Apologies for the ridiculously long time since I’ve posted!
The second half of term 2 and the first half of term 3 are busy in the life of an IB Coordinator. I got to spend a week in India at the IB regional conference which was a great chance to meet like-minded IB people and learn lots about how other schools implement the IB programme. It seems the stresses, difficulties and excitements are fairly universal!
More importantly though I’ve spent the past few weeks ensuring that the IB administrative requirements are met for our Year 13s. This involves getting predicted grades and internal assessment marks sent to IB, as well as posting and uploading samples of coursework. A never-ending and worrisome task it seems at the time, but of course it does end, and I’m nearly there. Alongside that is graduation planning. A big event, a lot to organise, but extremely important for all involved, not least our Year 13 students who are approaching the end of an era!
When things come to an end, we often take time to reflect. What did I do well? What could I have done better? And we often turn these things over in our mind, worrying ‘what if?’ It’s interesting though, that as I write this, Year 12 are busy reflecting on their CAS projects, and yet CAS isn’t at an end. (Does CAS ever end?) That’s because the IB values and promotes continuous reflection. And often we are too busy doing, and trying to complete things, that we forget to stop, think, reflect and try to improve BEFORE something is over. Which seems more sensible really. Why reflect when it is too late to do something about it?
Current research in education, however, shows reflection to be a powerful learning tool for synthesizing learning and understanding the relationship between knowledge and real world application. This term we’re going to be working with Year 12 in Core on strategies for study in advance of the Year 12 end of year exams and one of the things we’ve stressed to students since the beginning is the importance of daily review. Just ten minutes at the end of every day bullet pointing the key learnings from each lesson is a simple form of reflection which assists hugely in memory recall.
But great reflection can go far beyond that, and in IB the elements of the core are linked by reflection.
CAS asks students to reflect on their projects and how to improve them, but also to reflect on their own learning in line with the 7 learning outcomes. It isn’t enough to run a football training session every week – how are you going to make next week’s training session better than this week’s? And what do you learn about yourself in striving to do that?
TOK is about reflecting on the Real Life Situations happening around you all the time (in class, out of class, in the news, in your interactions with others…) and asking, ‘yeah but how do we know…’ It’s a deep form of reflection on the world and our place in it.
The Extended Essay process asks you to reflect on the challenges and benefits of completing the EE, as well as how you are adding to a body of research within an Area of Knowledge.
So, what makes a great reflection?
Well, a good reflection allows you to consider how your personal experiences and observations shape your own thinking and the way you respond to new ideas and experiences. In CAS you need to take time to think about your choices, actions, success and failures, and to try to evaluate why you make such choices, why you act in such a way. In core we’ve been talking a lot recently about mental models – how do these beliefs about the world affect the way you act or respond?
When I was in India we spent some time looking at Hofstede’s Country Comparison tool which provides a fascinating insight into the cultural aspect of thinking, and explores some of the mental models which may be held by people from different cultures. Of course as TOK students we would be ask ‘how can we know this to be true?’ and ‘isn’t it based on inductive reasoning which may lead to stereotyping or cultural profiling?’ but still, if we can be reflective, we can find it very interesting to consider that people from the UK believe that personal fulfilment is the route to happiness whereas in Indonesia the focus is on family and community above the individual. An interesting question for CAS students to reflect on is how they successfully relate to people who may hold very different values and mental models than they do. This is especially interesting when it comes to service projects. How can you be know that you are acting to support people in the way that they would like, rather than the way that you would like? An oft-repeated mantra is ‘treat others how you would like to treated’, but maybe a greater truth is ‘treat others the way that they would like to be treated’. Perhaps this attempt to understand your own biases and beliefs and how they impact your actions is vitally important before you can begin to try to understand why others act the way they do. But trying to understand the mental models other people hold, and why they act the way they do, and treating people the way they would like to be treated is probably, at least for me, the definition of International-Mindedness.
So a great reflection is personal. It starts with YOU. What do you believe? Why do you believe it? How does that make you act?
And then it questions. Is that the best way to act in the context?
And then it evaluates. What would be the benefits and problems if I act like that? Do the benefits outweigh the problems?
And then it empathises. Do others want me to act like that? How would that make them feel?
And then it critically assesses. Why might others not feel the same as me? Does that make me or them or both of us right? How would I know?
So, although we tend to reflect after the fact, when all is completed and when we can perhaps no longer do anything about, (of course sometimes we have no choice in that) what happens if we stop, reflect and reshape before we act?