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Pamoja has been working with International Baccalaureate (IB) World Schools across the globe for almost a decade. We’ve been listening to feedback from the IB community and understand how difficult it can be to successfully embed Theory of Knowledge (TOK) in your school.  

TOK is a core component of the Diploma Programme (DP), central to the IB philosophy and often cited as significant in the development of students’ essential skills. It provides learners with an unparalleled opportunity for reflection, making “thoughtful and purposeful inquiry into different ways of knowing, and into different kinds of knowledge”1. When taught well, Theory of Knowledge can be instrumental in forming internationally-minded, responsible young thinkers, capable of great success and vast understanding.  

The challenges 

However, TOK teaching experience is essential to the successful delivery of the subject. “TOK teachers with more years of TOK teaching experience have higher confidence scores. This suggests that as teachers continue to teach TOK they will become more confident.”2 Many teachers who are either newly qualified or new to the IB need additional guidance, preparation or training. Whilst some of the low confidence comes solely from inexperience, educators also acknowledge the need for a relatively strong understanding of all DP subjects. This is because the Theory of Knowledge course encourages students to find connections between disciplines, promoting transcendence of academic subject areas. If teachers do not have a good command of the Diploma Programme and/or are inexperienced, they require a high level of peer support as well as professional development to avoid being thrown in at the deep end in a ‘sink or swim’ approach. 

Furthermore, assessment of Theory of Knowledge can be problematic. TOK student work is by nature difficult to grade and provide feedback on, and therefore standardising grading between teachers can be challenging for school leaders. As a TOK teacher, how do you find a level of assessment that works well for all students when there can be vast differentiation in the classroom between those who are naturally more inclined to philosophical thinking, and those who are more pragmatic? As TOK assessment is split between an internal oral presentation and an external essay, inaccurate internal grading can cause large differences between the respective results. When this uncertainty around grading is coupled with the time it takes to provide feedback, teachers suffer a large increase in workload and stress levels. This causes issues for school leaders and ultimately has a detrimental effect on student outcomes and wellbeing. Again, this is particularly prevalent for inexperienced teachers who may experience difficulties setting objectives to assess against in order to monitor progress towards a standard goal.  

Many schools also report difficulties in timetabling TOK classes, with the nature of the subject as a compulsory component causing large class sizes that make it a challenge for teachers to provide personalised support to students.  

How can schools tackle these issues? 

These challenges are not new, and there are great solutions in place already, used by schools around the world. For example, the IB offer specific TOK teacher professional development, and ManageBac is a system used by schools to manage the administration of the core. At Pamoja, we’re utilising technology to address schools’ needs, with two solutions. Our School Taught TOK lesson plans and assessment materials provide teachers with all the resources they need to deliver the subject at a high standard, whether they are a TOK specialist or not. This means schools can run more classes, with fewer pupils. Students can also access content online outside of the classroom, adding flexibility to timetables and allowing collaboration between classes. We also offer TOK as a Pamoja Taught course, so students can take the full two-year subject online, taught by our experienced teachers and delivered via our online learning platform. It’s a simple way to implement the subject, easing recruitment and timetabling challenges.   

What has your experience been of embedding Theory of Knowledge in your school? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so get in touch with a member of our team today. 

[1] http://www.ibo.org/programmes/diploma-programme/curriculum/theory-of-knowledge/what-is-tok/
[2] http://www.ibo.org/contentassets/d1c0accb5b804676ae9e782b78c8bc1c/teaching-tok-in-ib-schools-en.pdf

 

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