ATL, TOK, MYP, DP: What’s the MYP analog to Theory of Knowledge?

A query on Twitter caught my eye this morning:

#MYP DP Theory of Knowledge … where is it in the MYP? Is it missing? Is it necessary? [from @krea_frobro747]

I replied, “ATL should be taught as a weekly or biweekly pre-TOK class.”

TOK is a great course, and the concept behind it is compelling, but its implementation in most schools falls far short. Typically, only a handful of teachers teach TOK or know anything about it. Its weighting in the IBDP grading system contributes to this marginalization, which belies the original vision of TOK at the heart of the program, the hub of the wheel connected by spokes to all the subject areas. I’ve long argued that the course should be taught by pairs of teachers, one more experienced, and that every teacher should rotate through a TOK teaching assignment. Then TOK would truly permeate the program, as it was intended to do.

But this morning’s tweet points to another issue for TOK: before the first day of Grade 11, students have little or no experience thinking about the sort of issues that arise in TOK. The first half-year of TOK is spent dealing with that deer-in-headlights shock and confusion.

Why, indeed, is there no analogous course in the Middle Years’ Programme? I can’t think of a good reason.

However, as my response above suggests, there is a solution at hand. Of all the ‘Areas of Interaction’ in the MYP, ‘Approaches to Learning’ receives the least attention. Not surprisingly. Schools have always done a lousy job of teaching students how to learn. It’s not just study skills: it’s work habits, study habits, personal habits . . . it is, in fact, ‘approaches to learning’. What could be more important? And yet, most teachers are far too busy teaching content to teach ‘approaches to learning’, except incidentally and by osmosis. Which is why I ended up writing my book, Good Habits, Good Students.

So let’s solve two problems at once. A weekly or biweekly ATL course in the Middle Years program would provide an opportunity to address learning habits and skills explicitly, and to engage in the kind of age-appropriate discourse that would give students invaluable practice thinking about how they think, so that when they arrived for their first TOK class in Grade 11 they would resemble fish in water, instead of deer in headlights.

5 thoughts on “ATL, TOK, MYP, DP: What’s the MYP analog to Theory of Knowledge?”

  1. Adrienne Michetti (@amichetti) sent three tweets objecting to my ideas:

    1. the idea of ATL as separate course is directly in opposition of philosophy of MYP’s AOIs. AOIs shld be integrated not separate

    2. & good schools DO teach those skills in classes. Also, many DP schools teach TOK in an integrated fashion, w/team teaching

    3. if stu’s are arriving at TOK class not understanding how to think/learn, that is a failure of how ur school delivers MYP, IMO

    I know that the idea of an ATL course violates the MYP philosophy of integrating the AoIs naturally into subject-area teaching. With the other AoIs, I think this is more often successful. But despite Adrienne’s assertion that ‘good schools DO teach [ATL] skills in classes’, I wonder what portion of IB schools she means. 50%? 25%? 75%? Similarly, I’m glad to hear that ‘many DP schools teach TOK in an integrated fashion, w/team teaching’, but again I wonder just how many ‘many’ might be. My experience, as I said, is that in most schools the majority of teachers have no experience teaching TOK and little awareness of what the course is about. And, again, in my experience students coming into Gr. 11 TOK from the MYP have very little experience thinking about how they think.

    I also wonder whether the designers of the MYP saw how TOK had been marginalized in most IB schools, wanted to avoid the same fate for the AoIs, and thus insisted that the AoIs be integrated into all the subject areas.

    At any rate, there seems to me to be a disconnect in the design of the two programs. Either TOK should be integrated into all the subject areas, like ATL in the MYP, or ATL should be taught as a separate course, like TOK.

    Adrienne, thanks so much for responding. I actually hope you are right ;^).

    I’d love to hear from more MYP and DP teachers about their experiences with ATL and TOK.


  2. On the OCC Theory of Knowledge forum, Lisa King replied as follows:

    Hi Eric,

    I think this is a great question to consider. I am an MYP coordinator and workshop leader, a Level 5 Lang. A teacher, and I’ve taught TOK for six years, so I hope I can give some good perspective on this. My response to your question is, it depends on the program. If your MYP and DP has strong articulation, then I do believe it’s possible for the MYP to prepare students well for TOK. The point of connection, however, would not be ATL, per se, but in the structured inquiry model fostered by the use of the areas of interaction as a focus for teaching and learning. ATL is not a separate course in the MYP because it is the backbone of learning in all other courses; this is why teachers are discouraged from using ATL as an AOI context in MYP unit planning. ATL should be part of every unit, in every subject area, and because the student learning expectations do include skills that are very useful in TOK, like communication, information literacy, collaboration and transfer of knowledge, one would assume this should be preparing students well for TOK. I would argue, though, that the students’ exerience with the other areas of interaction — human ingenuity, health and social education, community and service, and the evironments — perhaps has a greater capacity for fostering habits of mind that allow students to enter TOK feeling well-prepared.

    Regarding articulation between the MYP and DP, if the MYP teachers have the opportunity to learn about TOK, they tend to be quite willing to infuse TOK thinking into their classes. We offered a “TOK for Teachers” course in our building for all of our MYP and DP staff last year, and the feedback and results were quite positive. From the DP standpoint, this has helped in our quest to strengthen the hexagon core and infuse TOK in all of the subjects. In the MYP courses, the teachers are now introducing the language of TOK and analysis of the individual areas of knowledge at age appropriate levels. We plan on offering a “TOK for Teachers, Part 2” this year to see if we can further strengthen the interdisciplinarity of the courses for students and teachers at all levels.

    Hope this helps!


  3. How about the opposite: ToK a great deal more integrated into DP subject areas, as ATL should be for MYP?

    One of the problems with ToK is that some students consider it an add on; one that, as you point out, because of the grading system is not that important. However, the questions that ToK asks – such as, ‘what is the nature of this subject?’ ‘what is its value?’ ‘how do we verifying truth using it?’ should be intrinsic to all disciplines all the time.

    If it isn’t, education is just about passing exams to get jobs; it shouldn’t just be that: it provides tools for each student to find meaning and value, and therefore their own point to life.

    Maybe ATL is not done well in MYP, but I don’t think DP offers the best model as a solution. From age 11 we want students to step back, think about what they do, how they are doing it, and why it was it done. This is no small task.

    1. The success of either of these approaches depends upon teachers being involved in regular discourse about ATL/TOK issues.

      My ideal solution has always been for all teachers to teach TOK on a rotational basis, with two teachers in each class, one experienced and the other less experienced. I understand the logistical barriers to this.

      However, without such involvement in an ongoing discussion, attempts to get teachers to incorporate TOK/ATL questions into their teaching will always fall short.

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