How to structure your IA commentary?

So, you have chosen your article for the IA commentary, now what!? Remember you only have 750 words, which isn’t much, so you have to be efficient with your use of the word count.

This is the structure I often give my students:

1- Introduction (150 words):

Use the first paragraph to very briefly (in a sentence or two) tell the reader what the article is about. Remember, you don’t have to summarize the whole article because it’s attached to the commentary! Also, use this first paragraph to define any key terms that are relevant to the context of the article (don’t stress too much about the definitions because you are being assessed on your effective use of these key terms in the context of the article, but it is helpful to provide some definitions of the main key terms).

2- Introduce theory/concepts relevant to article, draw and explain your diagram/s (150 words):

This second paragraph is where you mention the economic theory or theories or concepts relevant to the article and explain them briefly. Then get right down to drawing your diagram, labeling it fully and correctly, and explaining it in full detail (mentioning every curve and shift and from which direction to what direction etc…) For example: due to the rise in the costs of production the supply curve (S1) shifts to the left to (S2), which causes a rise in price from P1 to P2 etc…

3- Explain the link between the key terms, diagram/s and theories/concepts in the context of the article (200 words)

This is your APPLICATION (Criterion C) and your ANALYSIS (Criterion D). This is where you take all the key terms and concepts you explained, along with the diagram, and use them as tools to analyze the article, and apply them in the context provided in the article. Essentially, you want to show an understanding of how these concepts and theories and diagrams can be link and applied in the context provided by the article.

4- Evaluate (250 words)

This is your EVALUATION (Criterion E). Here is where you discuss the short term vs long term implications, the effects on different stakeholders in the context of the article, the positive and negative consequences, the assumptions and limitations of the model, the pros vs cons, and you prioritize your arguments depending on the context of the article!

TOKing the Econ classroom?

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The IB Diploma Program expectations are that all students registered in the program write an Extended Essay (EE), do Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS), and take a Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course!

I find all three fascinating, but nothing has fascinated me throughout my years as an IBDP Economics teacher as much as the TOK course. In fact, I myself was expected to model a course on TOK to teach for the non-IB students at my previous school (there was a ‘Global Citizens Diploma’ division for students who did not want an IB Diploma).

So, TOK is all about ‘how do we know what we know?’ and ‘do we really know what we think we know?’ and ‘where does knowledge come from?’ and ‘what are the ramifications and implications of finding out that all our knowledge is incorrect or incomplete?’ and ‘what does knowing truly mean?’ etc… Basically, it’s a course designed to build critical thinking and challenge students to question their own and society’s knowledge, ideas, biases etc…

Of all the ideas explored in the TOK course, I’m most fascinated with the Ways of Knowing (WOKs) which are “traits which knowers can possess through which the knowers obtain and manipulate knowledge“.

The TOK course presents eight WOKs:

1- Language (oral and written)

2- Sense perception

3- Memory

4- Intuition

5- Faith

6- Imagination

7- Emotion

8- Reason

So, you might be thinking, well how does this tie in with an economics course? Many many ways my friend.

As economists and economics teachers, we need to recognize the limitations of the economic models and concepts that we teach! They’re not infallible! We also should spend some time looking at the history of economic thought and see where did these ideas and theories come from and what contexts they evolved from.

For example, students often struggle with understanding why the Keynesians and New Classical/Monetarist economists have different shapes for the Aggregate Supply (AS) curve: Keynesian AS is horizontal up until the economy reaches full employment level of output, then it becomes vertical, while the Monetarist/New Classical AS is vertical all the way.

This is a perfect TOK opportunity!

Even the IB Economics Syllabus lists this as one of the potential TOK connections:

“The Keynesian and Monetarist positions differ on the shape of the AS curve. What is needed to settle this question: empirical evidence (if so, what should be measured?), strength of theoretical argument, or factors external to economics such as political conviction?”

This approach to critical questioning of the various models and diagrams that we teach is very important. These models are attempts to make sense of markets or various parts of the economy or the economy as a whole, but they’re not as ‘intuitive’ as many Economics teachers believe. In fact, more often than not, these models and equations and quantitative techniques are what deter students from studying Economics. These models and diagrams and quantitative techniques are based on very limiting assumptions, and it’s ok to recognize the limitations of these models.

So, how do Keynesians and Monetarists ‘know’ the shape of the AS curve? How do both sides claim to ‘know’ the relationship between real output and average price level?

While I try my best to explain the ‘reasoning’ behind the models I teach in the Economics classroom, I often also try to harness the other Ways of Knowing (WOKs) in analyzing the strengths as well as limitations of these models, and constantly push students to question those models.

I believe TOK and Economics can go hand in hand in order to develop the students’ critical thinking!