Thinking about affective skills. How effective are they?

By a 3IB English A Language and Literature SL Teacher

Writing for the IB Katfood is an honour. I have often wondered what it is that makes a good English programme work, and over the years I have learned that it is important to maintain a sense of dignity when it comes to academic pursuit. In a day and age in which many of us wonder if an academic path is the right one, it’s my belief and conviction that now, more than ever, scholarship matters. I don’t think students get enough credit for their determination and perseverance in the face of rising tuition hikes around the world and a growing uncertainty at what might be at the other end once they have finished school.

Attitudes and dispositions towards study play a significant role in the success or failure of attempting to complete the IB Diploma. In this edition of the Katfood I wish to draw our attention to an easily missed aspect of what makes the IB student different from others. In this column I hope to explore the IB Approaches to Learning or ATL’s as the IB nomenclature would have it. Before a student even steps into a classroom or attempts an assignment we, perhaps too seldom, acknowledge what kind of strong mental attitude that student has had to cultivate in order to rise to the occasion.

Each student who endeavours to take on any subject will have their own strategies that may be idiosyncratic to them. However, what kinds of strategies and attitudes might we adopt in our learning environments that are proven on the battlefield, so to speak. The ATL’s have been designed to enhance student learning and assist student preparation graduating for the Diploma assessment. What’s more, these approaches and tools are intrinsically linked with the IB learner profile attributes. But do they work? Do they prepare students for what lies beyond their final exams? My answer is yes.

So what are these so-called ATL’s? Where are they? How does one apply them to study in a pragmatic way? The ATL’s in themselves might not be new as practical ways of getting things done, but the IB is special in that it provides a concrete list. We use them everyday, and we hardly ever stop to reflect or check them off. I think one should. A practical thing might just be to print off the PDF and post it beside our desk, and give it a check before closing up shop for the night. To find them one need not do more than plug in a quick Google search for IB ATL’s. There are many PDFs out there all listing five essential skills needed for authentic inquiry-based learning. The five skills are: Thinking, Social, Communication, Self-Management, and Research. Us English teachers, and all of the DP instructors teach students those skills, however in this column I would like to focus on self-management skills, which we can break down into two separate areas. Firstly, organization skills—managing time and tasks effectively, goal setting, and secondly, affective skills—managing state of mind, self-motivation, resilience, and mindfulness.

As I mentioned earlier a strong mental attitude is something that rarely gets acknowledged. Some people might say that you either have it or you don’t. I’m not sure if I agree with that. From what I’ve seen, students who have worked with building affective skills are building states of mind that lead to a greater intrinsic set of values that make them much more resilient in the face of hard work. There’s no secret to success in the IB Diploma that I’ve uncovered, but what I have noticed is that the students who work with affective skills look back at failure as well as success in a way that leaves them less alienated from the outcomes, and gives them greater sense of pride over their own work. In this issue of IB Katfood, I think it’s a good reminder to stop and acknowledge the resilience of our students.