•  (theory of knowledge)
  • Knowing about knowing

    Theory of Knowledge (TOK) is a course about critical thinking and inquiring into the process of knowing, rather than about learning a specific body of knowledge. It is a core element which all Diploma Programme students undertake during both years of the Programme. TOK and the Diploma Programme subjects support each other in the sense that they reference each other and share some common goals. The TOK course examines how we know what we claim to know. It does this by encouraging students to analyze knowledge claims and explore knowledge questions. A knowledge claim is the assertion that “I/we know X” or “I/we know how to Y”, or a statement about knowledge; a knowledge question is an open question about knowledge. In addition, a distinction between shared knowledge and personal knowledge is presented to help students explore the nature of knowledge.

TOK Instructors

Mr. Sherwin | jsherwin@wcpss.net

Mr. Siemering | gsiemering@wcpss.net

Ms. Dirilgen | adirilgen@wcpss.net

  • Ways of Knowing

    While there are arguably many ways of knowing, the TOK course identifies eight specific ways of knowing (WOKs). They are language, sense perception, emotion, reason, imagination, faith, intuition, and memory.

    The WOKs have two roles in TOK:
    • they underlie the methodology of the areas of knowledge
    • they provide a basis for personal knowledge.

    Discussion of WOKs naturally occurs in a TOK course when exploring how areas of knowledge operate. Since they rarely function in isolation, the TOK course explores how WOKs work, and how they work together, both in the context of different areas of knowledge and in relation to the individual knower. This is reflected in the way the TOK course is constructed.

  • Areas of Knowledge

    Areas of knowledge are specific branches of knowledge, each of which can be seen to have a distinct nature and different methods of gaining knowledge. TOK distinguishes between eight areas of knowledge. They are mathematics, the natural sciences, the human sciences, the arts, history, ethics, religious knowledge systems, and indigenous knowledge systems.

    The knowledge framework is a device for exploring the areas of knowledge. It identifies the key characteristics of each area of knowledge by depicting each area as a complex system of five interacting components. This enables students to effectively compare and contrast different areas of knowledge and allows the possibility of a deeper exploration of the relationship between areas of knowledge and ways of knowing.

  • Assessment

    There are two assessment tasks in the TOK course: an essay and a presentation. The essay is externally assessed by the IB, and must be on any one of the six prescribed titles issued by the IB for each examination session. The maximum word limit for the essay is 1,600 words.

    The presentation can be done individually or in a group, with a maximum group size of three. Approximately 10 minutes per presenter should be allowed, up to a maximum of approximately 30 minutes per group. Before the presentation each student must complete and submit a presentation planning document (TK/PPD) available in the Handbook of procedures for the Diploma Programme. The TK/PPD is internally assessed alongside the presentation itself, and the form is used for external moderation.

    Using global impression marking

    The method of assessing the essay on a prescribed title and the presentation in TOK judges each piece of work in relation to written descriptions of performance and not in relation to the work of other students.

    The assessment of both tasks is envisaged as a process of holistic or global judgment rather than an analytical process of totalling the assessment of separate criteria. Although in the essay the assessment is presented as two aspects, they are integrated into five described levels of performance, allowing for variation in student performance across different parts of the overall assessment. Because of the requirement for a reasonable mark range along which to differentiate student performance, each markband level descriptor corresponds to a range of two different marks.

    Assessment judgments should in the first instance be made with reference to the level descriptors for typical characteristics. The possible characteristics underneath are intended as starting prompts for discussion and development of a shared vocabulary among examiners, moderators, teachers and students as to how work at each level might be described.

    The possible characteristics corresponding to a level of performance should not be thought of as a checklist of attributes; they are intended to function only as tentative descriptions, some of which may seem appropriate to apply to work at that level.

    The achievement level descriptors concentrate on positive achievement, although for the lower levels (zero is the lowest level of achievement) failure to achieve is included in the description.

    These level descriptors are designed to be used as a whole, and operate at a global level. It is to be understood that:

    • the described levels are not a checklist or necessary minimum
    • the different levels of performance are not discrete, and differences of degree are involved
    • different levels suggest typical performance, and there are always exceptions requiring individual or case by case judgments
    • the performance of students can be uneven across different aspects, but it is the overall impression that is most important.

    Examiners and moderators will use the levels of performance as the terms on which they make a judgment that draws on their knowledge of what students at this level can do with tasks of this kind. How examiners and moderators will make a judgement about the level of performance attained in a particular student response will vary.

    Essay examiners may make a decision in the course of reading the piece, and then review it and make a final judgment after completing a reading. Or they may register the comments and arguments of a student, read the essay as a whole and make a decision in retrospect. In either case the described levels are to be seen as global and holistic rather than a checklist of necessary characteristics. Examiners will make judgments about individual pieces of work by taking into account and evaluating the distinctive characteristics of a particular script.

    Presentation moderators will similarly endeavour to reach a holistic judgment based on the responses of the student(s) and teacher on the TK/PPD form.

    The markbands for each assessment task in effect represent a single holistic criterion applied to the piece of work, which is judged as a whole. The highest descriptor levels do not imply faultless performance and examiners and teachers should not hesitate to use the extremes if they are appropriate descriptions of the work being assessed.

  • TOK Grade

    Your course grade in TOK during the Junior year will be comprised primarily of biweekly forums. Forums will consist either of a short essay or presentation. These will be evaluated and marked holistically using the following rubric:

    Essays/Presentation

    Excellent (10)

    The forum utilizes the course material as sources. The forum is submitted as a Google document for an essay or as Google slides for a presentation. All topics are addressed completely and accurately. A reflective and critical analysis of the material that addresses the topic at hand and demonstrates full understanding is included. Connections between the TOK course material other source material are clearly stated. An understanding of knowledge issues and perspectives is applied and examples used. All terms are completely and accurately defined. Proper formatting is used in both in-text citations and references. The essay falls with in the length requirement and includes at least 1 citation to course material. The essay is free of spelling and grammar errors. The essay is very well written and organized. Quotes are used sparingly and only when necessary and properly cited. A reference page is included.

    Very Good (9)

    The forum is written in an essay format utilizing the course material as sources. The forum is submitted as a Google document for an essay or as Google slides for a presentation. Most topics are addressed completely and accurately. A reflective and critical analysis of the material that addresses the topic at hand and demonstrates full understanding is included. Connections between the TOK course material other source material are stated. An understanding of knowledge issues and perspectives is evident and examples used. Most terms are completely and accurately defined. Proper formatting is used in both in-text citations and references. The essay falls with in the length requirement and includes at least 1 citation to course material. The essay is mostly free of spelling and grammar errors. The essay is well written and organized. Quotes are used sparingly and only when necessary and properly cited. A reference page is included.

    Adequate (8)

    The forum is written in an essay format utilizing the course material as sources. The forum is submitted as a Google document for an essay or as Google slides for a presentation. Some topics are addressed completely and accurately. A critical analysis of the material that addresses the topic at hand and demonstrates your understanding is included. Connections between the TOK course material other course material may be lacking. An understanding of knowledge issues and perspectives is evident and some examples used. Some terms are completely and accurately defined. Proper formatting is used in both in-text citations and references. The essay may not fall with in the length requirement and may not include at least 1 citation. The essay is not free of spelling and grammar errors. The essay may lack clarity and organization. Quotes are used too often and may not be and properly cited. A reference page may not be included.

    Basic (7)

    The forum is submitted as a Google document for an essay or as Google slides for a presentation. An attempt is made address topics but many ideas are incomplete, incoherent, or missing. An attempt is made to define terms. The essay is much too brief and citations are lacking or non-existentPoor attempt is made to make connections between readings and supplemental materials. The forum has spelling and grammar errors. Citations are incomplete.

    Elementary (6) 

    The forum is submitted. A weak attempt is made to address the topics, but many ideas are incomplete, incoherent, or missing. A weak attempt is made to define the terms. Little or no attempt is made to make connections between the ideas and the course material. Submission is much too brief. The forum has many spelling and grammar errors. Citations are absent or incomplete.

    IF nothing is submitted, the grade is 0.

    Position Paper

    Another type of writing that is integral to the process of ToK is the position paper.

    A position paper is your chance to communicate in writing your personal viewpoint and personal learning as they relate specifically to the course readings and in-class discussions and the ideas contained therein. A good position paper will artfully make a connection between these ideas and your own experience. A position paper is intended to be a transformative experience. The texts and discussions, the artifacts alone, have no personal meaning; they is given personal meaning by you. You are being asked to transform the new experience into a context that is meaningful to you, born of the interaction between you and the ideas.

    A position paper is not intended to be a comprehension test, a text review, (i.e. "I really enjoyed the...) or a rehashing of the content or discussion (i.e. this happened, and then that happened"). It should be in your voice and while not formal, should adhere to linguistic conventions. Cliched language and hypothetical examples should be replace with precise language and personal examples. Your instructor (me) is familiar with the subject, and is interested in discerning how deeply you have thought about the concepts, values, belief systems and attitudes that exist at the heart of the ideas. A position paper is a personal statement of one's epistemology, even of one's own experience. It is relaxed, clear, uncensored.

    The purpose of ToK discussions and readings are to explore an idea, or highlight a position or a set of beliefs or values. Your first task in a position paper is to identify what you think these are. This conveys not only that you have read the text or engaged in the discussion, but how well you have evaluated its content. Your second task it to reflect on the points, positions, and values you have identified. Spend time with the concepts and discern whether that perspective is aligned with your own experience or not. Whatever you discover in reflecting on the concepts and how it relates to your own position and values becomes the raw material for addressing the final task of the position paper.

    Within the written paper, the third task is to describe the outcome of the process mentioned above. Specifically address how the reading or disucussion's perspective and you own interweave. Do they agree? Are they similar in some way? Are they at odds? What is the conflict? How has seeing things from others' perspectives changed (or reaffirmed) your own viewpoint? Tell why all of this is so.

    In short, a good position paper answers the following questions:

    l. What (meanings, values, etc.) were explored by the reading/discussion?
    2. What is my personal position relative to the reading/discussion?
    3. How has reflecting on the reading/discussion affected my lived world experience?

    Position papers will be marked against the Position Paper Rubric.


  • IB Diploma Programme | Theory of knowledge guide (2015)