Writing the TOK essay is one of the most difficult challenges that students face during the whole of the DP. The prescribed essay titles are conceptually difficult to grasp, and although the assessment instrument has been clarified for the 2022 syllabus, there is still considerable debate over what it is looking for. The word limit is restrictive, so it’s tricky for students to fit in all their ideas. Added to all this is the fact that students will be doing other IAs and the EE, so they’ll be overworked, and stress levels will be high.
However, if your students have done meaningful formative assessment tasks, the essay-writing process is approached in a step-by-step way, and you make full use of ManageBac, the pressure will be eased considerably. Here’s a suggestion of how that can work in practise.
7 steps to creating an effective TOK essay
Introduce the task
Introduce the task by outlining the following easy-to-grasp elements:
The success of this first step depends on you having already included a clear understanding of the expectations of the essay in the course during the first year (ie via formative assessment and other tasks). This is a bit of a balancing act though: the more you drill students, the more they’ll be prepared, but the less they’ll be engaged by the course.
Clarify what’s being assessed
Primarily this comes from the assessment instrument, so go over this carefully with your students. We identified the five key skills that the instrument is looking for above. However, examiners are also looking for qualities that are not stated explicitly in the instrument, such as:
Unpack the PTs
Ask your students to identify the following aspects of the different prescribed titles:
Get students to share their ideas, and create a big shared document with all the best ideas from your year group. This will be useful support for students as they begin writing their essays.
Begin the interactions
The subject guide specifies that there should be three student-teacher ‘interactions’, which means a considerable amount of time for one-to-one guidance on writing the essay. This is essential for success in the essay.
If you’ve had a good unpacking session (step 3), then in your first interaction your students should come to you ready to talk about their chosen prescribed titled, and create a rough essay plan. Discuss with them:
ManageBac is great for recording what you have discussed during the interactions, so ask your students to fill this in straight after you have talked.
Create and check the essay plan
In your second interactions, you should go over the essay plans that your students have created. Their essay plans should consist of a fully-developed introduction, comprising:
Again, ask students to record their second interaction comments on ManageBac.
Write and check the draft essay
Students need plenty of class time to create their draft essays, and plenty of encouragement and support. Consider allowing them to work in a study environment of their own choice, and be on hand to field any questions they may have, such as whether their arguments are clear, relevant, and supported sufficiently by evidence.
Stress to your students that their drafts need to be as finished and polished as possible, to allow you to provide meaningful feedback which they can then apply to what they are doing - rather than having to re-write big chunks of their essays. You are not permitted to provide any further written feedback, so you need to make this set of feedback count. Guide them with the following points:
Make sure you are not providing them with editorial advice, or giving them a mark for their work, as this is not permitted by the IB. Ask them to record the conversation on ManageBac.
Complete and upload the PPF
Students can’t be provided with any further written advice, but they may still consult you for advice on specific points within their essays. When they have finished their essays, you should give them a final check, paying attention not only to the content, but also the practical aspects - word count, referencing, font, spacing, etc.
Once you are satisfied that they meet all the requirements, then they are ready to be uploaded. You should run them through a plagiarism checker, such as TurnItIn, to ensure that there are no accidental or deliberate infringements of academic honesty. This can be done automatically on ManageBac.
Your comments on the PPF won’t be used directly to calculate the grade, but it will indicate whether your students have been supported sufficiently. Your comments can be based on:
Upload essays within plenty of time of the final deadline, as technical issues do occur.