledge is produced and utilized across the subject areas. It challenges kids to think about how knowledge claims can be justified and supported.

At the same time, our primary colleagues have been exploring how Philosophy for Children (P4C) can be used to improve children’s abilities to reason, justify and explain their ideas about broad topics.

One of the benefits of working in a K-12 school is that we can combine PD between Primary and Secondary which allows for some eye opening sharing of teacher classroom practice. This training provided a good opportunity for me as a curriculum leader to not only learn about P4C as a concept and teaching tool, but also to see how it might enable Secondary teachers to get a better grip of managing dialogue and understanding of abstract concepts in the TOK course.

During the training we encountered a variety of warm up activities that can be used to get thinking and discussion going, as well as a full P4C inquiry which is a structured 11 step process for generating a conversation about an abstract question. I am not going to write up all the activities that we did in this post as I tweeted an ongoing thread throughout the training detailing all of the tasks we used.

The first observation I had was that the P4C model of inquiry is highly structured, providing a scaffold for all learners (teachers included) to work through their thinking about a topic. Following the 11 steps from a real stimulus to a discussion about an abstract concept allows even someone who is relatively unconfident in this area to succeed in generating thinking and discussion.

Commentators who were following my thread were quick to point out that int there experience, P4C training was some of the best training for TOK teaching that was available.

Indeed, it became immediately apparent to me that the 11 step full inquiry is a perfect model for generating knowledge questions, one of the key, and most difficult steps for TOK learners to get. Here is a method that can be directly applied in TOK classrooms to help students unpack knowledge questions from a stimulus or real life situation. With practice, I am confident that many teachers would be able to use this model to help them develop TOK thinking.

In other secondary subjects, this model can also help teachers and students to unpack TOK concepts related to their subject area. For example in natural sciences, some of the key TOK concepts relate to models, uncertainty, inductive and deductive reasoning, falsifiability among others. Using the NoS statements from the subject guides with specific real life examples like models used to predict climate change as a stimulus, this model could be directly applied in the IB Biology classroom to help teachers and their students generate knowledge questions from examples in their syllabus.

Recently, I have been thinking about how I can get my IB biology students more engaged with real world issues or deeper conceptual questions like “what is life?”. I have lots of ideas for stimuli but beyond creating a DART or questionnaire linked to the podcast, video or reading I was at a loss as to how to generate deep thinking and discussion.

This tool, I believe, has given me the key to help my students, think about and generate questions in response to stimuli, and provide a basis for fruitful discussion about the topic of interest.

For example, I am thinking about how I can really engage my students with the issue of climate change, so that as well as learning about it from the biology syllabus, the learning develops real meaning and significance for them so that they are inspired to run a CAS project around the issue etc. I had an idea of using some of the recent planet earth documentary as a stimulus but was unsure how to use it. Now, myself, the Lang B teachers and the geography teacher are collaboratively planning to address this topic in sequence and we will think about how we can bring the 11 steps inquiry into our planning.

I am convinced that P4C is an excellent foundation for TOK, both of which are programs that can help student think and question more deeply as well as become more engaged with big ideas and questions.

P4C is broad, it is concerned with thinking about any of a range of concepts that could be thought of as philosophical. TOK is narrower in focus, and, in a Venn diagram, would sit inside the concepts of P4C. P4C can be focussed on knowledge, TOK is concerned only with inquiry about the nature of knowledge. Both programs are concerned with linking the real world stimulus to the abstract theoretical concept. The P4C 11 step scaffold provides an excellent ladder to allow learners to move between the real and the abstract.

Authentic learning, real world meaning.

After reading Mary Myatt’s “The Curriculum”, I’ve been beginning to spend some time thinking about how the IBDP can provide opportunities to make the students work more purposeful via opportunities for authentic performance. In her chapter on Beautiful work she writes:

“children’s work should be honored. It should be of the highest quality and it should also have an audience.”

She goes on to quote Ron Berger “Once a pupil creates work of value for an authentic audience beyond the classroom – work that is sophisticated, accurate, important and beautiful – that student is never the same”.

So far I’m thinking about elements common to all Diploma students:

  • The Group 4 project: this is a collborative 10 hour project that student teams composed of students from different subjects work on together. The project is not assessed but is mandatory. The theme is set by the school and in four schools over 10 years this has usually involved the HOD Sci using a word like colour or survival. However there can have some real world stimulus like the UN sustainable development goals to focus the project. The students would design experiments along this theme and then present their project to the wider school community and guests.
  • CAS: Im not an expert here by any stretch and you could argue that CAS is already the most authentic part of the DP. What could be more authentic than working on projects that have direct application in the real world? but how many projects in schools around the world actually do? Is there scope here to raise the bar? the students CAS project could also center around a real world stimulus, the activity stage focussed on taking action in some way, again an exhibition to the community could be used to sum up students work in some authentic way.
  • TOK: TOK has a heavy summative assessment component with a 1600 word academic essay and ten minute presentation, I would be loathe to add to this…but, the presentations could definitely be delivered to a wider audience..school assemblies, some other exhibitions or the community could be invited to the assessment itself.
  • Extended Essay: With over 40 hrs of work and 4000 words in the making the extended essay is a beast for most students. There are issues with it and you could already argue that, as a piece of original work, it has real world application. This year we are taking the small step to publish our students TOK and Extended Essays together in a volume, a bit like a journal, with work from some of our Visual Arts students work being used as the cover pieces. But I also like the idea of having student’s undertake a more public viva, like a PhD defense. Clearly, an EE is not a PhD but can we make it so that the process is less tick boxy and more formal? I am keen to hear what other schools do.

With all these things I think about scalability. What works in a small school doesn’t necessarily work in a very large one. Ok, sit through 2 group 4 presentations but 30? So instead schools could ensure that some students present at one event and others at another, so long as each student gets some opportunity to deliver their work meaningfully in the real world.

I realise that my ideas are a little unoriginal and perhaps I am a little bit behind the times (some schools are already doing great work) focussing mostly on presentations and exhibitions, what do you think? How else could we make our student’s DP work have more real world meaning?

The role of curriculum

In the second NPQSL face to face session we looked at leading the quality of teaching and learning within a school. We were asked to think about what high quality teaching and learning looks like in our schools and what this means to us personally. This provided some good reflection time for my own thinking about this means for me. I concluded that high quality teaching and learning is where students are forced into thinking about the topics of the subject under discussion. Thinking takes variety of forms. For me and my project, focused on implementing the DP, TOK is the key to horizontal collaboration within the DP programme, catalyzing not only a change in the way that student think but also how teachers think. Going forward I need to Establish a working group of teachers who are interested in improving their links to TOK.

At the start of the session on “driving the quality of teaching and learning” we were asked to list three priorities with regard to the quality of teaching and learning. Mine were:

  1. Making thinking the basis of both
  2. Developing good knowledge of the whole curriculum (Martin Robinson’s story)
  3. Developing knowledge of good practice – can the teacher make reasoned judgements about why they do what they do.

We then considered learning centered leadership: – how do we model, monitor and have dialogue. My group felt that it was important for leaders to be:

  1. Modelling preparedness, calm, openness and friendliness
  2. Still teaching?
  3. Using data
  4. Observations
  5. Conversations
  6. Diagnostic audit of peoples and there skills

Next we were asked to list ten ingredients for great teaching and to discuss why leaders may want to observe lessons, what the purposes of lesson observation were. My ingredients for great teaching were:

  1. Dialog
  2. Content knowledge
  3. Pedagogical content knowledge
  4. Evidence for teaching practice
  5. Prior knowledge
  6. Contextual – relevance for kids
  7. Focussed on concepts
  8. Timing – knowing when an intervention is appropriate or not
  9. Collaborative – outside the silo
  10. Firm friendliness

I also felt that observation is a great way to learn and be coached and time for teachers to observe each other is valuable if we want to enable coaching, mentoring and further development.

After sharing these within our groups we had to decide on the groups final five. We had a lot of good discussion about how learning is often confused with performance and other proxies, and that learning is actually quite a hard thing to actually observe in a lesson. Any attempt to observe a lesson for accountability purposes was doomed if you are hoping to look measure learning. Instead my group agreed that the best we could hope for was to look for proxies that may indicate high quality teaching. My group decided that our priorities were to look for :

  1. Positive relationships
  2. Feedback
  3. Knowing the students
  4. Knowledge of content and pedagogy
  5. High Expectations

I reflected that evidence is a key thing here: Knowledge in education is so tentative and unsure that no one can say with certainty this is right, or this way is wrong. Thus if we focus on the thinking behind what teachers are doing and why – are teachers able to engage with discussions and evidence why they are doing somethingt. To ensure great teaching I think it is important for leaders to smile, be open and approachable. We need to encourage discussion between teachers about their practice, provide opportunity for observation between teachers and focus more on teaching and learning, instead of getting drag into secondary tasks.

Going forward I need to work to facilitate this in my community and help to provide opportunity for this to happen, time for teachers to observe each other and time for them to have discussions with a view to improving the quality of teaching within the school. I need to support a focus on developing an understanding of the links between the subjects – horizontally and vertically – and encourage teachers to come out of the their silo.

How might this session influence your staff professional development policy?

How can you measure the impact of CPD? Carry out observations of trying out TOK activities, carry out a staff survey, have the CPD, start the written curriculum and then observe more activities and carry out an additional survey. Invite staff to take part in TOK and ATL collaboration.