Top Nav Breadcrumb

Changes to Diploma Programme classical languages course: An educator’s perspective

From August 2022, diploma programme (DP) teachers will need to ensure they are using the recently launched classical languages subject guide (first assessment 2024). 

To mark the launch of the new subject guide, we asked an educator who was involved in the development of the curriculum to speak about the course and how the key updates will benefit both students and teachers. 

Brenda Fields

Dr Brenda Fields is a Latin teacher at the Windermere Preparatory School in Florida, USA and has been part of the curriculum development team since 2018.  

Tell us about your experience of teaching Classical Languages? 

I have been teaching Latin since 2005. I have taught ancient Greek intermittently as well. I taught for eight years at the University of Florida and the University of North Florida while earning my PhD and immediately after. I then transitioned to high school where I’ve been teaching IB Latin since 2014. This new guide will be the third one I have taught under. 

How were you involved in reviewing the course guide and why did you get involved? 

I wrote extensive comments in response to the first report to teachers, which outlined goals for the review and initial ideas for what a new course would look like. At the time, I was also involved with IBEN (educator network) as an examiner and a programme communities’ moderator. The IB contacted me to ask if I would like to join the curriculum development team at a meeting in Michigan, USA, in August 2018. By this point, the framework for the new guide was in place so we discussed refinements to the structure and workshopped assessment models, but our main focus was identifying new syllabus content, which is called the prescribed core and proscribed companion texts in the new subject guide. I quickly found that the things I was most excited about were indeed in the works and that many of my concerns were already being addressed. I came away from the meeting enthusiastic about the direction of classical languages within the DP and pleased with how concerned the team was in understanding and responding to the range of contexts in which teachers deliver the curriculum. I joined the team again in February of 2020 in The Hague to work on final revisions to the guide, reviewing assessment samples and student work, and the development of teacher support materials. 

What are the key changes in the new subject guide? 

The new subject guide reflects a complete reworking of the curriculum, but with enough familiar elements to make it recognizable to current teachers. By structuring the curriculum around ‘areas of exploration’ instead of content, this guide engages learners in inquiry, supports the development of conceptual understanding, and facilitates connections to theory of knowledge (TOK) and other subject groups. These ‘areas of exploration’ ask the learner to explore classical texts through the lenses of: 

  • meaning, form and language 
  • text, author and audience
  • time, space and culture. 

The new guide has a reduction in prescribed syllabus content and more flexibility in what the teachers and students choose to study. This is reflected in the syllabus content devoted to ongoing language development, which is selected by the school, not the IB. 

There are also substantial changes to assessments, which include: 
  • Higher level students have a new task: an original composition with accompanying rationale.  
  • At the standard level, students now write an extended response on paper two, giving them an opportunity to engage in higher order thinking in new ways.  
  • At both standard and higher level, paper one no longer focuses solely on translation, but on a variety of receptive skills. 
  • The internal assessment remains largely unchanged, though students are now asked to identify the inspiration for their inquiry and reflect on the inquiry process. 

How will these changes benefit both educators and students? 

This guide gives educators more autonomy and flexibility. The reduction of syllabus content makes it possible for teachers to approach the syllabus with a wider range of methodologies than was previously practical. Because several elements look similar (paper one is still based around unseen texts, paper two is still focused on prescribed literature, and the internal assessment on engaging in inquiry through primary sources), and ongoing language development is structured by the teacher, the anxieties that might come with a change in syllabus are minimized.

Teachers will be able to use many of the materials and approaches they already do while being encouraged to engage in professional growth and try new approaches. 

For students, the updates make the connections to their own lives, the other subject groups in the DP, and TOK more explicit. The flexibility of the new course design should also give them space to engage more deeply in texts, while experimenting and developing as active users of the classical language. The inquiry-based approach encourages more critical and creative thinking and promotes the integration of classical languages, classical literature, and their cultures.