Two days ago, I posted Okay, Now, Here’s My Tentative Remote Teaching Plan For U.S. History.
Yesterday, I shared Updated Distance Learning Plan For My Newcomer/Intermediate ELL Class.
Now, it’s time for my last scheduled class: three periods of the International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge course.
Yesterday was the last day of a four-week class preparing educators for all the many changes IB is instituting in the TOK curriculum. The course was very helpful.
However, it’s time for a rant: How did IB NOT decide to delay the changes in the curriculum for a year? Did they really think that teachers needed more stress when teaching in the middle of a pandemic, when so many of us are teaching online or in a hybrid model? And how about thinking ahead a bit – the textbooks for the new course aren’t even available yet, so most of us will have to use old textbooks and find our own materials to teach all the new parts of the curriculum!
Okay, now that the rant is out of the way, it’s time to talk about my plan for teaching the course.
This post will be into two sections:
1) Class schedule
1) The overall plan I have for teaching the course in a distance learning environment – in other words, a typical class period or week.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The next, and final post, in this series sharing my tentative thinking about handling each of my fall classes will share my plans for the actual IB TOK curriculum, reflecting all the new changes this year. Wish me luck as I try to figure that out.
As with my previous class plans, this one is also subject to change whenever I learn something new, which could happen tonight, during the school year or, really, at any time. I’ll probably periodically add to this post.
One factor that I have to keep in mind when planning is this class is that, out of perhaps 105 or so total students, approximately twenty will be high-Intermediate English Language Learners. I always have some ELLs I recruit to take my TOK classes, but this year the number is much larger than usual. They will be mixed among the three class periods.
Another important factor is that I’m just not going to have enough time in class this year to cover everything I want. And it’s not going to be able to be made up with homework – because of the time students will need to care for younger siblings, and because so many will be working over-the-table or under-the-table to help support their families, I think the most realistic way of looking at things is that English-proficient students (ELLs will need more time) will spend between five-and-six hours each week devoted to our class, including our live classroom sessions. I hope other teachers follow a similar rule – we’ve just got to all consider this CRITICAL QUESTION FOR US TEACHERS: WHAT AREN’T WE GOING TO COVER THIS YEAR. If not, based on the spring, the amount of student stress and anxiety is likely to skyrocket.
Thought it’s not clear yet, I’m expecting to teach my TOK class two 50 minute periods each week. It’s possible it could be three, but that might be unrealistic (though if three works, I’ll be very, very happy). In addition, we’ll probably have times allotted for small group or individual support. I’m thinking that the first twenty minutes of each of those periods can set-aside for two things: (1) a required “catch-up” session if a student was not present at one of the classes and/or (2) small group support for the ELL students. I can spend the rest of those times in individual video conferences with students. However, if lots of students start choosing the “catch-up” sessions instead of the full classes, I’ll have to rethink this plan.
Another complicating factor in hoping to have individual meetings with students is that, because of the way TOK is scheduled in our school, I will also have to meet individually with students from my TOK classes last year helping them to write their official TOK essay for IB. Plus, even though the vast majority of TOK students last year completed their official Oral Presentations, a few did not because of personal issues related to the pandemic. We’ll have to fit in preparing, and actually presenting them.
It’s going to be a hell of a year.
One of those TOK classes will be starting early in the morning. As with my early morning ELL class, I think it’s going to take me having conversations with parents (as well as with students) about the feasibility of that start-time. It’s possible that for that class I might start one-half hour later in the morning, and have the other half-hour class in the afternoon during “structured support time.” Not ideal, but I’d rather have students in my Zoom video conference instead of nobody. I’ll have to think more about this. I might also start off at the early time and see how it goes.
TYPICAL CLASS PLAN
1) When I’m teaching TOK in the physical classroom, I always begin with an engaging (at least, in my mind it is) warm-up question related to that day’s lesson that requires students to write a very short response; a student then counts off by six; six groups meeting in different sections of the room to briefly share (and students have the option of adding or changing what they wrote based on the discussion; we re-convene as an entire class; I randomly call out the group numbers; and the last person from that numbered group who raises their hand then shares what they wrote with the entire class.
Students keep their “warm-up” sheets, and also add to it during class activities. I then. collect them every two-or-three weeks.
I’d like to keep a semblance of that process when teaching remotely. So, I imagine students will see a slide with the question, have a few minutes to write on a Google Doc that will function as their “warm-up and class activity sheet” (I think they can just keep submitting and “unsubmitting” it each day in order to access it), and go into breakout rooms to talk briefly. To maintain a greater sense of classroom connection, I think I’ll ask students to create two browser windows on their computer so that one is open to the Zoom class and the other open to the Google Doc, instead of clicking on different tabs. That way, they’ll always see the class and me.
I’m thinking that I’ll use the breakout rooms randomly at first until I get a sense of the students and, then, probably strategically create groups that will stay the same for one week. I might just ask the breakout groups to decide on one person to share with the entire group.
I should point out that, for at least the first two weeks, the “warm-ups” are going to be designed to help students get to know each other and not based on the TOK curriculum.
Then, of course, there’s the issue of students turning their cameras off. I didn’t really have this problem with my TOK live sessions in the spring. I explained more in the previous posts about my ELD class plans – that’s where it was an issue. If it does become an issue with TOK, I’ll follow the same procedure I outlined in yesterday’s post.
2) “The Lesson”
My TOK classes in the physical classroom are always very interactive, with me talking briefly, followed by collaborative work, followed by report-backs.
I’m expecting the distance learning classes to be similar in nature, with weekly two–person partners and larger groups – so that we don’t have to mix them up each day. I’m also toying with an idea that might or might not work – if everyone in class has a cellphone, and if everyone is willing to share their either their Whats App, Facebook, or cell number, that might be an easy alternative to constantly having to move into breakout rooms. Instead, pairs could mute themselves and talk with each other while staying on Zoom. If I explore that option, though, it would make sense to wait awhile until students know each a little better. As I consider the composition of these breakout rooms, I also want students to have a voice in deciding who they will be working with – relatedness is a key element in supporting intrinsic motivation to learn.. I might ask students to share a list of their preferences while, at the same time making it clear I will take their lists as advisory only.
Much of breakout room work would be starting work on collaborative projects using Padlet or Google Slides. As I have shared in my two previous posts, one of the reasons I think my TOK classes were successful in the spring was because students could work on projects simultaneously (in that case, a Google Slides presentation) and see each other on a video conference call on their computer or Facetime.
So, in addition to doing work collaboratively in breakout rooms that might end up on their Google Doc notes, they might start work on a project they would finish outside of class. They would then present those projects (and those presentations would be very short – sort of a shortened Pecha Kucha) generally in breakout rooms. I should have two student teachers present for my TOK classes, so we could have students present in four-to-six groups of five-to-eight students each, with us moving in-and-out of the breakout rooms. Students would then submit their projects to Google Classroom.
Another option is to have digitized “gallery walks” of student projects on Padlet where students leave comments on their classmates’ work.
Here is the key takeaway for this section: Perhaps we might get into a routine where one class during the week is “instruction” on TOK concepts with lots of short interactions and a few minutes in breakout rooms where students get started on their collaborative projects that they will present the following class. The breakout room “presentations” will be short, so the rest of the time would be “instruction on TOK concepts with lots of short interactions.
3) Students will reconvene as a full class and do a whole class game using either Quizizz or Gimkit. The game would reinforce what was taught that day. I use those two game platforms because others that are similar don’t show the questions on the same screen as the answers (they’re set up to be displayed on class projectors). Though I didn’t do this in the spring, I’d like to experiment with students playing as “teams” – in other words, two-or-three students would sign-up as a team and play in break-out rooms.
4) I remind students about their homework. Earlier in this post, I discussed my homework concerns and my thinking that, because of students’ personal circumstances, it could make sense to limit student classwork and homework (including live Zoom sessions) to five or six hours each week.
In past TOK classes, there was weekly homework for the first five months of reading a chapter in the TOK textbook and answering four questions. Students would then work in groups to prepare and make short presentations to the class.
That’s not going to work for this year because it’s just too much and because IB hasn’t published textbooks for the new curriculum yet.
Instead, the homework will be finishing up the the collaborative projects they begin in class and reading and reflecting on short pieces that I think are essential for TOK students to know. I’d probably make sharing it the warm-up question and breakout room discussion topic.
Whew! That’s it for the third post in my series. As I mentioned earlier, post number four will be me trying to make sense about how I’m adapting the TOK curriculum into a long distance environment and how I’m incorporating and sequencing all of its new changes.