Teaching Thematically Made Simple

Travis DixonCurriculum, Teaching Ideas, Themantics

Our major goal at Themantic Education is to reduce teacher stress. While many people are good at identifying the problems, we feel we've got the solutions.

Yesterday I wrote about why I think adopting a linear approach is a bad idea. I think most teachers agree that combining the core and the options makes sense for so many reasons, but some are hesitant because it seems too daunting. They also think it might mean throwing out all their old stuff and starting again. In this post I’ll give you two really easy ways you can start teaching thematically with zero extra work.

Start with the Options

I often read posts on the OCC and other forums that leave me thinking that it’s very easy to overthink teaching psychology. I’m a simple man with a simple mind, so I like to keep things….well, simple.

In my mind, IB Psychology can be summarized with two basic questions:

  • How do variables influence behaviour?
  • How do we know?

Some people like to make it sound a lot more complicated than that, but I reckon if you keep these guiding questions at the core of your course planning, you’ll find it a lot less stressful.

Essentially in the core we have variables and in the options we have behaviours. So a really easy way to start teaching thematically is to take a behaviour from the options (e.g. prejudice and discrimination, personal relationships, a disorder, etc.) and use this as a theme for a topic or unit. What you’ll find in teaching this options topic is that you’ll naturally be addressing outcomes in the core.

For example, if you’re going with the most popular option topic of abnormal psychology, you’ll need to be teaching how biological, cognitive, social and cultural variables can explain (i.e. influence) the disorder. You might, for instance, look at the role of serotonin in depression or cortisol in PTSD. These are topics in the biological approach, so now you don’t need to teach them again, if you don’t want to.

If you keep doing this for your options, you’ll naturally be hitting the outcomes from the core and at the end of the options you can then simply identify the topics you haven’t yet covered and teach those as what I’d called “left-over learning outcomes.” It’s what I do as I’m currently using my textbook for the new course with my last intake on the old curriculum.

 Adopting this approach will mean that you won’t need to throw away any old unit plans. 

Some may argue that this defeats the purpose of the IB course’s structure with separation of core and options, but the practical reality is that this separation doesn’t need to exist. If you teach the core and ignore the options, you still need to identify behaviours that are being influenced by the variables outlined in the core topics (e.g. the brain, hormones, cultural dimensions, acculturation, etc.) So why not just use behaviours from the options? It’s not like they’re any more complex than any other behaviour you’d have to teach anyway.

Use our textbook 😉

I’ll keep this one brief, but I do want to share it as naturally I believe wholeheartedly in the potential for IB Psychology: A Student’s Guide to have a real positive impact on your teaching and student learning. If you have your copy already, you’ll be able to see that the structure is laid out lesson-by-lesson. It’s designed so new teachers and those who are happy with the units I’ve prepared can just work through the book from start to finish, with zero course design on your behalf. You don’t need to think about which topics to choose or which studies are best, or the right order to teach them in, as it’s been done for you.

If you want to use a textbook but you’re not sure which one you want to use, I recommend purchasing a copy of all available books and see which one works best for you and your students.

But I’m also aware that teachers love flexibility and what I think is a good order, study or concept will never always align with other teachers, so I had to be sure to also keep it topic-by-topic to make it easy to cherry-pick what you want to take from it, while still adding your own favourites.

This by far is the easiest way to start teaching themantically.

So there you have it, two very easy ways you can drop the linear approach that we all know has many limitations and you can start teaching thematically (and even themantically) starting with the new course. After all, it is a new course, so why not start with a new approach?