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How to integrate TOK into all subjects

By Shwetangna Chakrabarty, IB Diploma Programme (DP) Coordinator, Guangzhou Nanfang International School, China 

One of the biggest challenges an IB Diploma Programme (DP) teacher faces is finding ways to integrate Theory of Knowledge (TOK) into all subjects.

In a very brief description, TOK, which is a mandatory subject for all DP students, helps students reflect on knowledge and make deeper connections into how they know what they know. This translates into students being able to challenge existing theories and practices, deconstruct learning to construct meaning and learn how to agree and disagree. But it can be very challenging.

To encourage critical thinking, it’s essential to integrate TOK into all subjects. But how do you do this without overwhelming students and teachers? Methods can include discussing TOK questions in lessons; inviting other subject teachers into classes; and running a course as per IB guidelines. But, there are more innovative ways of making TOK accessible. Here are my top three tips for success:

  1. Create a ‘TOK gallery’ in every classroom, encouraging students to creatively express their understanding of the subject

I initiated a TOK project in my previous school, Dar es Salaam International Academy, Tanzania. All secondary students were given a brief description of TOK, and they were asked to create artwork for a ‘TOK gallery’ in their classrooms. They were also taught about ‘Ways of Knowing’ (WOK) – how we acquire knowledge about the world around us.

Today, each classroom has a ‘TOK gallery’, which represents students’ interpretation of WOK, and how they know what they know, and provides a stimulus for further classroom discussions. It has opened up many cross-disciplinary conversations.

  1. Use teacher meetings as a place to share TOK ideas

Once every two weeks, teachers are nominated to share different approaches they have used to introduce TOK into their lessons. This offers opportunities for teachers to learn from one another, has led to many interesting discussions and strengthened teacher understanding of TOK.

Some of the ideas discussed included asking beguiling questions that will get the students thinking. These questions can be used as starters, plenaries or ‘exit tickets’ (end of class questions) to trigger critical and creative thinking. Teachers have also encouraged students to think outside-of-the-box by opposing each other’s claims, or create counterclaims for open-ended questions. Teachers said they felt more confident leading TOK discussions.

  1. Combine CAS and TOK

Students travel to various destinations as a part of their Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) projects, and explore curriculum links through these projects. They get to experience new cultures, develop life skills and learn new art forms, and then bring them back to school.

I used this as an opportunity for a TOK project – I asked students to represent different WOK in the art form they learned during their travels. They used graffiti to explain intuition, imagination, memory, faith, language, emotion, reason and sense perception.

The posters, which now adorn walls around the campus, are a visual learning tool for all students. It also provided useful insight into how students perceive the subject, and how they relate to knowledge.

TOK beyond the DP

These three strategies have been a huge success. As well as providing students with a better understanding of TOK and WOK, they also learn independent thinking and how to respect other people’s opinions, while expressing their own.

The strategies are not limited to the DP. They can also be applied to the Middle Years Programme (MYP) global contexts – whereby MYP students develop an understanding of their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet through developmentally appropriate explorations.

The MYP Coordinator at my school has taken inspiration from these strategies, and successfully encouraged students to create artwork of the MYP global contexts.

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