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No. 48, November 2003

 
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Hyperlinks for presentations: an interview with Manjula Salomon

by Manjula Salomon
Jakarta International School, Jakarta, Indonesia

Written by Lena Rotenberg, Forum editor

From the Editor: At the IBAEM conference for experienced TOK teachers held in Oxford in September 2001, I had the privilege of attending Manjula Salomon's session on presentations. Her approach was so innovative--and so surprisingly different from what she had submitted to Forum only a few months earlier ("Follow-up: The Jakarta model", 45, November 2001)--that I've been anxious to make it known to a wider audience. Below is Manjula's approach in the form of an interview conducted over the telephone in July 2003. Tested by two years in the classroom, her methods continue to impress me, even more so than they did when I first heard of them.

(Whenever "he," "him," or "his" is used, please mentally include "she," "her," or "hers.")


LR: What are the benefits of the presentation as part of the TOK assessment?

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 voyage.

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 did.

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 course.

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 approach.

LR: When exactly do you have students conduct presentations for assessment purposes?

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" document.

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" document?

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" document.

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 and passions.)

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 step?

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.


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