Acclimatizing Students to TOK

TOK is unfamiliar - and quite possibly unwelcome - territory for students. There are various reasons for this, and you must understand and acknowledge them if you are going to successfully enfranchise your students:

  1. It’s a mandatory course, so they haven’t chosen to be in your classroom.

  2. The course deals with conceptually challenging ideas and concepts, which are quite hard for the uninitiated to comfortably and concisely define.

  3. It’s assessed in the way the students won’t be used to - an end of course open-book assessment - and whilst this might be a welcome difference, it also means there’s no concrete curriculum for them to base their understanding on.

  4. Although you might be sold on the virtues of TOK, your students won’t be (yet), so don’t assume they are excited about learning an essential skill, or taking part in the element of the DP that sets it apart from all others.

  5. They will probably already know that the points on offer seem to be very limited: a measly 3 points, when combined with their extended essay mark, despite them having to spend around 100 hours in the TOK classroom.

This is why it’s massively important to spend the first few weeks of the course introducing the subject, and heading off any problems before they appear. Here’s a suggestion of some lessons you could deliver during the first, crucial weeks of TOK, together with a learning objective, and outline of content. These lessons would help you to explore the Core Theme - Knowledge and the Knower - but they take students beyond this element of the course, and get them thinking about other aspects that they will be exploring.

Lesson 1 - Welcome to TOK

I can identify my own approach to finding out the world

Students could focus on Socrates’s assertion that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’, and evaluate their own level of curiosity. You can also reassure them that ‘confusion is good’ (another Socratic concept), as it encourages questions to be asked about the world, and avoids dogma.

Lesson 2 - The Aims of TOK

I can explain the key aims of TOK

Students could examine the different aims of TOK (see our suggestions for what those are here), think about how their validity in this ‘post-truth’ world, and assess whether they already demonstrate some qualities of TOK thinkers.

Lesson 3 - The Structure of TOK

I can explain how the TOK course is structured

Students could examine the different areas of knowledge, and core and optional themes, and anticipate any difficulties in understanding these. You can also emphasise that bringing their own experiences into the classroom (not to mention the essay and exhibition) is an important part of studying TOK.

Lesson 4 - How TOK is Assessed

I can critically analyse the way TOK is assessed

Students could evaluate the TOK rubrics, and decide whether they think they are user-friendly and effective. The method of assessment in TOK can be compared to assessment in other subjects, and other educational programmes.

Lesson 5 - Justified True Belief?

I can critically assess the ‘JTB’ definition of knowledge

This lesson could introduce students to the problems of defining knowledge, focusing on the classic Platonic approach of justified true belief. Students can be shown some objections to this definition, so they can arrive at their own way of pinning down this problematic word.

Lesson 6 - Testing for Truth

I can explain which of the truth tests I find most convincing

This lesson could build on the previous lesson, focusing on truth, and ways of testing for truth via the correspondence, coherence, consensus, and pragmatic truth tests.