Adapting to ATLs

Wednesday 11 March 2015

I am engaged in another major re-organisation and development of the site. If you look at the sitemap, you'll see that the right-hand column is now called Approaches... (it was formerly called Activities & tasks). This change, and all its consequences, are in order to take on board the IB's recently published policy document Approaches to teaching and learning (Jan 2015). This document represents a significant effort by the IB to define with some precision how it expects schools to teach the Diploma, and how students are expected to learn. It is well worth having a good look at the document - on the OCC, go to Diploma > Language acquisition > English B, and you'll find it at the end of the first group of listed items.

I would particularly recommend that you consult the online version, which includes videos illustrating aspects of teaching & learning, and interviews discussing the ideas, as well as pro-formas for reflection on good teaching, and for planning.

The reorganisation consists of taking the mass of existing materials about 'activities & tasks', and re-structuring it according to the five key areas of skills specified by the Approaches to teaching and learning (aka ATLs) - Thinking, Communication, Social skills, Self management, Research. There will be an introductory section about the ATLs in general, followed by separate sections on the five key areas. You will see that the general commentary and the section on Thinking skills already exist, and the rest will follow in the next month or so.

I have heard mixed reactions so far about the ATLs. There are those who see this as IB overkill : "...surely no-one needs to be told the obvious about getting students to think critically?" or "bah! more IB bureacracy!" And there are those who see this as a vital statement of fundamental principles : "...just what is needed to really improve the quality of teaching". Such contrasting reactions are entirely to be expected, of course - over many years of running workshops I have observed that IB teachers range from the born-again enthusiastic idealist through to the critically-sceptical contrarian.

Myself, I think the ATLs are not only useful, but necessary. We should never forget that the IB organisation is remarkable for having the extraordinary ambition of changing the global approach to education, while at the same time having astonishingly little actual power. Let's face it: the IB does not own schools, does not appoint school managements, does not control teachers, and has no sanctions to enforce any of the educational ideals that it promotes (well, it can remove accreditation from a school, but how often has such a 'nuclear' option ever been applied?).

In addition to the IB's inability to impose the educational system it promotes, IB programmes are often being implemented in societies whose educational culture may be radically different from, even opposed to, IB values. I have direct experience of advising teachers whose own personal educational career was within an educational system which was authoritarian and based on rote learning. Such teachers may well be enthusiastically committed in principle to the IB's more open and critical thinking approach - but may simply not be fully adapted to actually teaching that way.

Accordingly, the ATLs should be seen as a statement that is both valuable and essential. Above all, the approaches outlined are focused on practical means to ensure that education should be centred on students' real needs, and should promote students' active involvement. So, 'Hooray for ATLs!' say I.


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