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Response: How Do You Teach About Knowledge Questions?

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A week ago, I published a post headlined: Attention, IB Theory Of Knowledge Teachers! How Do You Teach “Knowledge Questions” (Formerly “Knowledge Issues”)?

As I said in the post, I think helping students understand knowledge questions is one of the most challenging tasks I have in class.

I’ve invited a number of people to respond to that question, and will be posting their responses over the next couple of weeks.

Today, Eileen Dombrowski has agreed to share her commentary. Eileen is the lead author of the TOK course companion, published by Oxford University Press. The 2013 edition was written in cooperation with the IB and gives support to the new TOK course. Eileen taught IB English A and TOK for roughly 20 years for the United World Colleges (mainly Pearson College in Canada). She has been a TOK assessor, including Deputy Chief Assessor for a term, and has led TOK workshops around the world. In recent years, she has worked entirely online:

How can we teach the concept of knowledge questions? To my mind, the most important first step for any teacher new to TOK is to guard against two reactions that kill any relaxed response of inquiry.

1. The first mental block is taking the term “knowledge questions” so seriously that it becomes paralyzing. It’s a term formulated by the curriculum review group, all of them experienced TOK teachers, and it’s meant for classroom use. In TOK, we ask questions about knowledge – how it is constructed and shared, what the role is of uncertainty and questioning, how we can identify perspectives that influence it, and so forth. There’s no huge mystery here.

2. The second mental block is thinking of knowledge questions as a topic within the course – a chunk of material to be covered, tested, and left behind. Although we do want to talk about the term with our students, we also want to create familiarity through daily use. I’d say that we lead our students to understand through the thoughtful questioning and critical examination we give all the ways of knowing and areas of knowledge. We don’t just instruct. We model. And we do so throughout the entire course.

In writing the IB Theory of Knowledge course companion, I tried to treat knowledge as alive with questions and included activities that open up questioning and reflection on possible answers. If we can treat knowledge perpetually in formation, with critical challenges in building and sharing it, then we’re dealing with an entire way of appreciating knowledge. We deal then, in practice, with knowledge questions.

Thanks, Eileen!

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

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

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