The core of the IBDP contains three elements: Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS); Theory of Knowledge (TOK); and the Extended Essay (EE).
In week three of my course, we have been focussing on how these three elements can be effectively delivered within the school system.
This has been a challenging week for me to engage with because, whilst I know how these things are structured in my current school and although I have direct experience with all three of these elements, I am not sure how they are organised in the context I will be joining this coming August and I am not sure of the value of simply regurgitating what my current school does during the online discussion spaces.
I took to emailing new colleagues with questions and making notes to address certain points this coming August and then simply commenting on what my current school is doing.
We were asked to take a check of the CAS situation in our school by reading sections of the CAS guide and ensuring that the school has:
- a school CAS guide for students and parents
- a process for students to develop a CAS plan
- a process to encourage ongoing student reflection
- student portfolios to document reflection and completion of the seven learning outcomes
- a method for teacher evaluation of the students’ CAS portfolios
- reviewed the CAS programme questionnaire
This activity highlighted the importance of reflection for the development of a solid CAS programme. Reflection is one of those activities that has so much potential to be done badly; becoming forced – “reflect now!” – which totally undermines the point of it. The real challenge for schools is to develop a culture of reflection where the community sees the value of it and understands how to do it well. Like many things it is simply assumed that teachers do it and can do it well. One ongoing focus would be to help build the habits that drive reflection. The CAS guide has some useful pointers about the elements of reflection which, as reflection is not just a CAS thing, but something that underpins all good intellectual development, should be noted by all lifelong learners.
Elements of reflection
Taken from the CAS guide:
Reflection is a dynamic means for self-knowing, learning and decision-making. Four elements assist in the CAS reflective process. The first two elements form the foundation of reflection.
- Describing what happened: Students retell their memorable moments, identifying what was important or influential, what went well or was difficult, obstacles and successes.
- Expressing feelings: Students articulate emotional responses to their experiences.
The following two elements add greater depth and expand perspectives.
- Generating ideas: Rethinking or re-examining choices and actions increases awareness about self and situations.
- Asking questions: Questions about people, processes or issues prompt further thinking and ongoing inquiry.
How is a map a master metaphor for knowledge? In the same way that the map is a representation of reality and NOT reality, What we know is simply a representation of reality and not the same thing as reality.
How can a lab experiment be impacted by the emotions of a scientist?
These were some of the questions used to introduce TOK to the coordination trainees. As I have taught TOK in the past and I am currently taking another course online from Oxford on Theory of Knowledge, I am beginning to feel like I have a bit more of a handle on this subject.
In my own diploma programme, this would ideally really be a focus as I feel that getting TOK right is the key to overall academic success in the IBDP. If students really understand TOK and see its value, not only will they become that much more engaged with their subject but learn to appraise, analyse and reflect on them more deeply.
To achieve this I would try and explore all avenues for engaging teachers with TOK. Like the adage that all teachers are language teachers, it can often be overlooked that teachers themselves don’t know what TOK is or have never reflected on the nature of knowledge in their own subjects. If they haven’t even addressed these basic steps how can we expect TOK to be integrated fully into the curriculum? We also need to recognise the one session on its own is not going to be enough. Instead we need to invest in professionals in our community and encourage continued engagement with the ideas by getting them interested in it in the first place.
The extended essay is a crucial element of the core and provides an explicit opportunity to develop research and organisational skills in a tangible activity of writing 4000 words on an academic topic. It is supported by explicit teaching of research, planning and self-management skills with the school’s librarian alongside teachers. Students must meet with a supervisor three times throughout the process and students and supervisors must compelte the reflections on planning and progress form.
There are a variety of ways that schools can support the process:
- Online scaffolding of the process
- Research skills course
- Blocked time in the schedule
- Hold a retreat away to complete it
- Dedicated research and writing days
- Have department heads play a role as experts
- Have teachers build in time to explain the methodology of an extended essay in their subject
If students are struggling the following safety nets can be in place:
- Internal deadlines with a cushion of time for emergencies
- Dedicated space for students to be sequestered
- Dedicated teacher/coordinator/counsellor to give further support
- Backwards design with many check-ins along the way
- the importance of the core in achieving the diploma
- the importance of the role you play as coordinator in supporting the core
- structures and activities that can build further support for students so they meet with success in the core.