Written by Chantelle Buchanan, The English College in Prague
IBDP: Building Clarity and Structure
A quick web search will provide insight into the level of stress and anxiety IBDP students feel about the ‘tremendous workload’ they face. A quick look at the various online IB educator forums will highlight the stress and anxiety they feel about the Internal Assessments (IAs). A quick query of IBDP leaders will likely feature concerns about and efforts to reduce this pressure for their stakeholders: students, teachers and parents alike. “A deeper issue underlying these complaints (about the pressures of the IBDP) is the need to learn how to manage the stress of a very high workload, and to experiment with coping strategies for how to deal with stress in a positive and healthy way” (Levis) Of course, various programmes such as Induction Days, pastoral care, tutors, supervisors, documents, assemblies can help to alleviate the underlying issues (e.g., lack of understanding about the demands of the IBDP, lack of clarity about what is expected in each assessment, how to cope with challenging situations and where to look for support); however, by establishing a clear structure for completing various IB-related tasks matched with a support programme to help along the way – all stakeholders can face the IBDP with increased clarity and a more realistic perspective, thus reducing anxiety for all involved. When we wanted to reduce stress, we determined the key causes and it was clear that completing the IA process was a primary issue for students and teachers. To improve the efficacy of the IBDP Deadlines programme, we turned to our school systems (e.g., ManageBac, iSAMS, TurnItIn, whole-school calendar) and community for ideas, direction and sense of what was possible. It was a few years ago that we made the ‘big change’ and since have tightened and tweaked the process (and still are). There are four key areas to focus on when looking to strengthen the coursework programme: planning, communication, consistency, support.
- Analyse the current deadline programme objectively and thoroughly
- Does it consider . . .
- ‘Crunch times’ (holidays, school events, grading cycles)
- Curricula differences
- draft and final submissions
- any middle leaders that might be more willing to adjust to gain buy-in
My favourite memory: The IB Director and me in a conference room with blank monthly calendars, curricula maps and coloured markers trying to determine what was needed and when in the 18 months they could be done. Key element of our programme: very few changes are made to the basic draft and final IB deadline structure for each new IBDP cohort; however, Heads of Faculty and Upper School Team have time to review the programme before the full list of IBDP internal deadlines are published during IB Induction.
- Audit your systems to determine how each can support the process and add clarity
- Do you have a method to . . .
- gather input from stakeholders about what they are comfortable with
- inform stakeholders about deadlines at the start of the IBDP
- increase buy-in
- notify relevant parties when deadlines are missed
My favourite memory: DP2 students leading a Staff Inset on the importance of using ManageBac to set tasks – the difference was noticeable on the ManageBac calendar by the end of the week. Key element of our programme: all IB-related tasks are colour-coded and on the ManageBac calendar.
- Design a reliable and predictable system
- Do you have a . . .
- specific time for submissions
- set of steps to cope with sub-par and unsubmitted work
- method to track progress
My favourite memory: sitting in an Upper School Team meeting after the Spring holiday sharing stories of our time with family and friends rather than how frustrated we were about how much we worked and how tight our IA submissions were to our IBIS deadlines. Key element of our programme: submissions are on Sunday evening on ManageBac, relevant stakeholders are informed early in the week about sub-par/unsubmitted work, and students have a week to access the support they need and submit the work on ManageBac.
- Ensure the student and staff wellbeing are at the core of the programme along with attainment
- Do you provide . . .
- adequate turn-around time for feedback, marking, paperwork
- a boundary on how long a piece of work can remain unfinished
- structure to provide guidance or intervene including clear escalation protocols
My favourite memory: a particular IBDP student and her family thanking us for ensuring she had the framework to get support to submit her IAs and how healthy she felt and looked. Key element of our programme: iSAMS features are used to notify stakeholders of concerns/actions wherein the pastoral, academic and leadership groups have roles to support students and no piece of work should remain sub-par/unsubmitted after 5 weeks. Each year we have fewer students submitting late work, improved attendance rates, less significant interventions, less time spent discussing IA issues with departments and more time able to be spent on improving the skills and depth of knowledge needed to maximise each student’s IBDP.
In addition to providing a clear yet empathetic framework for all to work within, we are modelling how a community can actively support each other to be realistic, accountable and healthy.
For an engaging perspective about the role of deadlines take a small chunk of time to watch the TED Talk by Tim Urban: ‘Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator.’
Additional Resources: Levis, Eleonora. “Making Sense of Stress.” News from around the IB Community, International Baccalaureate Organization, 7 Feb. 2018, blogs.ibo.org/blog/2018/02/07/making-sense-of-success/.
Having worked in the US, UK and Europe, Chantelle has designed curricula and systems in various qualification programmes. Although an artist at heart, Chantelle embraces technology to enhance the teaching and learning process. She focuses on ensuring data is accessible and useful for all stakeholders as well as building systems with clear communication pathways, stakeholder support, and a balanced approach. As an advocate of life-long learning and collaboration, she is a Teaching & Learning Group Leader at ECP and founding member of WomenEdCzech (a part of the UK-based grassroots organisation). She has led workshops, presented at conferences and advises schools on increasing the efficacy of systems to support learning in their schools.