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Attention IB Theory Of Knowledge Teachers: How Is The New TOK Guide Going To Affect How You Teach?



As most IB Theory of Knowledge teachers know, and as regular readers of this blog know, the International Baccalaureate program has published a new ToK Guide 2015

After having a conversation with Chris Coey, a colleague who attended a summer TOK training, and carefully reviewing the new guide, I thought I’d share some of preliminary thoughts and an invitation to other TOK teachers to respond in a number of ways:

* Comment on any of the particular points I make or questions I ask in this post.

* Share other ideas on if and how the new guide will affect your teaching.

* Share specific resources that you think will be helpful to TOK teachers in the coming year.

Feel free to leave a comment on this post or send a message to me using my contact form. I’m also going to specifically invite some experienced TOK educators I know to share their thoughts in a series of short (300-400 word posts).

(FYI, here is a link to my previous TOK-related “Best” lists, to my 1,700 IB-related categorized links)

Here are my key “takeaways” from the Guide (and from my conversation with Chris). I want to emphasize that I’m “thinking out loud” and invite your reactions:

Ways of Knowing:
In addition to the “old” list of perception, language, emotion and reason, there have been several additions — imagination, faith, intuition, and memory. It’s only required, however, that four are covered in-depth.

Here’s an important quote from the Guide: Teachers should consider the possibility of teaching WOKs in combination or as a natural result of considering the methods of areas of knowledge, rather than as separate units.

It sounds like that was strongly encouraged at Chris’ training.

I’ve always taught the four Ways of Knowing as separate units at the beginning of the year, and then taught each Area of Knowledge through their “lens.” For example, after teaching the WOK units, I then teach Math by looking at math explicitly through perception, language, emotion and reason. I wonder if that would still be a reasonable approach in light of the new Guide? If it was, I’m thinking that I would also add a one very short unit lightly covering imagination, faith, intuition and memory preceding starting the Areas of Knowledge, and, when we study different AOK, invited students to identify how those new WOK fit in. Or, do you think this means it just won’t work to have the WOK taught separately at all?

Areas of Knowledge: The “old” ones remain — mathematics, the natural sciences, the human sciences, the arts, history, ethics — and two new ones are added: religious knowledge systems, and indigenous knowledge systems (religion, though, I had thought was one before, though I always only lightly touched on it). It’s only required, though, that six are covered in-depth.

Definition of Knowledge: Perhaps IB had always defined knowledge in the way this excerpt from the Guide describes it, but it was new to me:

Knowledge can be viewed as the production of one or more human beings. It can be the work of a single individual arrived at as a result of a number of factors including the ways of knowing. Such individual knowledge is called personal knowledge in this guide. But knowledge can also be the work of a group of people working together either in concert or, more likely, separated by time or geography. Areas of knowledge such as the arts and ethics are of this form. These are examples of shared knowledge. There are socially established methods for producing knowledge of this sort, norms for what counts as a fact or a good explanation, concepts and language appropriate to each area and standards of rationality. These aspects of areas of knowledge can be organized into a knowledge framework.

I think the three pages in the Guide on knowledge would be a good hand-out and discussion document to use in class.

Knowledge Issues: They’re not “knowledge issues” any longer. Instead, they’re “knowledge questions.” I definitely like that change, and think it helps clarify the concept for both teachers and students alike. The Guide gives a lot of good examples of knowledge questions, and I especially like a simple guideline they offered:

TOK Presentations: Here’s a quote from the Guide:

The maximum group size is three. If a student makes more than one presentation, the teacher should choose the best one (or the best group presentation in which the student participated) for the purposes of assessment. Students are not permitted to offer presentations on the same specific subject matter more than once. This refers to either the same knowledge question, or the same real-life situation. It is advised that the presentation should take place towards the end of the course, as otherwise students may not have had the chance to develop skills such as formulating knowledge questions which are key to this task.

The line about not being permitted to offer presentations on the same topic twice seems like a big change to me. I know that I’ve always had students do it twice and use the higher grade, and most of the materials I’ve seen from TOK teachers on the Web say the same thing.

Chris wondered if we might want to have students make mini-presentations at the end of AOK units as a sort of rehearsal for the final presentation. I think some version of that might be a good idea. What do you think?

Another quote from the Guide:

It is not necessary for schools to record presentations unless they are asked to do so, although it can be a useful exercise in order to standardize internal marking, where more than one teacher is involved.

I had always thought we had to videotape them in case we were audited by IB, but perhaps it was a misconception on my part. Nevertheless, I plan on continuing to video them — I suspect students take it even more seriously, and we can used them to standardize internal marking. I’ve posted some presentations here and have invited feedback, and that’s been helpful.

The rubrics for both the Presentation and Essay have been simplified and, I think, are a lot better.

Okay, that’s my “brain-dump.”

What do you think?

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Hi Larry,

    I like the change from KI to KQ ad well.

    I have taught the 4 WOK, but have always woven in the AOK. For example, when we discussion, we normally look at Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit which weaves in the sciences. Or when looking at multiple WOK looking at Chris Jordan TED talk on art or Hans Roslings gap minder site.

    I thought about how I will address the additional WOK. I see natural connections for faith and imagination with natural sciences. Memory coupled with human sciences….intuition with ethics…etc

    I like the differentiation between shared and personal knowledge toward the beginning of the course with the knower profile and then revisited after each topic.

    I think we ultimately spend time on indigenous systems when addressing perception and language.

    I have not looked at the rubrics, but spent some time on OCC today looking at the teacher resource materials.

    I also like the established relationship between TOK and the learner profile toward the beginning of the subject guide.

    I think that I may rework pacing.

    I did have students complete a presentation on one WOK and its role in 2 AOK. They did better IAs this year.

    For the EA, I w ill probably continue t he same preparation, but start earlier.

  2. I feel the TOK curriculum has changed completely and the approach to WOK and Aok is very different. WOK will be only discussed as a part of Methodology mostly in the knowledge framework of AOK.
    It does not make sense devoting too much time on them individually. Please let me know if I am thinking right.

  3. I’m growing a bit weary of ToK’s protestations that ToK is neither Philosophy nor Epistemology when it’s increasingly clear that the course is taking more and more detailed and sophisticated stances in these areas. Are we over thinking this endeavour? Faith, and Memory, and Indigenous Knowledge Systems seem to water down the concept of Knowledge to a very thin gruel. I would almost argue that grouping the new AoKs and WoK’s as they do amount to a few category errors.

    Or am I perhaps becoming a curmudgeon after twenty years in the class room?

  4. Hi Larry! Hi everyone reading this post!

    Just a few things I’v decided to work with my students this year.

    1) I’m going to cover all WOKs and all AOKs. However, four of them (in each case) have been assigned to students as specific research topics. Using the suggested bibliography and their own research, each group will have to present the AOK/WOK to the rest of the class and based on this presentation the rest of the students will have to answer to an activity (short essay-debate-etc.)

    2) Here are three different routes on how to organise the study of the WOKs and AOKs. Following Nicholas Alchin’s approach in his book, I’ve found more entertaining and interesting to jump from one WOK to an AOK or a linking question (based in previous syllabus). Here is the order for teaching:

    RUTA 1
    1. Conocimiento (what is knowledge)
    2. Paradigmas y cultura
    3. Ciencias Naturales
    4. Tecnología
    5. Artes
    6. Imaginación
    8. Matemática
    9. Razón
    10. Intuición
    11. Emoción
    13. Ética
    14. Ciencias Humanas
    15. Sistemas indígenas
    16. Memoria
    17. Historia
    18. Percepción sensorial
    19. Fe
    20. Sistemas religiosos
    21. Lenguaje
    22. Política, poder, significado.

    RUTA 2
    1. Intro: conocimiento
    2. Percepción sensorial
    3. Tecnología
    4. Paradigmas y cultura
    5. Ciencias Naturales
    7. Intuición
    8. Matemática
    9. Razón
    10. Emoción
    11. Fe
    12. Sistemas religiosos
    14. Ética
    15. Política, poder, significado.
    16. Memoria
    17. Lenguaje
    18. Artes
    19. Imaginación
    20. Historia
    21. Ciencias Humanas
    22. Sistemas indígenas

    RUTA 3
    1. Intro: conocimiento (caps. 1 y 2 del cuadernillo)
    2. Lenguaje
    3. Paradigmas y cultura
    4. Artes
    5. Tecnología
    7. Percepción sensorial
    8. Fe
    9. Razón
    10. Sistemas religiosos
    12. Emoción
    13. Intuición
    14. Ciencias Naturales
    15. Sistemas indígenas
    16. Imaginación
    17. Matemática
    18. Ética
    19. Ciencias Humanas
    20. Memoria
    21. Política, poder, significado.
    22. Historia

  5. I think you’ve raised the main differences here in the new guide.

    On presentation, Students should never have presented on the same topic or KI twice, so this isn’t new. I think this is just a reiteration of that – otherwise the second present as much the teacher’s work as the students.

    I like the notion of integrating the WOKs, instead of teaching them as discrete ‘subjects’. I’ve run a couple of ‘concept’ units – one on ‘Authority’ and one on ‘Truth’, focussing on a range of WOKs and AOKs

  6. Does anyone have a teacher created rubric for grading the TOK presentation on the new 2015 10 point scale? I have one I used to mark with the old criteria, but I can’t use it any more. I don’t want what is published by the IB but a useful one-page criteria form that I can show how I gave each mark for each criteria. An electronic version that is editable emailed to me would be ideal.

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