Reflections from examining 2018

This season I marked 140 IB DP Biology HL Paper 2 Timezone 1 papers. It was unusual for a couple of reasons: 1) I managed to pass the qualification marking on the first attempt for the first time in six years! 2) I managed to complete my marking target within seven working days and nine days before the deadline – the first time I have managed to complete the work so quickly.

I felt that this years timezone 1 exam was very straightforward to mark. This was particularly evident in the data analysis responses where the mark scheme was much easier to interpret than I recall previous years being.

Qualification

To qualify for marking, normally there are practice scripts and qualifying scripts to mark. The practice scripts are a chance for you to view comments from the senior examining team, so when undertaking these it pays to go very slowly, really thinking about how the mark scheme applies in each question and when you have marked each question, checking your own marking against the comments by toggling on the annotations. Using this method you may become quickly aware of any small details in the comments that you have missed.

In the past when I have undertaken the qualifying scripts I have opted to mark them in bulk and then submit them in bulk, so I would only submit the scripts once I had marked all of the papers. This year, instead, I submitted each script after I had marked it. This gave me the advantage of being able to read the annotations on each of the qualifying scripts, check my tolerance and adjust my marking of each of the subsequent qualifying scripts. I think this may have been a primary reason why I qualified first time.

Student misconceptions on the paper

I marked 140 scripts and when you mark that many certain themes begin to emerge. This year worryingly a large proportion of candidates were conflating the mechanisms of global warming with holes in the ozone layer. This is not a new thing and it is a problem that I have noticed in previous years but this year the sheer number of candidates writing a confused response to the question on the mechanisms of global warming was staggeringly impressive.

In 2018, 18-year-old students are still writing that carbon dioxide creates holes in the ozone layer and this is what heats up the planet – or something similar. This needs to be addressed. A teacher or teachers somewhere must be teaching kids about the ozone layer.

Now I struggle to believe that this is the result of their biology teachers (who most likely will have studied this subject to sime depth and understand the science) and I am wondering if this is the result of colleagues in other subjects unrelated to science. We know that there is a lot of confusion about climate change in the media and that the scienitific debate is often misconstrued in the popular press. We also know that this is an issue of global importance and for that reason, other subject teachers may well address it. IB student could meet it in TOK, studies in language as well as geography and other teachers. I am wondering if there are some miseducated teachers out there who are confused on the issues of climate science and are confusing their kids. This would be a great area for practitioner research and opens up the question about the professional responsibilities of teachers who have a particular subject specialism: should teachers who are well educated on a particular topic be responsible for sharing that knowledge with colleagues who may also approach this topic in the own teaching?

(on a side note a colleague previously told me that XX and XY chromosomes were “a lie” in a discussion on LGBTQ+ issues in school).

Other misconceptions that became apparent were:

  • Candidates thought that water was an organic molecule
  • Candidates didn’t understand that DNA transcription/translation = protein synthesis = gene expression = expression in the phenotype.
  • Not understanding that linked loci are genes on the same chromosome not in the same place.

Common factual errors were:

  • Few candidates knew that glutamic acid is replaced by valine.

Taking your Diploma Programme to the next level

In the fourth and final week of the Diploma Programme coordination category 2 online course we looked at some of the more intangible elements of a successful Diploma Programme. These included relationships with students and staff and strategies for managing these, particularly when stress levels might be quite high; making sure that students stayed with the full diploma program and got the recognition they deserved and how to use data to improve the program further.

In the first activity, we reflected on strategies to help bring enthusiasm for the program to students and faculty.

I think the key to providing the enthusiasm needed to champion students relies on the coordinator supporting teachers effectively so that they are able to support their own students effectively and maintain their own positive teacher-student relationships.

Of course, the DPC needs to think about their own relationships with the students on the programme, but to inspire kids, colleagues need to be empowered and supported in their own work.

This can come about through careful discussion and planning of the assessment calendar and support teachers in holding students accountable for making sure deadlines are adhered to. I have often witnessed the snowballing effect of when a teacher thinks they are being kind to a student by extending a deadline, only for that piece of work to then be happening at the same time as another piece and so the student ends up feeling doubly overwhelmed.

There, therefore, needs to be structures in place so that staff can get help with problems in their own areas but also so that students can get the support they need formally and informally.

Going forward I would like in a small school environment:

  • Mix the y12 and y13 homerooms so that DP1 and DP2 students can learn from, communicate with and support each other.
  • Facilitate meeting and communication between the school guidance department and the CAS advisors so that all students are receiving the same advice and all students feel that they have an individual teacher that they can go to if necessary.
  • Operate office hours so that teachers/students can book appointments to meet with me on an ad hoc basis.
  • Provide supervised study hall sessions so that students can get help with developing their ATLs.
  • Review the school’s assessment policy to ensure that teachers understand the differences between formative and summative assessment and know when each is appropriate.
  • Put systems in place to ensure that students are monitored and so that there are safety nets in place to stop snowballing of problems.
  • Think carefully about the assessment policies and procedures to maximise student wellbeing – making sure that staff understand formative and summative assessment, what it is used for and when it is appropriate.

In the second activity, we reviewed the role of the DPC in admitting students to the Diploma Programme and the need for communication and collaboration with the admissions department. We also looked at the IB research and were asked to comment on one article from this area.

In terms of the IB research, I am a little sceptical of some of it as I question its independence but  I have become increasingly interested in the status of second language learners who are studying the DP in languages, not their mother tongue. This interest has developed from working in two academic contexts where students had a Francophone academic background but our teaching was in English.

I had a look at the research summary for “Language proficiency for academic achievement in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme”. https://www.ibo.org/globalassets/publications/ib-research/language-proficiency-summary-en.pdf

This study was composed of a literature review looking at the academic literature of what is meant by academic language and the practices recommended to support students academic language proficiency, as well as a review of examination results from IBIS to examine how well students studying a second language perform. The third part of the research looked at the practices that have been implemented within schools.

I took away from this just how little ongoing monitoring for second language learners there is. It seems that while many schools give an initial assessment of a students proficiency they do not follow this up to inform future teaching. In addition, many schools leave second language support up to a small group of teachers.

The report recommends that schools give an ongoing formative assessment of students second lang development to inform teaching across their subjects and ensure that all teachers are engaged and trained on the teaching of EAL.

This is interesting because I have worked with so many schools where EAL training is restricted to a single inset day and then that is it. What I believe subject teachers need is also ongoing support and training, as the literature is vast and to get this right there is a lot of time that teachers need to invest in it.

Could school departments all have an EAL or equivalent lead who would be responsible for developing the department’s resources to support this?

In the final task we considered using IB data to further reflect and goal set.

Delivering the core of the IBDP

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.

CAS

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.

TOK

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.

Extended Essay

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:

  • Handbook
  • 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

Reflection points

  • 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.

Supporting the IBDP curriculum

I recently completed the second week of my online category 2 coordinators course.

During this unit, we discussed the scheduling and hours allocated to each of our courses before looking at and planning an assessment calendar for the DP. This exercise encouraged to look again at the assessment procedures for the Diploma Programme and begin to get a handle on not just what assessments the kids have to do and when these need to be submitted by, but also allowed us to begin to think about the administrative side and deadlines, like registering candidates for exams etc. This is an exercise that I will very much need to revisit once I have made the move to China. One of the big takeaways for me was that my intuition about bringing internal assessments backwards so that some are earlier to relieve student stress is in the right area. I may not be right in the details but the move would be one to be recommended. At this point in time, I am thinking that certain elements of the core can be assessed in DP1 – the CAS project and the TOK presentations are on my mind at the moment, but also certain subjects, like biology, can definitely be undertaken in DP1. I will need to check the school’s current assessment calendar.

We then looked through the ATLs and using one of the example planners on the ATL website we created a unit plan. This exercise was less useful for me as I have spent much of my time this year developing my units and course outlines. Personally, I think it unwise for all classes and all teachers to focus on all the ATLs. Some are better suited to certain contexts. Therefore the departments need to collaboratively map this out.

In the final section, we had to plan agendas for DP meetings throughout the year. This unit was also very useful and is another exercise that I will need to revisit this summer once I am embedded in China. I also think that it would be useful to map this out for university guidance, as there are definite areas where teachers need training – I still haven’t got communication about comments and predicted grades right at my current school.

This module was particularly useful as it gave me an opportunity to reflect on what the priorities for me will be in terms of planning for next year, specifically giving me tasks that will directly support my work as a DP Coordinator.

Reflection points

how can you best support your faculty and students to improve self-management skills such as planning and organizing time?

This takes time and a willingness to engage with individuals personally. It is important not to forget the value of face to face contact and to remember my implicit bias via the fundamental attribution error. This states that anyone (including yours truly) is more likely to judge another person’s actions as being attributable to inherent character flaws, and yet judge our own actions as due to circumstance. Thus that colleague who is always missing deadlines and turning up late is clearly flawed in some way, and yet when I am late its because I was busy.

A bit of humility then is necessary and a realisation that that colleague is probably swamped and in need of support.

I think the best way to support faculty in this way is to ensure a certain amount of regular contact (not too much – no one wants to be micromanaged). Too little contact though can lead to people feeling de-valued and overlooked.

This can be achieved by having an open door policy, and times when faculty can book to come and see you to discuss concerns, as well as regularly scheduled meetings with specific agendas.

Where does your faculty sit along a continuum of learning in relation to approaches to teaching?

This I will need to assess through survey and discussion with the teaching body – I may wish to ask teachers to reflect on their understanding of the ATTs and their attitude towards them (personally I am sceptical of some of the IB’s position on ATL) I think a proper critical reflection of these things is important.

 

 

 

The evolving role of the Diploma Programme Coordinator

I am currently completing an online course about IB Diploma Programme Coordination to better prepare me in as I step into a new role as Coordinator (DPC) from August of this year. In this post I want to reflect on my learning from this week –  Module 1: The evolving role of the Diploma Programme Coordinator.

The DPC has 15 key roles within the school leadership team as outlined in the document Diploma Programme: From principles into practice. During this week’s module, we reflected on the role of international mindedness and the learner profile in our school before looking at these key roles. We completed a Venn diagram of challenges and opportunities using padlet, which allowed us all to comment on the same document.

We then examined the programme standards and practices through two exercises: in the first we were given a standard and associated practices and asked to comment on their relationship to the role of the DPC before being asked to pick three practices and DP requirements and think about what evidence we would need to collect and store to demonstrate that our school was meeting these standards.

Long-term responsibilities

The DPC provides a key role in connecting the school and the IB. More specifically they are responsible, with the rest of the school leadership team, for ensuring that IB standard and practices for the Diploma Programme are understood and articulated within the school community.

As part of the five-year evaluation schedule, the DPC will collect, collate and store evidence that the standards and practices are being met. They are responsible for the organisation and completion of this evaluation process.

Medium-term responsibilities

On an ongoing basis, the DPC is responsible for the guidance of the school community on several fronts. They work with parents and students and the school counsellors to ensure that subject choices are fully understood by all parties and what the impact of those choices may be on access to higher education after completion of the Diploma Programme. In this vein, they also work with the middle school leaders to ensure that students are fully prepared to enter the DP. They also work with the school’s admissions department to ensure that there are proper processes in place for admission of students to the Diploma Programme. They also work with the DP subject teachers and core team to support these individuals in their work and to provide pedagogical leadership, thus ensuring the programme is properly implemented and that teachers are resourced appropriately and familiar with tools like MyIB that can support them in their work.

Short-term responsibilities

The DPC is also responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Diploma Programme, communicating with the IB and administering on IBIS. This includes the entering of exam entries and administration of the external assessments and managing a database of information on IB alumni.

More generally the DPC should strive to foster the spirit of international education within the school community and ensure that the school embraces the IB’s mission and learner profile.