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Another Response: Teaching Knowledge Questions

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Two weeks 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.

The first response I published was from TOK textbook author Eileen Dombrowski.

Last week’s commentary came from Brad Ovenell-Carter. Brad is the director of educational technology and TOK department head at Mulgrave School, an independent, coed K12 IB World School in Vancouver, Canada.

Today, Prof. Crow is writing on behalf of TOK Tutor. He’s a retired teacher specialising in TOK writing & presentation skills:

New TOK Curriculum – First exam 2015

Knowledge Questions (KQs)

I find the recent TOK Essay May 2014 Question 2 so interesting with regard to KQs: if students can understand the analogy of building & construction, then the idea of KQs should be fairly straightforward to grasp. Thus, there are various resources that HELP us to build knowledge (the WOKs, notions of truth, testing, evidence and methodology…), but these same resources, just like a builder’s tools, have their limitations and can often HINDER our attempt to build knowledge.

So, a KQ is part of our toolkit that allows us to sharpen up our thinking about knowledge; to focus our enquiry into how the WOKs, for example, help or hinder the construction of knowledge and to develop our arguments and counter claims as part of our investigation into knowledge. And, just like a master builder, we need to look after our tools so that they’re ready to hand and efficient when we’re exploring how knowledge is constructed. One way in which to do this is to look closely at, and to refine, the language in which we frame our KQs.

Consider these alternative questions:

1. Can we trust the senses?

2. When can we trust the senses?

3. Should we trust the senses?

4. To what extent should we trust the senses?

All four questions are forms of KQ, but they are varied in their impact and the quality of enquiry they generate.

KQs of the first type are fairly ‘weak’. Notice how they start with the verb ‘can’. Questions which start with variations of this verb (‘is’, ‘do’, ‘will’, ‘have’ and so on) are ‘closed’ questions, to which you can usually answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without much further informed discussion.

KQs of the second type are sound, but may end up in a more factual discussion of the topic instead of one that questions how knowledge is built. Notice how it starts with one of the 5 Ws, ‘when’.

KQs of the third type are slightly stronger and more ‘open’ in their impact: the verb ‘should’ already introduces an ethical element to our thinking and encourages us to weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of our topic. Alternative starting expressions could be ‘might’, ‘could’, or ‘would’ either alone or in conjunction with one of the 5Ws.

KQs of the fourth type are perhaps the strongest. Look at the command expression ‘To what extent…’ whose job it is to challenge us not only to explore the scale and depth of knowledge, but also to evaluate the methods of its construction. Other command expressions are ‘In what ways…’ (which allows us to compare and contrast how knowledge is built in different AOKs) and ‘How far…’ (which allows us to enquire into issues related to the limits of knowledge and its implications.)

For further elaboration of these ideas about KQs, you’re welcome to download previous issues of the newsletter, ‘The TOKnologist.’

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

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

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