News, Info and IB Student and Staff Blogs

November 21, 2015
by Ann Lautrette

How do we know what you know?

The answer to that question in an educational context is fairly obvious – Assessment. 

Exams, tests, IAs, Extended Essays, TOK presentations, orals, writing….

What seems to be a stream of never ending assessment.

And why?

Well, I suppose the reality of most of the assessment types I mentioned above is to sort students out, to rank them, to know who can get into what university, who’ll be able to study what subjects and so on. A lot of teachers, me included, don’t fully agree with standardised assessment. We encourage different ways of learning but we give them all the same exam in the end. The system is flawed if we make both fish and monkeys climb trees to show what they can do…


Of course, we are driven by the system. University requirements are what they are – they want to measure students against each other in the same tests to know who can do what in the future. But, of course, we need differences. If all students could score 7s in the sciences and maths and get into medical school we’d have a world full of doctors but no patients. If everyone could paint a masterpiece, compose a symphony or write a best seller, we’d have no more masterpieces or best sellers.

So being good in some areas is good, and not being so good in other areas is also good. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and that’s a very good thing for our world to function.

But doesn’t that mean we’ll do badly in some assessments?

Yes it does.

And that’s ok. We need to get over the notion that we have to do well in everything all of the time to be successful.

The important question is not ‘what did you get?’ The important question is ‘Did you do the best you could with the resources you have right now?’

And the next question is ‘ok, how do I increase resources to do better next time?’ Those resources might be knowledge, skills or something else depending on the context.

We’ll consider a context in a moment. But first it’s important to note that not all assessments are created equally. Final exams and things are assessments that we put a grade on to measure students by, but another type of assessment is happening ALL THE TIME!

The type of assessment we do to see if you know what we are teaching you, and decide if we need to teach it again, support you individually, try a different method, or we can move on because everyone knows.

This is the really useful assessment, and these happen all the time informally and on the way to final assessments. These are the assessments we use to know what and how to improve.

So a context for this discussion: We asked our year 12 students to do an assessment specifically to see where they were in their understanding of the major concepts in TOK. They had to write a blog post assessing claims made in their subjects using the Ways of Knowing and Areas of Knowledge. The results are, as expected, variable. TOK is not easy, although its easier for some more than others, as with everything else. However, as teachers reading their posts it’s given us the information we need to move forward from here.

What I want to discuss, however, is why we used the blog for an assessment, because I know some students didn’t like that. I think they didn’t like it because they didn’t want to feel like they are being publicly assessed.

However, IB assessment is not private. There is always an audience. Work sent to examiners has an audience. The Extended Essays go in our Library collection, and oral assessments are either live in front of an audience or recorded and sent to an audience. So instead of fearing that audience, students have to learn how to appeal to them. Students have a tendency to think that submitting a piece of work just to a teacher doesn’t require them to think about appealing to their audience – that the reader doesn’t matter in a piece of writing that isn’t published (I’m an English teacher: I’ve marked thousands of boring, badly proofread, poorly structured essays in my time) but nothing could be further from the truth! Posting on the blog heightens awareness of the reader – it makes it not ok to write something filled with errors, rushed and with no attempt to interest the reader. Quite simply, writing with the reader in mind will make for better writing.

There’s another important reason too for using the blog for this assessment and that’s the power of shared knowledge. Individually our students know a lot, but together they know a whole lot more. This is especially true when it comes to TOK. Students are beginning to notice that TOK has no content as such. You can’t just read the textbook and learn everything about TOK then write that all down in an essay. TOK is in fact, a mode of thinking. And what makes for success is the ability to apply that mode of thinking to content from other areas, like the IB subjects a student takes. So, if I was a student I may have chosen to write about claims made in English, Maths and Economics and I now know something about how TOK might apply in those areas, but I haven’t thought about how TOK thinking might work in Computer Science, Physics and History. Luckily I can head over to Wilson‘s blog and read what he thinks. I might agree, I might not, but if I don’t I will be exploring counter-claims, a very important aspect of TOK.

The other thing about TOK is that there is no one right answer. There is an infinite number of discussions which could take place in any of these Areas of Knowledge and so reading the thoughts of other students allows me to expand my own thinking, I can add to their claims, I can counter them, I can see how, for example, I might write about a claim in English very differently to the way I did it by reading Nathania’s post.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again here – reading each other’s blogs is one of the best ways to improve in TOK. If you want to improve your knowledge in Physics you read what Physicists think. Well there aren’t any ‘TOKists’ whose journal articles you can read to help you improve. I can’t help you understand how you might assess Mr Metter’s claim that “auxins in the root cause a negative geotropism because they are polarized.” (I don’t even know what two of those words mean), but Michelle can.

I definitely can’t tell you how to assess Mrs MacDonald’s claim that the number of atoms in 12 grams of Carbon-12 will be 6.02×10^23, but Arjun can.

I wouldn’t know where to start with Mr Master’s claim that ‘Economics is a study of how to make society and the world  a better place and maximise society’s welfare’ but Marcus did.

The point is, when it comes to TOK and how you can apply it to your subjects, what examples you can use to support your points, you (as a collective group) are the experts, not your core teachers. If you’re not reading each others blogs on TOK you’re missing out on the very thing which will make you good at TOK.

Remember the key question:’ok, how do I increase resources to do better next time?’

The answer here is: read the blogs highlighted above. And these ones…





They all did a good job of using the WOK in assessing claims.

No awards this week because of the assessment.

Next week – a review of our first student-run ATL Conference!


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