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Teaching the IB Way

By Joe Lumsden,
Deputy Head of School and Secondary School Principal

As we move towards the end of the year, I thought it might be useful to write a quick reminder about what it means to have your children in an IB school. What does it look like in a classroom? What do the teachers do differently? Why is the IB approach so popular around the world?

Stonehill prides itself on not only being an IB school in name, but also in whole-heartedly subscribing to the IB philosophy of teaching.


The IB identifies six ‘Approaches to Teaching’ that should be visible in all IB classrooms from P1(Nursery) to D2(Grade 12). They are as follows:

Based on inquiry. A strong emphasis is placed on students finding their own information and constructing their own understandings.

This is why you will see students having choices in their research projects, completing major tasks like the Personal Project in M5 and the Extended Essay in D2(Grade 12), and being encouraged to develop research skills in all classes. Obviously there are subjects and units in which all students are required to learn the same content (DP Sciences, DP Humanities classes) and this will sometimes result in more teacher-direct learning; however, this is the exception rather than the rule in IB classrooms.

Focused on conceptual understanding and development of skills. Concepts are explored in order to both deepen disciplinary understanding and to help students make connections and transfer learning to new contexts.

Unit questions are concept-based and the students explore concepts and big ideas rather than specific facts and information. Understanding rather than memorisation is the aim, and you will often see students facing ‘unseen’ questions in final assessments in order to assess their understanding. This can be scary for students; however, we are aiming to develop ‘life-long learners’ rather than students who can just memorise some facts for a test.

Developed in local and global contexts. 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.

All IB units are connected to global contexts and teachers try to link learning experiences to real-life contexts wherever possible. We want our students to develop a deep understanding of how the world works and why things are the way they are. When teachers are able to help students see how the learning in the classroom connects with what they see in the world, magic happens.

Designed to remove barriers to learning. Teaching is inclusive and values diversity. It affirms students’ identities, and aims to create learning opportunities that enable every student to develop and pursue appropriate personal goals.

As the units of work are inquiry-based and focus on key concepts, teachers are able to include all students in the learning process. Students in more traditional schools can fall behind and find it impossible to understand what’s going on in a content-heavy, fact-based course. IB units are structured to ensure full participation from all the students despite the different levels of ability and language competence. This is not easy work for teachers, but everybody would agree that it’s a more inclusive approach to teaching and learning.

Focused on effective teamwork and collaboration. This includes promoting teamwork and collaboration between students, but also refers to the collaborative relationship between teachers and students.

IB students are expected to engage with the world and take on leadership positions in their futures. None of that is possible unless they have good interpersonal skills. As most IB schools benefit from a diverse student body, the opportunities for students to develop intercultural communication skills are clear to everybody. There are still times for independent study; however, whenever possible we like to see our students and teachers collaborating on their projects.

Informed by assessment. Assessment plays a crucial role in supporting, as well as measuring and learning. This approach also recognises the crucial role of providing students with effective feedback.

Finally, for those of you who are always shocked at the huge amount of assessment data on ManageBac in some classes, you should know that generating frequent formative assessment data is key to helping teachers help students. Teachers run assessment tasks in order to figure out how to support students in the best way possible rather than to generate percentages or grades at the end of the year. Assessment data can either clarify areas of weakness for individual students, or occasionally help a teacher understand that whole classes are struggling with particular concepts and units.



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