It’s that time of year when the results come out and some of us are over the moon, while others are left scratching our heads thinking “what did I do wrong?” The many comments about results flying around Facebook suggest that there is a bit of a divide this year with some people being very happy with their results and others very disappointed. As they’re the first results for a new curriculum I thought I’d take some time to reflect on IB marks and a few things. Bear in mind this is written mostly for encouragement to those who are disappointed. Later in this post I’ll reflect about my change to the themantic model for IB Psych’ and how I feel about it after this first exam session.
Firstly, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has sent me messages over the last few days telling me how happy you are with your results and expressing gratitude for the resources and support me and the ThemEd team have provided. It really makes the work worthwhile.
Some of the nicest messages I’ve received haven’t been about the 6s and 7s, but rather the 4s and 5s . I think this is very cool and also really important to think about – I’m often more proud of my 5s than I am of my 6s and even 7s.
But I know that this will always be a biased sample and people generally only publicly comment when they’re really happy with their results, so if you were disappointed just know that you definitely won’t be alone and that you’re only reading a small sample of the hundreds (thousands?) of IB Psych’ teachers out there.
What does it take to get a 7?
This is the million dollar question. Firstly, it’s important to remember that 7s are very rare with only 3-4% of kids achieving them. That means if you teach a class of 30 to get 1 x 7 you are doing very well. In my first year of teaching IB Psych I had zero 7s in my first year, four in my second and then none again in my third. You can imagine after that second year I was thinking, “Oh man, I got this sussed” and then my disappointment the following year, especially when I had two students whom I felt really deserved top marks. This feeling of disappointment is inevitable when teaching IB, so if you have it right now and you’re new to the course don’t fret – it comes and goes.
There are lots of things we can do to help kids achieve high marks, but honestly speaking I also think there are a lot of variables beyond our control. In my opinion, I would say two of the strongest predictors of success in IB Psychology are Literacy Levels and Work Ethic. Kids who can read and write to a high standard coming into the class are at an instant advantage, not least of all because they need to write so much in a short amount of time in the exams. Secondly, there’s a lot to study so they need to be hard workers. Of course, as teachers we can help improve both of these things but it helps if they’re there already.
And there’s a big element of luck, it has to be said. We all know there is a lot of variation in marks in exams and if you’re unlucky you might just get a string of unlucky exam results that could vary the marks up to 2 points (e.g. a 5 instead of a 7, etc.).
I’m not saying that besides luck, effort, writing and reading skills there’s nothing we can do to give our kids the best shot at getting 7s, there is a lot we can do (too much for one post I’m afraid), I’m simply saying try not to be too disappointed if it doesn’t happen.
If you’re disappointed with your marks it is worthwhile requesting an EUR (Enquiry Upon Results). You can get your kids’ exam papers back and double-check the marking and you can even have them remarked if you disagree. Your IB Co-Ordinator can help you with this process.
A better way to look at results
Like I said earlier, sometimes I’m more proud of a kid for getting a 5, than those who get 6s and 7s. One way to measure the effectiveness of your IB Psych’ course is to compare your results to what the kids are achieving in other courses. For example, if your student got a 5 in Psych and 4s and 3s in everything else you know you’ve taught a great course, especially if this is common across all your students. On the other hand, if they got a 4 in Psych and 6s in everything else, and this is a common trend across students, then you might want to look for ways to tweak your course for the following year. Whenever I do this I remind myself I’m not comparing or judging my own teaching against my colleagues, but rather treating the results as objective measurements of the kids’ knowledge and skills in each subject (which we know they’re not, but hey, it works for this exercise).
What’s the point?
I was once told of two IB English teachers at a large school (this is a true story). The first teacher got heaps of 7s every year and their results were amazing. The second teacher had good results, but not as good as the first. What was the difference? Teacher #1 spent hours upon hours of analyzing rubrics, past papers, marking tests, writing essays and drilling exam preparation. Teacher #2 did not. What T2 did instead was to teach literature in a way so that the kids genuinely enjoyed it and understood the bigger ideas, including the importance of literature in our lives. T1 did not do this because it wouldn’t be useful in exams.
Which teacher would you rather be? Well, we can look at the results as one determining factor, but another important consideration is the long-term impact. Very few of T1s students, if any, I was told, went on to study literature at university or beyond. Who knows, maybe they didn’t even pick up another book. Conversely, many of T2s students studied literature and learned to love reading challenging novels.
My point is that knowing how many of my students are going on to study Psychology at University and the interest we’ve instilled in the subject is just as valuable as their final exam grades, if not moreso.
If I got a heap of 7s but I had destroyed the love of Psychology from any of my students I would have failed miserably.
Reflecting on My Own Materials (Themantics)
This brings me to my reflections on my own materials (and results) and the themantic model as it’s applied to IB Psychology. Just to say, I am very happy with my results and over the ten years they may be my best. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the highest scores, I don’t know as I haven’t compared (they would be close). But I do know that out of 10 HL students this year, 5 of them achieved one mark higher than predicted, with only 1 achieving one mark lower. Those achieving higher got 6s and 7s (instead of predicted 5s and 6s). My predicted scores were expectations based on the old curriculum and my old materials.
But despite the raw scores, here are the real reasons why I’m incredibly pleased with my kids’ results this year:
#1: No Homework
I don’t set homework in my IB Psych’ class because I don’t feel I need to. After remodelling my course I’ve managed the workload so that I don’t feel I need to burn kids out to get them ready. With the stress of IB that so many lament, this makes me happy and so their results were justification for this approach I’ve taken.
#2: No Drills, Just the Basics
Unlike Teacher #1 above, I don’t spend hours upon hours marking past papers, analyzing rubrics, memorizing command terms, reading “How to…” study guides, etc. I try to teach transferable writing skills and use simple writing templates to take the stress out of exam prep’. I couldn’t be happier that as I ignore the command terms more and more, my grades get better and better.
Many of you know that my exam advice goes against the grain of the traditional wisdom in IB Psychology, so it is validating to know that my ideas and their practical application work.
#3: Enjoyable Units
Criminology was a big hit, as was the Love and Marriage unit. I’m happy with my results because I was able to tweak my course to teach more engaging content and still have kids ready for exams. I’m really excited to start developing new units that will go into our Second Edition of the textbook in a couple of years.
Instead of teaching the topics as they relate to exams, being able to teach them in a way that’s meaningful and relevant and preps kids for exams is really rewarding.
#4: Long-term Effects
I know at least four of my students are going on to study Psychology at University, and this is the norm. It’s nice to know that I can get good exam results without taking the joy of Psychology as a subject away from the students. It’s about balance and I’m pleased I’ve been able to find this in my new course.
#5: Teaching Probable Questions, Not Every Possible Question!
The new course is murky and a lot of people are taking an approach of teaching for every single possible question “just to be safe.” I will not do this because I don’t want to sacrifice the quality of my Psychology course to safeguard against ambiguous curriculum. One of my students this year studied the Cognitive Approach for essays and answered the bogus “two examples of cognitive biases” question with only one bias (because I only taught one) and still got a 7 (and the highest mark I’ve had in IB Psych’). This cements my decision not to change my course to accommodate mistakes made by others.
Do less and do it better. This has been my new philosophy since starting to write the themantic textbook for the new course and what I’m generally saying is that I’m very happy with its effects for this first examining season. However, I know all too well that perhaps next year I’ll be disappointed and left scratching my head wondering, “what needs fixing?” I hope not, but I know it’s a possibility.
In summary, if you’re pleased with your results that’s great and I’m happy for you and your students. If you’re disappointed, don’t be discouraged and the fact that you are disappointed shows that you care and you’re probably already doing everything you can to give your kids the best possible IB Psych’ course possible so just keep it up.
The best and worst thing about teaching is we can always do more and we can always improve; as long as we’re doing both we can consider ourselves great teachers 🙂
Travis Dixon is an IB Psychology teacher, author, workshop leader, examiner and IA moderator.