The Aims of TOK

You can’t motivate people without giving them a sense of purpose, and purpose only comes with identifying a clear set of aims that you are collaboratively working towards. You’re already on tricky ground with TOK - it’s a new type of subject for your students, they have no choice over taking it, it’s assessed in an unfamiliar way, and it offers far fewer points than the other subjects - so it’s vital to state and explain the aims of TOK from the very beginning.

The IB itself bases the aims of TOK within its role as one of the three elements of the DP core, referring to TOK ‘supporting, and being supported by, the academic disciplines’, ‘fostering international mindedness’, and ‘developing self-awareness and a sense of identity’. It also explains how the aims of TOK fit in with the 10 different learner profile attributes.

However, you might want to narrow down these aims a little, and make them more appealing to students. Here is a suggestion for a clearer, more digestible set of aims of TOK, which are still aligned to the IB aims, and also draw on the ‘4Cs’, identified by many educational experts as being the key skills that will enable students to function effectively in the modern world. These aims can be considered in one of your introductory lessons to the course.

AIM 1: Thinking critically

TOK is the key element of the IB Diploma that hones students’ critical thinking skills, getting them to question and compare the sources of knowledge, and what knowledge is used for.

AIM 2: Collaboration

Collaboration means both working with other people in order to understand concepts and approach tasks, and accepting that there may be other approaches to producing and processing knowledge about the world which may be radically different to your own.

AIM 3: Thinking creatively

New knowledge and ideas are often produced via startling leaps of the imagination, something that is only possible if you are willing to view the world via fresh, original paradigms, and being open-minded to different cultures and academic traditions. By shedding our assumptions about how the world works, and thinking creatively, we give ourselves much more scope to gain insights about the world.

It’s also worth referring to the fact that the course brings together the different strands of the IB Diploma, (which we explore in more depth in the Integrating TOK section), by getting students to question the nature of knowledge in their different courses, and think more critically in them. This is often what distinguishes a top-level IA or examination response, so those 1.5 TOK points, that seem measly and unproportionate to the effort required to earn them, are actually worth considerably more than that. Looking at TOK in this way makes you realise that it’s actually a course that represents a lot of Diploma points.

Finally, it’s definitely worth mentioning the fact that universities love TOK! TOK provides students with clear evidence that they have developed tools to handle the challenges of a ‘post-truth world’, and are discerning, sophisticated thinkers, something that can prove to be a huge advantage when it comes to marketing themselves to universities. We discuss this in a lot more detail in the TOK and university section, looking at exactly how students can make the most of their TOK experiences when they come to apply for a university place.

Aim 4: Communicating ideas

There’s no point in being able to think critically and creatively, and formulate well-supported ideas and opinions, if you lack the ability to communicate your ideas. The TOK should therefore present students with plenty of opportunity to hone their powers of expression, and receive feedback on how to best convey their knowledge about the world.