History at IB Level: Russel Tarr Introduces the New International Baccalaureate, Assessing Its Advantages and Disadvantages Compared with A Levels
Tarr, Russel, History Review
From Autumn 2009 history teachers at International Baccalaureate level will be delivering a new syllabus. With IB becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to A-Level study, this is therefore a good time to review what exactly IB entails.
History at IB is a two-year course which, unlike the AS/A2 model, has no external assessment element midway through the course. Students choose to study History either at Standard Level or at Higher Level. All of these students produce an Internal Assessment (IA) on a topic of their choice during the course, and sit for two examination papers: Paper 1 consists of four sourcework questions, whilst Paper 2 requires students to write two essays. Higher Level students additionally have to study some extra topics for Paper 3, which involves the production of a further three essays. This means that the overall grade for Standard Level and Higher Level students is calculated differently:
Assessment Grid for IB History Standard Higher Level Level Internal Assessment 25% 20% Paper 1 (60 mins) 30% 20% Paper 2 (90 mins) 45% 25% Paper 3 (150 mins) 35%
At the time of writing, the IB board has not made available any sample papers for the new syllabus. However, it is unlikely that they will substantially change the existing approach of each paper. With this qualification in mind, up until now Paper 1 has consisted of five accessible sources; written sources are rarely more than 200 words long, and there is usually at least one visual source such as a cartoon or photograph among these. The four questions, adding up to 25 possible points, follow a predictable format, with a clear mark scheme:
1a. 'Why, according to Source A ...' (3 marks)
1b. 'What message is conveyed by Source B ...' (2 marks)
2. 'Compare and contrast the views expressed by Sources C and D ...' (6 marks)
3. 'With reference to their origins and purpose, assess the values and limitation of source A & D to this historian studying ...' (6 marks)
4. 'Using the sources and your own knowledge, explain to what extent you agree that ...' (8 marks).
This examination paper is traditionally divided into five sections of five questions each. Students will be required to answer two questions chosen from different sections of the paper, hence the requirement that students study at [east two of these topic sections in depth (see below). The five questions within each section will range from the narrowly specific ('To what extent was the rise to power of either Hitler or Mao due to personal appeal and ability?') to the very open-ended ('Assess the importance of ideology for rulers of twentieth-century single party states'). Another popular style of question in Paper 2 involves the comparison of different regions ('Analyse the foreign policy of two rulers of single-party states, each chosen from a different region'). This genuinely synoptic approach to History--chronologically, geographically and thematically--is one of the most challenging but stimulating aspects of the IB course.
Only Higher Level students sit this paper. The IB board produces several Paper 3 examination papers, each of which tests knowledge of a different world region (for example Europe and the Middle East, the Americas). The teacher will declare in advance which of these papers his or her students will be sitting--in my case, I teach towards the European paper. The paper consists of a list of 25 essay questions covering up to 200 years, from which candidates must answer three. In contrast to Paper 2, these questions are not organised into themes, and are not particularly synoptic in nature: instead, they are in-depth questions on particular topics ('What were the main causes of the Spanish Civil War?', 'Compare the roles of Trotsky and Lenin in the October Revolution and the formation of the Soviet State to 1924').
The Internal Assessment
This personal study of 1500-2000 words is often the most enjoyable part of the course for many students. It is divided into very clear sections--an introduction, a summary of evidence, an evaluation of sources, an analysis and so on-each of which has a recommended word limit and its own clear mark scheme. In comparison to many A-Level personal studies, the topic theme for the Internal Assessment (IA) does not need to be confined to the period, region or themes being tested in the external examinations. Students may be working towards an exam focusing heavily on Modern European History, but could choose as their IA a question on Medieval Asian History. In the past, popular choices of study have been based around novels, films or works of art ('How useful is the art of George Grosz to the historian of Weimar Germany?') or personal interviews ('Does oral testimony substantiate the view that life in East Germany got worse following the fall of Nazism?'), but more studies based on more traditional themes ('How significant was Harriet Tubman in the American abolition movement?') are also perfectly acceptable.
Before the introduction of the new syllabus one of the criticisms of the IB was that it only allowed for the study of Modern History. In the new syllabus, however, teachers must decide whether to follow Route 1 (Medieval / Early Modern) or Route 2 (Modern).
Route 1 (Islamic & European History c500-1600)
Route 1 is a completely new syllabus of study that has been made available to teachers desperate to allow their students to escape from the tyranny of Modern History that dominates most GCSE courses.
* Paper 1 (sourcework) requires students to study either The Origins and Rise of Islam c500-661, or The Kingdom of Sicily 1130-1302.
* Paper 2 (essays) requires students to study at least two of the following five topics:
1. Dynasties and rulers
2. Society and economy
3. Wars and warfare
4. Intellectual, cultural and artistic developments
5. Religion and the state
* Paper 3 (essays) requires students to study at least three of the following twelve topics:
1. Christianity c500-1300
2. The Fatimids 909-1171
3. Monarchies in England and France 1066-1223
4. The Crusades 1095-1291
5. The Mongols 1200-1405
6. Muslim, Christian and Jewish Interactions in Spain, 711-1492
7. Emperors and Kings 1150-1300
8. Late Medieval Political Crises 1300-1485
9. 14th Century Famine, Pestilence and Social Change
10. The Ottomans 1281-1566
11. Renaissance Government and Society in Italy 1300-1500
12. New Horizons: Exploration 1400-1550
Observations on Route 1:
Many teachers expected that the new Route 1 would roughly equate to the Early Modern topics popular at A-Level: The Renaissance, The Reformation, the Ottoman Empire, The Tudors and so on. Instead, Route 1 has turned out to be much more medieval and much less Eurocentric. In addition, Paper 1 involves a compulsory study on one of two topics neither of which is either well-resourced or prominent in the popular consciousness of teenage students. As such it is unlikely that many schools will be choosing this particular route, either in the UK or in the Middle East--where teachers have expressed concern that a historically critical approach to the study of the growth of Islam is impossible without running the risk of imprisonment. Sadly these concerns and others went unheeded and there is a good chance that Route 1 will serve no purpose except to allow the IB board to claim that they offer a chronologically broad course--which is perhaps what the idea was all along.
Route 2 (20th Century World History)
Route 2 has much in common with the old IB syllabus, being a Modern History course, although with some significant differences.
* Paper 1 (sourcework) requires students to have studied either Peacemaking, peacekeeping--international relations 1918-36 or The Arab-Israeli conflict 1945-79 or Communism in crisis 1976-89.
* Paper 2 (essays) requires students to study at least two of the following five topics. Within each of the two topics chosen, teachers are encouraged to focus on material taken from at least two of the four regions (Europe & Middle East, Africa, Americas, Asia & Oceania)
1. Causes, practices and effects of wars: e.g. both World Wars, Spanish Civil War, Chinese Civil War
2. Democratic states--challenges and responses: e.g. Nehru, Weimar Germany, Mandela.
3. Origins and development of authoritarian and single-party states: e.g. Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Castro
4. Nationalist and independence movements in Africa and Asia and post-1945 Central and Eastern European states: e.g. Gandhi, Ho Chi Minh, Mugabe, Walesa, Havel.
5. The Cold War: e.g. Yalta, Potsdam, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, Cuba and Vietnam, the breakup of the Soviet Union.
* Paper 3 (essays) requires students to study one of the following regional options in depth. Each option is broken down into twelve topics of which students are expected to study three.
1. Aspects of the History of Africa 1800-2000
2. Aspects of the History of the Americas 1760-2000
3. Aspects of the History of Asia and Oceania 1770-2000
4. Aspects of the History of Europe and the Middle East 1750-2000
For example, the twelve topics within the final (European) regional option listed here are as follows:
1. The French Revolution and Napoleon
2. Unification and Consolidation of Germany and Italy
3. The Ottoman Empire
4. Western and Northern Europe 1848-1914
5. Imperial Russia, Revolutions, Emergence of Soviet State 1853-1924
6. European Diplomacy and the First World War 1870-1923
7. War and Change in the Middle East 1914-49
8. Interwar Years: Conflict and Cooperation 1919-39
9. The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe 1924-2000
10. The Second World War and Post-War Western Europe 1939-2000
11. Post-War Developments in the Middle East 1945-2000
12. Social and Economic Developments in Europe and the Middle East
Observations on Route 2:
For most current teachers of IB, the new syllabus will require an adjustment to rather than a complete overhaul of existing schemes of work, although the opportunity now exists to bring in units of study on the Middle East. The biggest change is to Paper 1, which previously involved the study of either Stalin or Mao or the Cold War. Paper 2 has been changed less drastically: most topics studied by schools such as the World Wars, Communist and Fascist dictatorships and the Cold War still have a central place in the new examination. Nevertheless, there are some important changes here too: in particular, it is no longer possible to study international organisations such as the League of Nations and the UN in the new, narrower topic on 'multiparty states', although conversely Eastern Europe has now been incorporated into the topic of 'Nationalist and Independence Movements'. Lenin and Mussolini have disappeared as recommended figures in the study of single-party states, and the old topic 6 ('The State and its Relationship with Minorities') has been quietly dropped--although to be fair it was never popular anyway.
Structuring the Course
Taking the IB course offers its own particular challenges and opportunities. Firstly, the fact that there is no midcourse external assessment comparable to the AS/A2 model is something that will suit some teachers and students more than others. Secondly, IB teachers have to organise a course that acknowledges that some students within the class will be studying at Standard Level, whilst others will also be working towards the extra paper required for the Higher Level examination. Some teachers--myself included--therefore lean towards teaching Paper 3 (Higher Level) topics that are also tested in Paper 2 (Standard Level & Higher Level) in order to reduce the overall workload of the Higher Level candidates. Nevertheless some selected topics will only be relevant for Paper 2; there will also be others that are only relevant to Higher Level candidates sitting Paper 3, and on these occasions Standard Level students need to be given free study time.
http://occ.ibo.org--The IB Online Curriculum Center, providing past papers, a discussion forum and guidance to history teachers
www.ibhistory.net--A curriculum grid, suggested approaches and study guides for students and teachers of IB History
http://historyowiki.wikispaces.com/--I use this wiki to provide each student at the International School of Toulouse with an area for writing their Internal Assessment and receiving feedback: it gives a clear idea of the sorts of questions that have been chosen and how the study is marked. Such wikis are free to set up and allow teachers to compare drafts quickly and efficiently as well as to keep a clear 'audit trail' of the development of the study. A real timesaver!
Russel Tarr is Head of History at the International School of Toulouse, author of the website www.activehistory.co.uk and author of the third edition of Luther and the German Reformation, in the Access to History series.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: History at IB Level: Russel Tarr Introduces the New International Baccalaureate, Assessing Its Advantages and Disadvantages Compared with A Levels. Contributors: Tarr, Russel - Author. Journal title: History Review. Issue: 61 Publication date: September 2008. Page number: 28+. © 1999 History Today Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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