My experience teaching Theory of Knowledge (TOK) may not be as broad and diverse as my experience teaching languages. Nonetheless, despite its brief length, the explorations I have dwelled into are as vast as one could expect.
I have always incorporated the essence of TOK in all my language teaching, both in MYP and DP. I have also refused to teach TOK when the people in charge want me to teach resources they have chosen, which I feel is completely against the inquiry and critical thinking base nature of the subject: we navigate the waves of knowledge reacting to what the world allows us to explore and employing all knowledge and skills we possess, always fighting against intellectual colonization.
Yet, this year presented me with a unique scenario; one that is a TOK exploration on its own: teaching TOK to students whose mother tongue is not English, and whose level of English may not be at the point that is needed to engage with authentic resources. Clearly, differentiated teaching and learning was the first thought that emerged in my mind, but for some reason I was able to see different layers of differentiation that I had not come across before: realizing that not only do student not know some words but also the sense of some concepts, for example. Thus, the answer was not to tech a series of terms but to help students become familiar and adopt (as if adopting a child) new meanings that they could incorporate in their speech, and regard every process we practiced as a new tool that was theirs to own. I did not want to waste students’ thinking and skills.
While teaching and learning TOK we tend to say we are co-constructing understandings. However, as I was trying to create patters for easing the way towards comprehension and application, I realized that we were co-constructing learning.
A session in which difficulties were beyond what I foresaw gave way to developing tools to scaffold. A session in which students needed specific help to work with certain information gave way to using specific tools to disseminate and use information. When I looked at a resource and identified the amount of essential terminology for comprehension, many times TOK seemed like a language class. This is the magical part, nonetheless.
As a result, instead of treating the subject as theory, I decided to treat it as practice- the subject became Practice of Knowledge. In other words, I explored every possible corner of my creativity to help students use the tools they had, starting from their senses. I went into the DP unit planners of the subjects they were studying and identified big understandings I could use in the class; I spoke to their subject teachers to learn how has dealt with specific ideas in the contexts addressed in their subjects and I attempted to recreate real life situations in which these concepts and processes were employed.
In class, students found opportunities to use sense perception, memory, instinct and imagination to understand language. We were cooking with ways of knowing (WOK) everyday, mixing ingredients in different ways. Yes, I admit that many times we could not go as deeply as we could have, but we explored well, hard, and profoundly; and we left the class with a sense of accomplishment: we had many connections; we had used what we know; we had identified new ways to employ ideas; we were readier to welcome new ways of looking at things.
It’s taken me a few months to write this post, and I wonder if I am even making sense. I want to reflect on the value this experience has had for me as much as I want to praise my students for not being afraid of working with big ideas with limited language. Is this a thought that has been entertained in curriculum reviews, I wonder? Are all TOK teachers using their own WOKs to show how sensitized they are towards students’ needs and styles of learning?
I once heard someone say TOK is the core of IB DP because it’s the subject in which transfer, critical thinking and all ATL Skills are employed, and I agree. However, this particular teacher did all the talking in his TOK class and I wonder how that promoted any of this.
So, as I reflect on my TOK journey this year, I wonder if those of us who love and respect this subject use it as an instrument to shape our approaches to teaching; if becoming knowledgeable and enriching our expertise has contributed to helping us devise learning tools to support students’ journeys. And most importantly, if we have become inspired to use the subject as a forum in which students realize how much they can do with what they know, so that they see how instrumental is everything they have learned, and every skill they have developed.
I wonder how many are thinking whether this works in theory; but trust me, in practice it does.
I will therefore continue to teach practice of knowledge.