Habits of Mind: From Theory To Practice (Fall 2013)

By Lynn Kelley, ToK – West

ib-lp-colour-sk-6Theory of Knowledge encourages students to think more deeply about things we normally wouldn’t give a second thought – the title of this course for example.  I have always thought that the title Theory of Knowledge is a bit of a misnomer. A ToK student who merely considered “theories,” wouldn’t be any more successful than a Physical Education student who knows the rules of soccer, but lacks the skills to actually play.  Theory of Knowledge is as much about practice as it is about theory.  A key aim of Theory of Knowledge is for students to, “critically reflect on their own beliefs and assumptions, leading to more thoughtful, responsible and purposeful lives” (“Diploma Programme”).  Unlike the PE unit where playing soccer seems the natural activity for learning the skills of soccer, the skills implied by this aim are metacognitive; they are exercised in the student’s head and the learning activities that develop these skills are less obvious.

Socratic Dialogue

Socratic Seminar

One learning activity that supports this aim, as well as other aims, is the Socratic seminar.  Socrates believed that critical discussion was a pathway to higher understanding and recent research reinforces this belief (Rosner).  In American classrooms and boardrooms, we often mistakenly assume that discussion means debate – may the best debater win. In ToK Socratic seminars, we ask students to be purposeful in their participation, attempting to keep “understanding” rather than “winning” as the focus.  We ask students to practice listening and questioning with the purpose of pushing the discussion further rather than convincing others.  This is especially important in Theory of Knowledge because we want students to look at the nuance of an issue; to try to understand it from different perspectives, utilizing their understanding of the ways of knowing including how they function more or less reliably.

Socratic Dialogue - large circleOne of my 11th grade ToK classes at West recently did its first Socratic seminar.  In wrapping up an introduction to four of the ways of knowing (sense perception, imagination, memory, and intuition), we delved into the topic of prejudice and stereotypes. The stimulus was a blog about an education leader in Western Canada who had recently been exposed for having tweeted racist jokes (Staples).  The Socratic seminar format dictates that while students in the inside circle discuss, a student on the outside is assigned to keep records of the participation of one individual in the inside circle.  This record provides valuable feedback to the student not only with regard to what she said, but Student commentswhether she asked questions, tried to draw in quieter members of the discussion, made an insightful point, in addition to other criteria reflected in the rubric  In this case, the discussion turned to questions like whether he should be fired, whether racist jokes are ever ok, and the extent to which his intentions should matter.  I have been teaching ToK for ten years and continue to be amazed by the insights and personal connections that students offer during these seminars.  It is also rewarding to watch as they mature in their thought patterns over the year and through successive seminars.

Lynn Kelly clarifies a point
in the Implicit Attitudes Test

Meanwhile in my other 11th grade Theory of Knowledge class, students completed an online “test” called the Implicit Attitudes Test (IAT).  The test is intended to indicate our subconscious preferences.  An example is the “Disabled IAT,” which measures whether we have subconscious preferences in favor of or prejudices against the disabled.  Research has confirmed over the years that prejudices are an inherent part of being human, yet it is difficult for each of us to accept that this applies to us (Mitchell).  This interactive test is a rare treat in ToK in that it is truly a hands-on learning activity.  We also use TEDtalks and other media to keep the content current and relevant to the students.  These are just a few strategies that we employ in Theory of Knowledge to ensure the course has tangible practical applications in order that students become more critical consumers of knowledge such that they may lead “more thoughtful, responsible and purposeful lives” (“Diploma Programme”).

Socratic Seminar Discussion Rubric

Project Implicit – IAT Tests


Works Cited

“Diploma Programme Theory of Knowledge Guide.”  International Baccalaureate Organization.  International Baccalaureate Organization, March 2013. Web.  11 November, 2013. http://ibpublishing.ibo.org/exist/rest/app/tsm.xql?doc=d_0_tok_gui_1304_1_e&part=1&chapter=1

Mitchell, Robert.  “Fighting Prejudcie By Admitting It.” Harvard Gazette. Harvard University, 5 November 2013.  Web. 6 November, 2013. http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/11/fighting-prejudice-by-admitting-it/

Rosner, Hillary. “Collaborate Better: A Q&A with Leigh Thompson about working creatively in teams.” KelloggInsight. Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, 13 March 2013. Web. 11 November, 2013.  http://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/collaborate_better/

Staples, David. “Should public school trustee James Andre resign for his racist and sexist jokes on Twitter?” Edmonton Journal. Postmedia Network Inc, 7 November, 2013. Web. 7 November, 2013. http://www.edmontonjournal.com/life/Staples+School+trustee+should+resign+offensive+Twitter+jokes/9140259/story.html

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

%d bloggers like this: