The IB Approaches to Teaching: practices with and without technology

Back in December, I published a sort of cryptic tweet that this post is a wonderful opportunity to expand on now, particularly in light of our recent Twitter chat on Approaches to Teaching.

ISSpresso is the first coffee machine in space, and it was made in collaboration with Lavazza and the (who else!) Italian Space Agency. If you’re a teacher reading this, you’re thinking that having coffee in the ISS is as important as rocket fuel. As it turns out, astronauts agree.


Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti drinking espresso out of the cup on ISS, 2015. Photo courtesy of NASA.

As it turns out, the coffee astronauts were given for decades wasn’t very good. Enter Lavazza and their coffee-brewing expertise. But while the goal was the same (to provide a tasty espresso), the conditions were different: zero-gravity conditions alter how the coffee and water behave. There were also other issues, like minimizing weight, waste, and creating a multi-function device that could also brew coffee (kind of like our smartphones can also make phone calls). The same outcome with different ways of getting there given the conditions.

I wasn’t making coffee, I was teaching

In February 2020, already exiled in Thailand for what would be a 6-week period, I began online teaching. Before I began planning my first lesson, I felt I needed to reflect on what I believed as an educator, so that I could stay true to it in this new set of conditions. What I arrived at was an earlier iteration of this:

A year later, here are some of my specific reflections on each of those Approaches to Teaching. I find them applicable to online and face-to-face learning.

N.B.: it’s important to distinguish Approaches to Teaching (how teachers teach) from Approaches to Learning (how students learn) and assessment (how we collect evidence of student learning).

Below is a compilation of strategies and resources I have used in connection to the Approaches to Teaching. 

Teaching that is designed to remove barriers to learning

Potential signs of implementation: students can access resources in a variety of ways (language, readability, and format); students can use a variety of tools, media, and resources to learn.

Teaching is inclusive and values diversity. It affirmsstudents’ identities, and aims to create learning opportunities that enable every student to develop and pursue appropriate personal goals.” – What is an IB education?

Recently I noticed the change in the way this Approach to Teaching (ATT) is worded. It used to be about differentiation — the identification of student learning differences and the supply of scaffolds to bridge that gap. The new wording, particularly ‘removal of barriers’, indicates the shift towards a Universal Design for Learning mindset when it comes to helping students learn. Notice the (non-exclusive) focus on removing barriers versus ‘fixing’ the challenges within students themselves. Do you see how the boxes are still there if students feel they need them?

Resource #1: Identifying the readability level of a resource.

Readability Score lets teachers identify the reading level before assigning it as a resource; it also lets students assess the difficulty of an article before committing to reading it.

Resource #2: Audio recordings of resources

One of the types of resources I began to create is audio recordings to go with any readings. I use Quicktime to record the audio in one read, blunders and all, and then use iMovie to edit them out for a smooth finished product. I suspect Screencast-o-matic would serve the same purpose. Added bonus: knowing how much it takes you to read an article can give you an insight into how much time it might take the students to read it.

Students can scan the QR code to access the reading on their mobile devices, click the link on the slide to read it off their computer screen, or click the speaker icon to listen to the beautiful sound of my voice read the article to them.

Resource #3: Scaffolding video resources

Next time you’re next to a teenager using Youtube, pay attention to how they interact with the platform. If they’re anything like the teenagers I have worked with, you’ll notice they watch the video 5-seconds at a time, with their right hand atop the right arrow key, ready to skip 5-10 seconds of the video. EdPuzzle resolves some of that anxiety by breaking the video up and letting the teacher add questions and reflection prompts. I find it better than showing a video from the front of the room because it lets students take more or less time during those pauses to understand what the point of the video is. Check out this example from one I’ve used with my Theory of Knowledge class.

Teaching that is informed by assessment

Potential signs of implementation: teachers collect many data points during a term, both large and small; there is anecdotal evidence collected by the teacher throughout the term; individual conferencing, change of pace, and other micro-decisions about teaching made using data. Feedback to students is used as feedforward.

Assessment plays a crucial role in supporting, as well as measuring, learning. This approach also recognizes the crucial role of providing students with effective feedback.” – What is an IB education?

Resource #1: Monitor progress visually

Learning for me is a team sport. It’s important for everyone (team, team leader, and self) to know where everyone is. It requires a conversation about what it means to ‘be behind’ — one that is about support structures and moving forward rather than punishment and shame. If someone is ahead of the curve, it gives them a chance to take a breath, take a break, and/or offer to help others.

Resource #2: Short, low-risk assessments (for learning)

There are a number of strategies that could be used here. Exit tickets and short quizzes corrected using online forms (GoogleForms and MS Forms, for instance) are my favorites.

Resource #3: Audio feedback and whole-class feedback

I started exploring the use of Mote for giving feedback on written work. I like how my speaking to the student feels more friendly than when I write the feedback, no matter how I frame it. Something about the tone of voice, I imagine. I am also curious about Whole-Class Feedback — even though the article frames it as a ‘time saver’, I appreciate students taking ownership of the feedback that’s applicable to them in a reflective process.

Resource #4: Mentimeter

Even though the free version only allows for two slides, it’s a powerful tool for collecting live data during a class. Some of the question types allow complex information to be collected, which aligns with the type of complex thinking I, as the team leader, am looking for to inform my teaching.

In my Grade 11 Theory of Knowledge class, I was able to gauge the students’ perceptions in real-time to help me frame the start of the unit.

Teaching that is focused on effective teamwork and collaboration


Potential signs of implementation: students are the ones doing the talking most of the time. Students are busy, but not necessarily working on the same part of a problem. The class might have a challenge or task (problem-based learning). The teacher acts as a mentor, advisor, or team leader, rather than the source of knowledge.

This includes promoting teamwork and collaboration between students, but also refers to the collaborative relationship between teachers and students.”  – What is an IB education?

Resource #1: Jigsaws

This is one of my favorite routines for many reasons. It’s easy to keep track of time and it gets students to work in more than one team. The breakout room features in Zoom and this extension for Chrome/GoogleMeet can help make it happen during online learning. Here’s basically how it works. It ranks 7th in Hattie’s effect size list.

Resource #2: Visible-thinking routines that focus on collaboration

The Power of Making Thinking Visible has many new strategies and a chapter focused on routines that focus on collaboration. It’s a great resource to avoid “jigsaw fatigue” and introduce some new ways of working together. The Leaderless Discussion is one that I’m eager to try next. One of the lighthouses of #IBBio on Twitter, Juliana Agostino, has tried one of them recently, as well.

Resource #3: Problem/Project-based learning (see below)

Teaching that is based on inquiry

Potential signs of implementation: students are learning content to answer a question or respond to a challenge. Learning happens from a variety of resources, and not just the teacher. Students create products that need rendering resources — the answer is not immediately given to students.

A strong emphasis is placed on students finding their own information and constructing their own understandings.” – What is an IB education?

Resource #1: Text-rendering protocol

This strategy requires students to read a text to decide what portions are most meaningful to them, and then defend them. It’s a more constructivist approach than having the teacher decide what is the most important element of the text. Also a great alternative to Jigsaws and collaborative visual thinking routines.

Slide from my Theory of Knowledge class breaking down the steps of the text-rendering protocol.

Resource #2: Drawings

Whenever I have a process I want students to know, I usually find a couple of animations on Youtube of varying degrees of difficulty. I explain the difference between them and let students choose. In small groups, and using the erasable surfaces on their desks, I ask them to draw a stationary version of what is shown in the video. It’s also fantastic to have students compare their drawings and see what nodes and links they have in common and which ones are missing. I love that every student will ‘have a go‘ regardless of their artistic abilities; I enjoy seeing the artists, some of whom sometimes struggle in Science class, see it as an opportunity to learn in a way they enjoy and are good at.

Resource #3: Patient problem-solving

Meye’sr arguments on the better way of teaching Mathematics are applicable, I find, to all subjects. But especially in the Sciences (though not because of their mathiness). My favorite is the notion that students should be involved in creating the steps for problem-solving, which includes figuring out which questions are worth asking. I’ve put this through the test when students built mesocosms, a self-sustainable, sealed environment that can survive indefinitely. That’s the challenge. The questions that students then came up with include: What needs to go in there? What kind of plants? How much water? How do we model the soil and its layers? Should we add any animals to it as well?

Teaching that is developed in global and local contexts


Potential signs of implementation: students and teachers make frequent references to things happening in the local community or the world at large; students and teachers can particularly the ‘why’, or the relevance of the learning to a situation outside of school.

Teaching uses real-life contexts and examples, and students are encouraged to process new information by connecting it to their own experiences and to the world around them.” – What is an IB education?

Resource #1: Curate a social media playlist

Powers’ (2014) PhD thesis at the University of Maryland investigated where different age groups get their news from (Table 12 below). Unsurprisingly, social media ranks highly. This is convenient because it doesn’t need the user to search for the news — it uses algorithms to volunteer news you might be interested in. The key, here, is to play the algorithm to your favor: instead of letting social media sites decide what it shows you based on the content you interact with, follow accounts that will add value to your feed.

Teachers play an important role here in curating and sharing accounts worth following. It’s important to go beyond the @BBC and @CNN. Instead, cast a wide but specific net. Following @banksy is better than following @BBCArts, which is better than following @BBC. If you follow @theoatmeal you might have come across how a cartoonist deals with grief.

Your local community is also full of social media accounts that can provide news on projects and initiatives that can provide a local context for any class. It can also lead to service-learning opportunities action by students.

The local chapter of an African NGO trains rats to detect landmines — a negative legacy from Cambodia’s war-torn days.

Resource #2: Invite guest speakers to your class – even remotely.

Skype in the Classroom (now defunct?) was a great resource for finding guest speakers. We connected with a Penguin Rescue Center in South Africa to talk about plastic pollution. In the debrief, students showed concern for the state of our oceans. When I asked them why this speaker (whom they had never met) had a great impression on them, they had to explain to me why: “Mr. Mello, she was holding a penguin!”. We were also able to get first-hand accounts of what’s happening with some of the world’s oceans.

Professionals are always cool to give students some context. I also thought it was pretty clever of Hiba El Majzoub (@Hiba_mba) to bring in the author of a series of Chemistry videos that most IB kids will have seen. It’s clever because it’s a very personal context for kids, who might have spent a lot of time interacting with these resources.

Teaching that is focused on conceptual understanding

Potential signs of implementation: students can make conceptual connections to other disciplines and situations; students and teachers can articulate another ‘why’, the relevance of learning to ‘big picture’ ideas, like Power, Relationships, or Evidence.

Concepts are explored in order to both deepen disciplinary understanding and to help students make connections and transfer learning to new contexts.” – What is an IB education?

Resource #1: Hexagonal thinking

Jennifer Gonzalez from Cult of Pedagogy (@CultOfPedagogy) has a podcast episode and blog post explaining this strategy, including a how-to video by Betsy Potash for making the deck for online lessons. On Twitter, it seems like most teachers have been using this as a review strategy; I wonder if the value of this strategy isn’t higher in the learning stages, instead (or in addition to) of the review/recall stage.

Resource #2: Mindmapping connections

I also see teachers using the hexagonal thinking strategy above with terms from class (“photosynthesis”), and I wonder if there is a difference between its use with concepts (big picture terms) only. I have used a similar mind mapping strategy with seniors for review with a mix of concepts and subject-specific terms (where students provided both the ‘nodes’ and the ‘connections’). There is a subtle difference here from hexagonal thinking: the nodes are fixed (they don’t move), and they can make connections to more than two other concepts or terms. The focus seems to be on extending and explaining multiple connections to identify ‘super concepts’. In hexagonal thinking, the focus seems to be on manipulating concepts to form a pair or trio, explain the one connection, and repeat.

Resource #3: Make the concepts of your subject visible

What are the main concepts in your subject? In #IBBio there used to be an actual list; now they’re kind of hidden in the syllabus and need to be extracted. In the current Sciences guides, they’re better represented by the Nature of Science statements, which invite teachers and students to connect the content to concepts like serendipity, diligence, perseverance, and creativity. It might take a bit of detective work, but in order to teach conceptually, we need to know what the concepts are!

The concepts in the 2022 Theory of Knowledge course are given in the guide.


Approaches to Teaching – is this ‘the list’?

I feel these Approaches to Teaching, the pedagogical pillars as identified by the IB, are not the final word on what constitutes good teaching. There is room for more! I think teaching that incorporates student voice and choice, teaching for literacy (we’re all language teachers!), teaching for information and digital literacy, and teaching through technology are some of the more glaring omissions. What would you add to this list?



One thought on “The IB Approaches to Teaching: practices with and without technology

  1. Hi Luiz! Thank you for putting this together. As I was reading I felt myself nodding my head in agreement and thinking YEP! You have done a really nice job of breaking it into smaller concepts (ATTs) with helpful resources and tools than enrich these Approaches to Teaching. I really value that you always start with teaching and learning first before thinking about the tools or ideas that move the T&L to the next level. Keeping that in mind is crucial. Thank you!

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