Starting 2021

The 2021 Late January Issue



By Ngoc Lan Ho

You count down the seconds until your digital meeting will end, with your cursor hovering over the tempting “end call” button. With this the teacher finally asks the students: 


TEACHER: “Do you have any questions?” 

STUDENTS: “...” 

It usually goes two ways, either a student actually responds to the teacher or no one answers and the teacher is awkwardly staring at their class of letters. Of course, this is an exaggerated Google Meet scenario, but there’s no doubt that this is a moment both parties find slightly discouraging, especially for the trying teachers. Therefore with the hope of increasing engagement between teachers and students, the school has urged students to turn their cameras on. 


But why do students have their cameras off? After conducting a few surveys, the students explained that, not having an ideal environment, being uncomfortable with one's appearance on camera (especially in the mornings), not having their pants on during class and technical problems such as low internet speed, are some of the reasons why they don’t have their cameras on. The most popular reason however for students keeping their cameras off, was the fact that they did not want to be the only one doing it. Some students also stated that they felt discouraged from lock down, due to a lack of socialization and an unaccustomed learning environment seemed to take a toll on their mood. Having the same work ethics can be difficult and to show our muddled conditions on screen could be disconcerting. So turning off their cameras was those students' way of respectfully being a part of the class despite how they felt.


Teachers do understand these factors, but as the school pointed out, they find it demotivating to speak to a bunch of black screens with lettered faces. They are also concerned about students being present behind the screens,as they have experienced students being  unresponsive at the end of a class while their blank screens remain with the teacher after the other students have left.  But Fortunately, more than 70% of students from the survey confirmed that they were present  and paying attention in class. Teachers also tried to spice up the class with different activities and teaching methods but again they couldn't really know students’ reactions to these lessons.


Blurring their backgrounds or adjusting camera angles to be more comfortable with their camera on.. However, students still have their right to privacy so they don’t have to if they don’t want to. But as students we also need to remember that the teachers only goal is to ensure that we have an optimal learning environment, so maybe we can make a few adjustments to make the situation easier for not just yourself but your teacher as well. 


Now that students are back at school, the daunting and awkward situations that online classes give  are  no longer a problem but I think we can all say online teaching also brought us memorable and perhaps funny experiences. We all hope that we are not returning into this “hybrid” situation but if there is next time, do remember that other students might be waiting for you to turn on your camera and  maybe with the right camera angle, you don’t necessarily need your pants on. 

Thinking about affective skills.

How effective are they?

By Michael Laundry

3IB English A Language and Literature SL Teacher

Writing for 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 endeavors 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.

Practice Makes Perfect:

The 3IB Mock Exams

By Sonia Pezzali

On Thursday 21st January, the students of the 3IB had their mock exams.  To some students, this is an excruciating experience, however it serves a few important purposes. This makeshift exam gives students an advantage on the real exam as they are able to troubleshoot things like time management and identifying where they need to put in more work for particular subjects.  This practice is also helpful for the teachers,  as it gives them a general idea of how prepared the students are for the exam or it shows them where the students might need a little extra help.

Maria Jose Godoy Leiva, Karla Juric and Amanda Louisa Johnsen-Hernandez shared with us their experience on preparing for the mock exams while doing online school and gave some advice that may be helpful for the students that will take it next year.

Due to this pandemic, until a few days ago we were having online lessons, how was preparing for these exams at home?

Maria: It wasn’t too bad since we still spent a majority of time at school and online lessons were usually spent reading for the mocks. If anything, the preparation for the mocks was mainly done during the Christmas break (but I didn’t do this) so the online lessons didn’t interfere with the overall studies for most students. Personally, I found it ok anyway because I prefer to study at home.

Karla: I think while it was a bit challenging to follow lessons at home, preparing for the exams itself was not as challenging.

Amanda: Studying for the mocks whilst having online lessons had both its pro's and con's. A good thing was that most of the time the teachers would schedule their lessons so that we met up at Meet right at the beginning of the lessons and then gave us exercises to do for the remaining time. This allowed me to finish the "in-class" exercises at my own pace, and if I somehow finished before the class was over, I had more time to study for other subjects. On the other hand, I sometimes found myself in the so-called "work-flow" and then suddenly got stuck on a question or concept that I didn't fully grasp, and then not having the teacher nearby. I mean, I could always just send a message on itslearning, but it's not the same.

Did you have any challenges or difficult moments due to online lessons?

Maria: There weren’t any significant difficulties since we could still do practice exams at home with the teacher’s help.

Karla: When you spend your entire day at home, you begin to procrastinate more and more. This was what I had most difficulty with, just starting anything.

Amanda: Other than the disadvantage of not having a teacher close-by whenever I had a question, I would say that the hardest thing was going through the "struggle" of mock exams somewhat alone, or at least the days leading up to the mock-exams. Although you stay in contact with your friends through social media and such, it's much more comforting seeing that other people are experiencing the same stress as you are.

How did you prepare for these exams?

Maria: I spent most of my time rewriting notes and watching videos for biology and history since those are the subjects that require more memorization. As well as going over specimen papers for maths.

Karla: Well, since past tests have had a role in me preparing for my exams, I looked back at the whole syllabus and went through any unknown areas, while mastering the topics I was well acquainted with.

Amanda: For most of my subjects I attempted to do as many past-papers questions as possible. But for subjects such as psychology and English, I found that using flashcards to learn the terminology was extremely useful.


After taking the exams, if you could go back in time what advice would you give to yourself?

Maria: PLEASEEEE start studying earlier. I knew that I had to begin earlier, but I still let myself procrastinate. Also, go over the things you know you don’t know!!! So much time was wasted on topics I already understood and I had wished I hadn’t.

Karla:  I think the best would have been to start revision earlier, with more breaks, rather than spending hours without any break.

Amanda: Just do it!


Knowing that last year mock exams were evaluated as the real ones did you put more effort in doing them?

Maria: I put more effort into them than what I would have, but an issue I found was that I had IA’s on my mind and the TOK essay which overlapped. It was not a good situation to be in, simultaneously studying for your exams and writing essays.

Karla: Yes, of course. Also, since the mock exams have a role in your predicted grades, which are the grades needed for university, I was already counting on giving much effort in doing the mocks even before Covid.

Amanda: Well, I guess I did to some extent. But in the back of my head, I always studied with the fear of it happening again.


Are you hoping for the cancellation of the IB exams also this year or would you like to do them?

Maria: I hope with my whole heart that the exams are still on for May 2021. I know that I will do better in the real exams than these mocks and that I’ll get amazing grades. Since I usually perform better under exam stress rather than usual essay writing for the IA’s, I really need these exams.

Karla: At first I thought I would like to do them, I still wish to have them, but right now I think I'm ready to accept whatever comes along.

Amanda: I would very much like to have them. :)


Do you think the mock exams help you to prepare and practice for final exams or is it just stress?

Maria: It does help!!!! All the mistakes that you could make are done in the mocks. If you freak out and answer the wrong questions or too many questions, this only happens in the mocks and you won’t get penalized or have to die from stress knowing that you’ve ruined the whole paper for yourself. It gives you a clear idea of what the real exams will be like and how strict it actually is. I found that others around me still didn’t take it too seriously as they would try to talk to me in the exam room when it’s strictly banned. Thank god they did it now and not during the real exams or else either of us would have been penalized.

Karla: I definitely think that the exams help you to prepare, there is a bit of stress, but I think that's all well since you study even more and come out more prepared for the real exams.

Amanda: Nooo, although the mock exams can be stressful it has by far been the most productive thing I have done in preparation for the actual exams. After my very first mock exam I realized that there is so much more to the exam than just knowing the content. It's also about the experience of sitting high-stakes exams and how it feels so that you know what you're going into during the May examinations.

Thank You For Reading!