Why change to a themantic approach?
Here are four of the key benefits I can see in switching to a themantic approach:
- It reduces the amount of content knowledge the students need to remember
- Less content means more time for developing critical thinking and other skills (e.g. writing, research, communication, collaboration, etc.)
- It increases depth of knowledge and understanding
- It increases options for SL students in Paper 2, which should improve their performance
Like many IB Psychology teachers when I started I had very little background experience in the course. Naturally I began teaching starting with the BLA and I went through the outcomes in order as they appeared in the guide (and all the textbooks) and went through the CLA, an Option, then the SCLA, and the second Option. I did this for a couple of years and then realised that, “hey, I can re-arrange the order of some of these outcomes”. So I started playing around with the course. But every year I saw more and more potential for overlaps between outcomes, especially from the core to the options. Whenever I got to “evaluate Sociocultural origins of violence” in Human Relationships for instance, I’d be busy trying to remind my students about everything we did in year one to cover this outcome. So I gradually started making these connections more frequently to try to reduce the sheer amount of content that I needed to cover in the course.
The more I did this the more I could see that my course needed a complete structural change. By teaching the core and options separately I found I was limiting the depth of understanding I could develop in my students. This is why I began writing a thematic textbook, that blossomed into a complete model of curriculum design (the themantic model of curricula).
By seeing how one topic or theme could cover a range of outcomes you are reducing the amount of content (e.g. concepts, key terms, studies, theories) that students have to remember. By focusing on less research, students can spend more time developing a better and deeper understanding of the research and its applications. This will lead to an improved ability to write more developed answers in the exams.
For many students the options are the most interesting aspect of the course and it was always a shame for me that in the linear approach my SL students would only study one. With a themantic structure they get to study topics from a range of options, which also helps them in their exams (I’ll explain how in a later post).
Is this an “IB approved” method? We’ll get to that later. Of course. This is what they mean in the guide when they say a “holistic approach.” Moreover, the reduction of options hours to 20 encourages teachers to adopt this approach, because there’s simply no way to teach the options independently without doing so.
Travis Dixon is an IB Psychology teacher, author, workshop leader, examiner and IA moderator.