Themes, 2018 onwards
The Themes required by the 2018 Subject Guide are wider than the Topics of the 'old' Subject Guide - but in fact, they cover much the same ground as the old Topics. So, how do we deal with them?
It is worth bearing in mind from the start that these Themes are specified so as to define suitable subject matter with which to practise the use of the language. Language has to be about something ... and Language as part of the IB's Diploma programme should be about something challenging (not just gossip about what you did last weekend!). On the other hand, the Subject Guide is clear that factual information, as such, is not assessed - so we should not imagine that we are required to be devising Sociology ('Social organisation') or Psychology ('Identity') courses.
Note that the introduction to the Guide's section about Themes (pp.18-20) states three significant purposes of the study of Themes:-
- Themes should provide "opportunities for students to communicate about matters of personal, local or national, and global interest" - note the wide range of what is considered relevant and suitable
- the study of the Themes will also "allow students to compare the target language and culture(s) to other languages and cultures with which they are familiar". Notice that this does not require that the Themes should be exclusively focused on studying Anglophone Culture, but rather that the approach should be intercultural
- discussing the Themes will allow "students to make connections to other disciplinary areas in the DP" - drawing in ideas from Economics, Biology, and so on, to enliven and support exploration of the area
In practical terms, then, how should we go about selecting materials for the study of the Themes? Here are some simple, common-sense ground rules for selecting source material ...
1. Material from Anglophone sources ... well, obviously, really - you're not going to choose an article, however interesting, written in Russian !
2. Content should be focused, primarily, on Anglophone cultures ... for instance, start with an article about 'Anorexia in Australia', rather than an article about 'Anorexia in Indonesia'
3. But then, from Anglophone stimuli, encourage some intercultural comparison ... to illustrate, having read an article about football in the UK, start a discussion about "Do we see football the same way here in Argentina?" ... or whatever is relevant and interesting to your students, given their experience and cultures.
4. Encourage debate about 'what this really means' ... all language, and therefore all language teaching, involves discussing meaning - and the TOK dimension really involves taking this a bit further and discussing how we decide what something means ... and what consequences follow about the way that we see the world.
In the end, the prime directive must be to find material which will interest and stimulate your individual group of students.