The New Course (2019): the story so far…

Friday 22 September 2017

Change is coming.  

Writing those three simple words, it is hard not to think of the motto of House Stark -  “Winter is coming” - and the armies of White Walkers marching (very slowly as it turns out) across the snowy plains towards The Great Wall, a wall built seven hundred years ago to defend the seven kingdoms from such icy, blue-eyed evil when it inevitably (but very slowly) rouses itself from its slumbers…

Alas, IB course reviews are not as exciting as all the goings-on in Westeros.  Not quite anyway, although in these uncertain times it is not unusual to find English teachers huddled in the shadows, murmuring and muttering, urgently exchanging the rumours they have heard swirling around workshops and OCC forums:

"The IOC is dead," one whispers.

"Not dead, but dying," says another. "‘Twill be buried within the year, so they say."  

"And there are others that speak of strange, terrifying creatures winging their way towards us from across the seas," hisses a third. "They call them concepts…"

That’s quite enough of that, I’m sure you’ll agree.  

Most of you are aware of the current IB review taking place for all Language A courses and many of you will have read the IB’s ‘second report to teachers’ (published in April 2017) outlining the current thinking around the courses and the changes to be made.  If you have not, the review document is available on the IBO’s OCC and the new My IB PRC and is worth reading.  Many of the proposed changes seem to be far advanced and will have a significant impact on our planning, teaching and assessment of the course in the future.  However, there has also been a further communication since the publication of this report that suggests significant alterations may now be made to the decisions outlined in this document, specifically in relation to the written coursework component.  

Here is what we do know:  the curriculum is due to change for first teaching in August 2019 with first examinations in 2021. The IB will introduce subject specific seminars from February 2019 to help support teachers.  One of the major outcomes of the review is greater alignment between the three DP courses that fall under the heading of Studies in Language and Literature: the Literature course, the Language and Literature course and the Literature in Performance course.  All three will have the same course aims, the same assessment objectives and the same curriculum model, built around the same three areas of exploration.  These three areas, as published in the ‘second report’, are:

Readers, writers and texts aims to introduce students to the notion and purpose of literature and the ways in which texts can be read, interpreted and responded to.

Time and space draws attention to the fact that texts are not isolated entities, but are connected to space and time.

Intertextuality: connecting texts focuses on the connections between and among diverse texts, traditions, creators and ideas.

Each of these three areas will be accompanied by six guiding questions linked to a number of core concepts identified as sitting at the heart of the discipline.  In its current form, the 7 core concepts are: culture, creativity, communication, perspective, transformation, representation and identity.  As with all of the new IBDP courses, concept-based learning sits at the heart of the new Studies in Language and Literature.

In terms of reading lists,  the PLAs and the PLT are being replaced with one multi-language reading list which will be available as an online resource with the facility to search and produce lists based on language of the author, sex, time and/or place.  It also appears that there will be a wider choice of texts and more flexibility as to which texts are used where, with more texts in translation, while there will still be certain requirements as to covering texts from a range of times and places.  

Most of the ongoing discussion so far (particularly in the forums on the OCC) seems to be centered around proposals regarding the assessment tasks.   Paper 1 remains as an unseen literary analysis paper, although students will now be asked to respond to two texts, an alteration that has divided opinion.  Paper 2 has not yet been fully explored by the review committee,  but it is stated that there are unlikely to be substantial changes.   However, it is the removal of the IOC and the written assignment that has prompted most discourse and debate, to the extent that there now seems to be some rethinking taking place with regard to the written coursework component at Higher Level.  

This is evident from a survey posted recently on the OCC for all Language A teachers, itself a response to the debate taking place on the OCC forums.  In this survey feedback was sought on a whole range of questions about written coursework.  Some of you may have completed this survey and given your feedback.  We do not yet know the outcome but everything points to the strong possibility that there will now be a written coursework component on the Higher Level course.

Opinion is clearly divided on this issue. I would not welcome the reintroduction of the written coursework as I would see it as a compromise to the principles of conceptual learning that are driving the review and the changes being made to all IB courses. For effective conceptual learning to take place, there is a need to reduce content coverage and assessment tasks so that teachers and students can focus more on deeper, transferable (and enjoyable) learning.  It is hard to see that the written assignment is necessary to fulfil any of the course aims and learning objectives, while it can also be a problematic assignment from an academic honesty perspective. These issues are clearly stated or implied in the second report:

“The different stages of the written assignment...were regarded as time-consuming, problematic with larger cohorts and not always purposeful. Additionally, feedback from universities and from the IB recognition team pointed out the greater potential for university recognition of Paper 2 when compared to the written tasks and the written assignment.” 

Another reason for the written coursework being put back on the table may be that it was felt a greater distinction is needed between the SL and HL courses.   However, surely such distinctions could be made through the content and requirements of Paper 1, the questions and requirements for Paper 2 and the IA, as well as in the criteria for all components. This, after all, is the case with the current course.

In writing this I must make it clear that these are my views: I do not speak on behalf of the IB or anyone else.  Whatever the changes are, there are some things we can be certain about: we won’t all agree about them; some of us will find some (or all) of them strange, annoying or puzzling, at least at first; and, regardless of our views, it will take all of us a while to get used to the changes.  However, it is also certain that good Literature teachers will continue to teach good lessons, regardless of the course they teach, engaging and inspiring students to explore literature, and develop as flexible, critical thinkers, readers and writers.  Lastly, it is certain that on this website our aims will remain the same: to support such teachers within the IB and provide them with up-to-date, well-informed and carefully considered information and ideas for teaching the IB Literature course.   

In uncertain times, all this is certain.  This, and Valar Morghulis, of course.



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