Written by Ed Parker, IB Diploma Coordinator, Cologne International School, Germany
Faced with the challenge of guiding students through the IB Diploma, it is tempting to focus on their individual performance in the final examinations. Unless we are careful, this can happen at the expense of collaborative learning, which is viewed by employers as one of the top four skills. The IB has claimed that universities still demand a measure of individual student performance, hence the emphasis on examinations. Coupled with this is a prioritisation of accuracy of assessment, which has led to group activities such as the inter- active oral disappearing from the 2020 Language B subject guide. Even the Group 4 project, a showcase of student collaboration, has been given less prominence because students no longer need to upload their reflection on the project to the IB with their Science coursework.
So how do we demonstrate the value we place on collaborative work? One approach is to enhance the status of the IB Diploma core: Creativity, Activity Service (CAS); Theory of Knowledge (TOK); The Extended Essay. Another way is to place a special emphasis on the IB Approaches to Teaching and Learning (ATL).
CAS involves students in a range of activities and aims to provide a counterbalance to the academic rigour of the IB Diploma. It provides many opportunities for collaboration. For example, IB Diploma students at our school have been volunteering to help on a weekly community IT project where local senior citizens visit the school to receive IT support. Originally, the students worked together to plan mini-lectures on how to use apps on their mobile phones and laptops. Their assistance has included designing adverts for a small business, renegotiating a mobile phone contract, and setting up Whatsapp on phones. Gradually, they reached the conclusion that it is better to work individually or in small groups with our guests so that we can meet their needs better. Our students learn how to pitch their explanations to their target audience and for some of our students it is a chance to practise German language skills. Our guests receive targeted IT support from knowledgeable and caring people without having to leave the village. After collaborating in this way, all participants reflected on generational differences and discussed some of the perceived stereotypes. The project has been running for over a year and we look forward to continuing with next year’s Grade 11s and with more local residents.
Designing adverts for a small business, renegotiating a cheaper mobile phone contract, setting up Whatsapp on a phone our students work together to help local senior citizens as part of a community service project.
TOK is an academic subject taken by all IB Diploma students. It provides an opportunity for diverse subject disciplines to work together to highlight similarities and differences in the way knowledge is constructed. By helping to establish links between subjects, teachers can help students to see the importance of interdisciplinary teams in solving future problems. The TOK course differentiates personal knowledge from shared knowledge. Personal knowledge needs to undergo a process of collaborative scrutiny before it is accepted or rejected as shared knowledge. By emphasising this process at our school, we are promoting critical thinking at this time of confirmation bias and fake news. As a culmination to the course, students work independently or in groups to share thought provoking presentations on knowledge questions based on real life situations. Even when the TOK presentations are prepared individually, they are delivered to a live audience and learning is experienced and negotiated by the whole group.
There are also opportunities for collaborative learning in the Extended Essay, a 4,000 word independent research piece submitted as a core component of the IB Diploma. Although the writing process is very individualistic, agreeing on a topic and research question requires a high level of cooperation with their supervisor. Conducting an investigation in a laboratory or convincing peers to participate in surveys requires the development of collaborative and social skills that DP students will need in their professional and social lives. The Extended Essay also develops students as communicators, able to articulate and advocate for their ideas in writing to a targeted audience of readers.
In 2019, our school completed its first IB Diploma evaluation, a self study that schools engage with on a 5 year cycle to support continuous school improvement, and we collected valuable feedback from colleagues, students, and parents. In 2020, an updated set of IB Standards and Practices will come into force and one of these Standards, 0402 Students as Lifelong Learners, points to a need for schools to provide opportunities for collaborative learning in the curriculum. To this end, we expect to use Managebac as a major part of our evidence base and this will involve DP teachers planning for and reflecting on opportunities for group work in our unit plans, providing a school wide view on how we are meeting this standard.
We also need to demonstrate to our students the value we place on collaborative work. To this end, we are planning to develop and introduce a ‘Learner Driving License’, which will record the students’ mastery of various skills in the IB Approaches to Learning, a set of skills and strategies that support learning across all subjects. For example, under ‘Social Skills’, students will need to demonstrate that they can work together to complete class assignments and plan extracurricular activities before they can ‘pass’ this part of the driving test. By the time that the students reach the internal assessment (coursework) stage of the IB Diploma in Grade 11, we hope students will be better prepared for this more independent style of learning. The project is still in the early stages and we will report back later on the progress made.
We aim to focus on the DP core (CAS, TOK, and the Extended Essay) and the Approaches to Learning as avenues to explicitly demonstrate to students that we value quality group learning. By doing this, we hope to make our contribution towards preparing the students for a collaborative future.
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Edward Parker is the IB Diploma Coordinator at Cologne International School in Germany. He moved to Cologne in 2013 to help lead the school through IB Diploma authorisation. Before this he spent 10 years in Moscow, Russia where he taught languages, coordinated the Creativity, Activity, Service programme, and eventually became an IB Diploma Coordinator. He enjoys the insight into other subject disciplines obtained every day while helping students and colleagues to tackle the challenges of the Diploma.