Why IB? (Part II): Student Perspectives

I wrote a post a few months back from the IB Conference of the Americas and made a case as to why school leaders should offer (or at least consider) the IB Program. In doing so, I cited the close link to the CCSS, the growing research on the program, the close-knit “IB Community,” and of course the importance of providing a curriculum that is rooted in international mindedness and real world application. From an educator’s perspective, the IB makes perfect sense and will unquestionably lead to the development of what Dr. Tony Wagner refers to as the all important 21st century “survival” skills. But what do our students have to say? I recently partnered up with DFHS IB Coordinator @meghalberg to interview a group of recent graduates who just completed their first semester in college. In doing so, we asked them to identify the key skills that they acquired from being IB students and how those skills have transferred to the college experience.

Here are the top three skills that our students identified along with a number of related “survival” skills that were touched upon through the course of our discussion:

1) Oral & Written Communication: In addition to the skills that are attained through the writing of the Extended Essay (EE), students in all IB classes are challenged to read, write, and speak from different perspectives and in different forms. This approach not only allows for a more authentic way to assess student understanding, but also provides students with rich experiences that transfer across the disciplines. As an example, one student noted that he had been assigned a paper in art history that consisted of specific writing requirements that were “new” to him. Though he had never written an academic piece on art history as an IB student, the experience and comfort that he had with writing across the disciplines provided him with the foundation to successfully manage and complete the task. Related skills: Adaptability, Analyzing Information, Initiative.

2) Critical Thinking & Problem Solving: Perhaps the greatest feature of the IB curriculum is the emphasis that it places on “ways of knowing” and essentially knowing how to learn. All IB courses use an inquiry-based approach that forces students to think “outside of the box” and from various perspectives via projects, discussions, oral commentaries, and assessments that are authentic and “real world” in nature. Courses such as Theory of Knowledge (TOK) further lead to the development of this all important skill and it was identified by all students as being critical for success at the college level (and beyond!). Related Skills: Collaboration, Initiative, Analyzing Information, Curiosity & Imagination.

3) Time Management: All students cited time management as being a skill that they undoubtedly developed in the IB Program and one that has been instrumental to their success as first semester college students. In addition to the planning and scheduling that is required to balance the workload for each of their respective IB courses, all IB Diploma students complete an Extended Essay (EE) and fulfill a Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) requirement. Both of these endeavors require that students monitor and regulate their individual progress while ensuring that they meet all of the necessary deadlines to the point of completion. This skill is critical for college students as they are typically given inflexible due dates for all papers, projects, and exams right at the beginning of the semester. Without exceptional time management, those tasks will pile up pretty quickly. Related skills: Organization, Initiative, Problem Solving, Adaptability.

Please feel free to add to this discussion by sharing your thoughts on the specific skills that students attain in the IB program. Specific examples and experiences are also welcome!

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