LR: What are the benefits of the presentation as part of the TOK
MS: First, the presentation is an opportunity for the student
to engage in his own personal TOK journey, as opposed to admiring the
teacher's journey: every student gets to present a topic he is interested
in. Second, at Jakarta International School (JIS) we use the presentation
as a preparation for the essay. The student will engage in the same
process in the essay as he did in the presentation, except that in Criterion
C Links are stressed instead of Knowledge at Work. Third, the presentation
is a self-evaluation for the student. His commitment and the current
stage of his TOK journey become evident to all, including himself. Thus
I use the term "hyperlinks," which are places from which we
can make non-linear leaps into other places. The TOK presentation hyperlinks
to the essay, to TOK generally, and to the student's own intellectual
LR: Many teachers I have spoken with have students do the presentation
after they write their essay. Why do you do it differently?
MS: At JIS, we TOK teachers work as a team, and our policy is
not to give students a lot of time to work on their essays. They first
see the prescribed title list on a Monday, and the final essay is due
two weeks later. Each student needs to decide, very quickly, where his
strengths and interests lie.
As the student develops the presentation several things become clear
to him and to the teacher: what he is interested in, the knowledge justifications
he prefers, the methodological issues he'll raise, and the underlying
assumptions he is aware of. I tell students to choose the prescribed
title that explores the same strengths as their presentation. The student's
passion for the presentation can be borrowed for the essay, allowing
him to develop arguments that go further and deeper than his presentation
For example, a passion for the natural sciences demonstrated in the
presentation can easily be transferred to the essay and lead to a "purposeful
enquiry," a strong analytical approach, and original examples (which
are not required, but are always appreciated by examiners).
LR: So, how many presentations do students make at JIS?
MS: Each student makes two or three mini-presentations throughout
The first mini-presentation happens on the first week of class. I divide
the students into groups of three, and ask them to draw, on the board,
a diagram of what knowledge looks like, using only 6-8 words. Each student
then explains their group's diagram to the class. Students laugh with
representations of knowledge such as a river with streams as tributaries,
or a tree with branches and roots. By the second or third class, everyone
has already made an individual 3-4 minute oral presentation: the TOK
class already belongs to them. Another advantage is that I use this
exercise as a diagnostic tool: I immediately learn who is shy and who
is dominant or articulate.
As the course progresses, I ask two or three students to make mini-presentations
on each unit. The questions for these are usually taken from the Theory
of Knowledge Subject Guide. For example, two students may make a
presentation about the "scientific method," each taking 3
minutes. The first student might describe the "method," and
the second might present its limits, using a claim and counter-claim
LR: When exactly do you have students conduct presentations for
MS: Our school follows the May exam schedule. Starting in mid-November,
I have two groups conduct presentations every other day, for two weeks.
I allow groups of 2, 3 or 4 students. I don't encourage singles but
sometimes have them.
LR: Please explain the "Hyperlinks for Presentations"
MS: I explain to students the ideas contained in the Hyperlinks
for Presentations document, then provide students with a blank
form that contains only the headings.
The first thing I ask students to do is to write a tentative question,
which their presentation will answer. (At the end of the exercise they
revisit and rewrite this question.)
The top left rectangle focuses student attention on "Knowledge
at Work," a requirement of the presentation topic that distinguishes
it from the essay. In that rectangle students explain how their topic
is a concrete issue that they feel passionate about..
The top right rectangle focuses student attention on problems of knowledge
(PoKs), which should be at the core of every presentation. There, students
list the PoKs they've identified in regard to their concrete issue.
On the bottom half of the page students describe how they're going
to approach the topic.
LR: What's the "refined question" that students are asked
to provide, at the bottom of the "Hyperlink for Presentations"
MS: At the bottom of the document students are asked to state
their "refined question," which is the desired result of this
exercise. I require that every presentation be an answer to a well-formulated
question that is narrow enough to be treated in the time allotted for
the presentation in class (10 minutes per student). The question format
directs everyone towards the knowledge issues. Current events are not
to be used without concern for PoKs.
LR: How do your students pick their presentation topics?
MS: Three months in advance I start collecting newspapers and
magazines. On the lesson prior to the day students pick presentation
topics, I walk students through the "Hyperlinks to Presentations"
I give students one hour, in class, to choose a topic. I bring the
printed matter into class, just in case students have forgotten to bring
their own, and give each student a blank version of Hyperlinks
to Presentations. I ask them to look at the magazines and find a
topic that ignites their passion. I ask them, "What article in
these publications produces a strong reaction in you? What topic makes
you angry, joyous, or glad to be a girl, or an athlete, or a Korean,
or a musician? What was the last issue that made you feel eager, angry,
anxious, concerned, or helpless? When was the last time you heard something
in the news that troubled you? What's worth living for or dying for
among these issues?" This is the first step to their identifying
a question to use as a presentation topic: they need to find something
they find worthy of putting their minds to. (A further advantage of
these questions is that just by asking them, students are able to see
me as a person who is as human as they are; I too have uncertainties
If they can't answer these questions immediately, I have them search
for inspiration within the printed materials. At this point there are
papers all over the classroom. Some students are examining the print
materials, some are filling out the form, some are talking to each other.
Groups are forming in the chemistry of the classroom.
I help put groups together, which requires a high level of diplomacy.
When groups come forward I ask them why they wish to work together.
A common answer is that group members have free time in which they can
work together such as a study hall, or they might already be intellectual
friends. I may suggest that another student join them because he could
help them with a certain argument, or provide a different point of view.
Or I may suggest a topic to someone. More rarely, I separate two people
when I know that they have certain habits, by telling them that I'd
like them to work in a different way: I coax them into forming different
groups. For example, I've had two boys wanting to treat pornography
as an art form, and asked them if they could find a girl to join them.
They could not, and had to change topic.
Most students have a topic by the end of the hour. Some pick up on
the following day, or decide that they need another person, or that
their topic is too large. With eighteen students in my class I can use
this method. If the class is larger, I can identify emergent themes
and organize students into groups. In crowded classrooms people are
more open to suggestions, and whine less--as if they know that Mom only
has a limited amount of patience.
LR: (Laughing) Yes, in Oxford you identified our emergent themes
and put thirty of us in groups in about 15 minutes! So, what's the next
MS: The next step is an idea I stole from Bill Roberts, reading
his article in Forum ["Tick of TOK: Approaches to presentations",
45, November 2001], which my colleague Bill Brown field-tested
with me. In the next class I have students bring a poster of the "Hyperlinks"
for their proposed presentation, and run me through it. Upon seeing
it I have a very good idea of how the presentation will flow: I can
see the gaps, I can see that they don't have an approach, or a common
platform, or counter-arguments, or too wide a question. I'll tell that
to the group, and propose that we meet again after they fix the problems.
LR: Please give me some examples of how this method works.
MS: One of the most enjoyable and content-rich presentations
I've ever witnessed (and that had us all laughing our heads off) focused
on how language forms and creates culture as a central problem of knowledge.
The students' formal question (to which they responded in the presentation)
was, "How does language determine power relations based on status
and gender within a culture? Four case studies."
Two quadrilingual Korean students divided the room into four groups,
consisting of students who spoke English, Korean, Indonesian, or Japanese.
Then they enacted a small dialogue in all four languages: the husband
comes home from work, and the wife asks him if he wants dinner. The
nature of the husband's reply differed in each language, from the English,
"Honey are you hungry, would you like something to eat?" to
the Korean, "I've been waiting for thy self to come in, so that
I may offer you food." The students' thesis was that the relationship
between husband and wife was mirrored in that dialogue. That was the
presenters' beginning device. Then they illustrated three other brief
dialogues, two of which were between a father and his child and between
a boss and his employee. They demonstrated that the workplace relationship
is much friendlier in English than in the other languages, and that
in Indonesian people behave more intimately within the family and more
distantly at work or school.
Then the presenters involved the audience by teaching unknown languages
to students who didn't know them: they made American students bow as
if they were Japanese, and Korean and Japanese students act as if they
were Americans. An excellent analysis followed--much of which continued
to be interactive, "How did you feel when you had to bow?"--and
that included claims and counter-claims. Counter-claims included the
assertion that the husband and wife know they can be intimate despite
the formal words they use, and that "people all over may have a
greater or smaller number of refrigerators in their homes, but the women
all wait just like my mother does."
Another good presentation involved comparing news from Al Jazeera,
the BBC, and an Indonesian station on the opening day of the Iraq war.
Presenters gave everyone a handout to fill out, which they brought from
their Global Studies class. (In Global Studies, in every unit, students
have to evaluate news items from different perspectives.) In TOK, the
central PoK treated was "Which reality is being presented, and
how do you know?"
LR: How do you assess the mini-presentations and the presentation?
MS: I assess the presentation and mini-presentations using the
four criteria set in the TOK Subject Guide. There is no reason
to invent new criteria. I mark them strictly according to the four criteria,
not overly penalizing the presentation that lacks language fluency,
nor overly rewarding the vivacious performance.
Despite the fact that the four criteria are weighted equally, I'm inclined
to favour a good performance in criteria A (Knowledge Issues ) and B
(Quality of Analysis). I think that criterion B is overwhelming: most
students cannot accomplish all that is demanded. Thus, I offer a 5 for
an excellent performance even if implications are noted but not "meticulously
and thoughtfully accounted for" (which sounds like a presentation
on its own). I'm quite strict on criterion C (Knowledge at Work), since
it distinguishes the Presentation from the Essay. Finally, I am more
flexible on criterion D (Clarity), and continually attempt not to impose
my favourite performance style on the students.
As each student presents, I take notes on a pad. I may note, for example,
that the student has spoken very little (though I usually prevent problems
with the "who's doing what" while examining the group's poster
prior to the presentation). At the end of the day I read my notes, consider
them, and recall the presentation, but don't allocate marks until the
next day when I receive the students' self-evaluation forms. The mini-presentations
are counted as a homework grade.
LR: What was the range of marks you gave last year, and what was
the lowest mark you ever gave?
MS: Last year my groups earned 14, 15, 15, 16, and 20 marks.
I've given marks as low as a 12 to a couple of groups that, despite
my guidance, made presentations that had nothing to do with TOK. One
of them was about animal abuse; the students' passion for the subject
transformed the presentation into a journalistic piece. The presentation
was very strong in criteria C and D, but thin on A and B.
LR: Do you ever give a group another go, if something goes seriously
wrong and you know that they're capable of much better?
MS: I have once given a group another go. My colleagues also
agree that second chances should be given when possible. Unfortunately
for us, time constraints don't allow us to do this often. I imagine
that schools that hold all presentations at the very end of the term
have even less opportunities to allow students a second chance.
LR: How do you evaluate this method of conducting the presentation?
MS: First the advantages! By having to speak in public in mini-presentations,
the student is continually aware of where he is in the course-does he
grasp it or not? For the final presentation, I like the fact that students
consciously select an area and approach that they are favoring or moving
towards in their lives. Otherwise they could just be swimming through
the course without having made any selections.
The disadvantages are that some presentations are too lecture-based,
but this could happen with any method. No matter what you do, some students
will rely on an established body of information. Also, the presentation
demands a lot of time, for only a few diploma points. For that reason
at JIS we consider the presentation 20% of the semester grade.