Structure and Freedom in the New TOK Course

wokwheel300“Do you think [the encouragement to teach WOK within AOK] means it just won’t work to have the WOK taught separately at all?”  This question was posed by teacher and blogger Larry Ferlazzo as he sought commentary on the new version of the TOK course.  It was the first time I’d visited his impressive blogsite, which I encourage you to check out.  In response to his invitation, I contributed my own thoughts on his blog, and now include them here.……

I’ve commented earlier in this TOK meets global citizenship blog on structuring the TOK course, using the new knowledge framework:  “Framing knowledge: getting the structuring ‘just right’”, August 3, 2013.

I argue there that, as teachers, we are always doing a balancing act between spontaneity and structure, and between our own planning and the requirements given –and that the new course offers both an underlying conceptual framework and the encouragement not to follow it mechanically.  We are not expected to go marching sequentially from topic to topic.

Larry’s question, though, is very specific, and concerned with the impact of the knowledge framework on the sequence of teaching and emphasis given parts of the course.  It deals not just with the subject guide, which clearly spells out the freedom of interpretation that teachers have, but with the teacher support material on the Online Curriculum Centre: “Do you think [the encouragement to teach WOK within AOK] means it just won’t work to have the WOK taught separately at all?”

Within the Teacher Support Material presently on the OCC, there does seem to be a push to compress the WOK tightly and place the emphasis on AOK. The suggested course plans there scoot over the WOK briefly, or treat them entirely in context of AOK.

Is the emphasis placed within Teacher Support Materials, I wonder, made with a view of solving a specific problem? One problem, I gather from curriculum review reports, has been that WOK were sometimes being treated in TOK classes as if they existed isolation from each other – as if emotion OR reason contributed to an AOK, for instance, rather than interacting and contributing in their own ways. I interpret the encouragement in the support materials to teach the WOK almost entirely within AOK as a particular solution to that particular problem.

This approach could, indeed, lead to good teaching.  WOK would have to be considered in context of methodologies, so would not be able to be treated as separate, unconnected pieces. There are other solutions, however, to the problem of WOK treated in isolation, and ones that I prefer.

Personally, I recommend teaching all eight WOK first, largely to lay down the concepts and vocabulary with which you’ll later be talking about methodology. In TOK, what does “intuition” mean, for instance, in context of cognitive psychology?  And how does a 21st century understanding of intuition change a grasp of “reason” as a way of knowing?   Divergent understandings of “faith”, similarly, can derail a discussion.  The associations of the terms, and the assumptions that students bring to them – as in any discussion of “memory” — are also valuable to question before trying to use the terms.  An advance treatment prepares concepts to be put into play across all the AOK.

In treating WOK first, I’d also hope to encourage students to appreciate the questions of knowledge that each WOK raises, and the importance of using it thoughtfully to build knowledge.  In many areas of knowledge, after all, the methodology is a formalization of critical thinking skills that students should be developing in any case for everyday knowledge.

Treating WOK separately before AOK need not precipitate the problem that they are treated in isolation from each other.  Not at all!  I struggle to think how memory or imagination could possibly be considered without the matrix of the other WOK, just as I cannot imagine how the methodology of any AOK could possibly be treated without considering the interplay of ways of knowing.

Moreover, I wouldn’t skip any one of the WOK.  Treating all of them does mean sweeping over WOK without the depth that every single one begs for – but such is the constant need in a short course that aims to survey the whole of knowledge.  We can at least open the door and look into each WOK, even if we don’t have a lot of time to romp about inside.  Later, dealing with AOK, we’ll regain the time invested in WOK because we’ll open discussions on methodology with a better prior understanding of the ways of knowing which contribute to it, their interactions, and the importance of using them critically in making knowledge claims.

Larry Ferlazzo’s questions specifically concerned the balance of time and attention given WOK, and their placement within the TOK course sequence.  It does echo, though, with larger questions about our reaction as teachers to the structures we are given and our own freedom to interpret them.

Myself, I find the present subject guide very good in providing both guidance and an assurance that teachers can structure their own courses.  The Teacher Support Materials on the OCC do lean, in their suggested plans, toward teaching WOK within AOK, but these are clearly offered as suggestions.   Never before has TOK been given the amount of support it has at the moment (my own new Course Companion included), so that teachers have access to extensive support.  Yet all of us retain the freedom – as long as we do deal appropriately with the topics – to sequence and interconnect them as we judge best in our own context.

2 Comments
  • Chris G.
    October 3, 2013

    Your approach of teaching the WoK first is what we’ve been doing this year in our school – teach those, and then go into the AoK. The AoK will, in turn, simply be contexts within which we (desperately flail about and hope to) teach the kids about Knowledge Issues and what they are. Most of the factual information on the AoK they get will have to be through independent study, but we are trying to make sure that any KI talk we do centers around the AoK they should be reading on.

    We feel that we gave the four WoKs short shrift this year, and despair of being able to give fair treatment to eight with the next cohort, but we’ll do what we have to…

  • Eileen Dombrowski
    October 31, 2013

    I think that any TOK teacher is doomed to occasional despair over giving fair treatment to, in essence, all of knowledge! As the discouragement rolls in from time to time, I reassure myself, perversely, by recognizing that every teacher of every subject feels moment of despair over the shortage of time and the magnitude of the task! Then, when I rebuke myself for taking solace in communal despair (How could I be so negative????), I reassure myself (more positively) that we’re contributing our small bit to the whole of our students’ education — and that anything we do well to reach and teach them is an achievement. And, in TOK, there’s huge potential to stimulate their thinking.

    About WOK specifically — another reason they merit independent treatment is that they will not be given an overview treatment elsewhere, whereas the AOK are, for the most part, subjects they are being taught.

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