Deconstructing a Knowledge Question

In the last blog we looked at how to identify and construct a Knowledge Question, this is particularly important for the TOK presentation. In this blog we will focus on how to deconstruct a Knowledge Question. This is of course essential for success in the TOK essay and although this is some way off for many students it is useful to look at this now so one can practice the skill before the TOK essay titles arrive at the end of the summer.

As a reminder, a Knowledge Question is always about knowledge itself; its nature (what it is and what it is not, how it relates to other cognitive categories), its methods (how knowledge is acquired or achieved), its scope (what the focus of each Area of Knowledge is in terms of what kind of knowledge it is looking for), and its limitations (what can be known, cannot be known as well as degrees of certainty).  Typically, the TOK essay questions will focus on one or two aspects of the TOK syllabus. It is therefore important to be conversant with all of them so that one can identify what a specific Knowledge Question is really about and which aspects of the syllabus one should focus on as one attempts to write the essay. This should help the student to choose the TOK essay they will write, since the more one is aware of the implications of each essay the better informed one is to make the right decision.

The main areas of the TOK syllabus are:

  1. The nature of Knowledge (see above, as well as different types of knowledge claims, their purpose and the basis on which they are made).
  2. The eight Areas of Knowledge (History, Mathematics, the Natural Sciences, the Human Sciences, the Arts, Ethics, Religious Knowledge, Indigenous Knowledge).
  3. The eight Ways of Knowing (Reason, Sense Perception, Emotion, Language, Intuition, Faith, Imagination, Memory).
  4. Perspectives (what influences and shapes individual and collective points of view, biases, assumptions, prejudices…).
  5. Personal and Shared Knowledge (the relationship between what an individual knows and knowledge gained from or shared with the groups the individual belongs to, also it looks at how individual knowledge contributes to shared knowledge).
  6. Real Life Situations – RLS (how knowledge is extracted from everyday events or concrete situations and how knowledge may be applied to address knowledge issues raised in/by a RLS).
  7. The International Baccalaureate Learner Profile – IBLP (it is important to remember that the IBLP is the foundation of the IB’s educational philosophy, making reference to some of the characteristics of the ideal learner in the TOK essay shows the student understands this).

Having chosen one’s TOK Essay, the next task is to identify (by means of the key terms) which of the above aspect of the TOK syllabus one should include in the essay. It may be that there might be too many to be included (the essay after all in meant to be no more than 1600 words), in which case one chooses those which one would consider to be the most relevant to the title.

Deconstructing a Knowledge Question (the form the TOK essay titles take) is therefore primarily about spotting which issues, topics, areas the essay is really about; once that’s done you have effectively identified the content which needs to be researched after which a structure (the order in which the material is to be written up in the essay) should suggest itself.

We shall return to the issues raised by the writing of the TOK essay in the Autumn.

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