by Eunice Bonaparte
August is one of my favorite months. Personally, it a month filled with family celebrations, and the last of the fun summer rituals. Professionally, it is when I begin final preparations for the new school year. As long as I gather the books, find and watch the videos, download templates, create the documents and PowerPoints with clickable links to additional support – I’m done, right?
Absolutely not. Not even close. Not even close to close.
So much more is involved in preparing for the new school year. More than a decade in the classroom has rewarded me with a plethora of resources on multiple levels to share with my students. The internet, not such a ubiquitous feature of life when I started teaching, has provided me links to sources I would have had to get on an airplane and plead with an archivist to acquire in the past. My students were born into and educated in a world where just about anything is virtually at your fingertips. Getting information is not the challenge; knowing how to find credible sources – and evaluate and use them – is. Helping students prepare to thrive in an information-rich society is the ultimate challenge for 21st century teachers.
“The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, ’The children are now working as if I did not exist.’” This idea from Maria Montessori guides me when I am choosing scaffolded learning opportunities for students. While fostering independent work, there will always be a need for some amount of direct instruction. Guiding students through the rough patches inevitable in the learning cycle is part of the process (and often the most fun). However, we can easily find that we are spoiled for choice in terms of source-availability. Making sure that students have a resource-rich environment in which to practice and strengthen their existing skills while learning new ones has never been easier. We can “know” so much! Though we can set up classroom libraries, subscribe to online libraries, and visit brick-and-mortar libraries, many students are still attracted to “googling” for information – a choice which quite often to suboptimal results, and multiple, retaught mini-lessons on best practices for research. With this being the reality, how can we prepare students for successful learning experiences in general, and in our International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP) in particular?
The IBDP requires core courses, one of which is Theory of Knowledge (TOK). TOK presents many challenges for students because at its heart is a very simple question with a very complex answer; “How do we know what we know?” The very nature of the course means that one is asked to question everything they (think they) “know” – a process that can be rather unsettling for many people. After all, everyone has a world view, and changing or modifying it means in some way changing or modifying ourselves. How can we support a student who is learning (and unlearning) that what they thought was “right” or “wrong” may in fact be “wrong” or “right” – or neither? How can we support students who are in the middle always of developing understandings of the world independently of their own family and friends and teachers? I plan to support TOK students navigating the vast, grey ambiguity of the course by creating an environment in which they are free to question anything presented and given tools and methods to engage in presenting their thoughts in an organized way. The best way to check your level of understanding is to explain something to others. Chaucer said of the well-educated Clerk in the Canterbury Tales, “And gladly would he learn and gladly teach,” and so I say it of my future TOK students, and myself. We will all be learning about who we are as learners and sharing that experience. As I tell my history students, some of the world with which they are familiar was in some way absent from the world I learned about at their age – Upper Volta, South Yemen, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union no longer exist, but they once did – they were once “true”. To be resilient, we must be willing to know and accept that everything is as it is – until it’s not – and use our ability to seek knowledge to thrive in both stability and chaos. TOK supports learning how to think, rather than telling one what to think. TOK is a course that offers a path to seek out truths and gives you the tools to evaluate them. Those skills allow a person to thrive anywhere, and that ability will be with one long after the cap is tossed into the air.