How teaching developed in Local and Global Contexts enriches student Communication Skills: Simplifying Approaches to Teaching & Learning Series (Part 3)

Venn Diagram: Local & Global Contexts and Communication Skills

This post is part of a 6-part series highlighting how we, as IB teachers, can bring Approaches to Teaching to our classroom and challenge students to engage in Approaches to Learning.

In the first two installments of the series, we introduced inquiry and focused on conceptual understanding as (Approaches to Teaching)  that can improve the students’ research and thinking skills respectively (Approaches to Learning). While these instructional strategies would make a great fit for many topics within your subject, every now and then you want to shake things up and hit additional teaching and learning goals.

Connecting Approaches to Teaching with Approaches to Learning

This third installment addresses how teaching developed in local and global contexts enriches students’ communication skills. If you have Middle Years Programme (MYP) experience, note that there is a different approach of teaching through contexts in the Diploma Programme (DP). In MYP, “global contexts” involve broad concepts with a universal impact that the students should embrace. In DP, “local and global contexts” are used in a more literal way. Students’ local contexts can be their family, school, community or even their country, while global contexts refer to international or universal frameworks.

The IBO traditionally connects the instruction throughout different contexts with the development of students’ thinking skills (contextualized learning) (IBO, 2015). We can go beyond that and take advantage of the cultural contrast that occurs within and across these contexts to challenge students’ communication skills, regarding both the content and form of the conveyed information. Here are 3 context-oriented instructional strategies you can try in your classroom:

Help students to appreciate the complexity and uncertainty associated with an idea

Let’s tackle the most prominent issue: what are “communication skills”? We tend to confuse them with “social skills” because communication is strongly linked with our interpersonal relationships. However, communication is not merely an ability that connects us with others, but also a virtue that allows us to understand a variety of written or oral forms and contents in different contexts.

This is a huge issue for our students, but we usually sweep it under the rug. Think of all the written examinations in which your students responded incorrectly because they didn’t fully comprehend the questions. Think of all the spoken instructions you have given for a task and students didn’t follow. Do these situations occur again and again just because of our students’ ignorance or laziness?

We may hesitate to accept this for students at the DP level, but these recurring incidents may reflect a lack of communication skills. Statistics for the general population of 15-year-old students indicate low performances in basic abilities. “About 20% of students in OECD countries, on average, do not attain the baseline level of proficiency in reading. This proportion has remained stable since 2009” (OECD, 2018).

And, on the other side of communication, we often reprimand them for not expressing their views with clarity. Their oral and written responses may not always reflect their level of understanding, but whatever they deliver should be assessed as it is. And here comes students’ most famous argument for claiming marks: “You know that’s what I meant…”. Instead of trying to read between the lines to justify one or two extra marks, how about enhancing their communication skills?

💡Give a written or verbal stimulus (problem, graph, document, song, movie abstract…) that leaves room for multiple interpretations and walk them through a discussion for the information it communicates. 

Point out the most prominent elements that they all need to comprehend and make a list with the students’ suggestions for the rest.

Use this process to show your method for breaking down the information received. If there is complexity or uncertainty in the piece you presented, the different approaches will activate your students. You can make this challenge more interesting if you begin from local contexts and expand to global ones. The forms of communication can be diverged and draw your students’ attention.

Encourage students to be globally engaged

Prompting our students to develop their inquiry in local and global contexts, especially if they can be linked with real-life issues, can challenge their pre-existing representations on several matters and concepts, which helps them to reorganize their understanding on the basis of a more universal, internationally-minded perspective. This is a core aspect of the constructivist approach: “Knowledge is seen as dynamic, ever-changing with our experiences” (Bada, 2015).

As IB learners, it is important that students develop their skills through a universal perspective, one goes beyond the information that their textbook – or Google and YouTube – provide. When your teaching is developed in both local and global contexts, you show students the different forms of communication needed as we move from a personal, local or national perspective to an international or global one.

Concentric circles showing the increase in scale from the personal (me), to the local (us), national (the country), international (all countries), and global (the world).

This is an excellent opportunity to integrate “international-mindedness” into our instruction. This is another concept that we may come across every now and then without clear instructions about how to make it work in the classroom. In the IB wheel, it is placed in the outer circle because it characterizes (or should characterize) all the elements included in the program. The components of international-mindedness are multilingualism, intercultural understanding, and global engagement.

Although the term seems a bit one-sided, international-mindedness is not about degrading local contexts in expense to the global ones. On the contrary, it attempts to harmonize them by encouraging students “to learn more about their own culture and national identity as well as to be respectful and understanding of others, thus becoming global citizens” (Belal, 2017). 

💡As a homework assignment, ask students to work on a subject-specific topic from two different standpoints: locally and globally. They have to discover their personal viewpoint but also try to walk in someone else’s shoes for tackling the same task.

Students approach this task interculturally: from their own “local” perspective, and by adopting an alternative “global” view. How would a teenager from a diverse cultural background face this topic? What are the possible similarities and differences between the two contexts? In this framework, even the formulation of hypotheses demand serious research skills and open-mindedness, so welcome any students’ suggestions.

Have them present their work in written and oral forms, but let them choose the educational technology tools most appropriate for their tasks. We deal with digital natives, so they will probably surprise you with the use of blogs, interactive software and other forms of instant communication.

We should encourage such initiatives because they can give our students a safe place to build upon their communication skills. They should work with a variety of sources, before adjusting information in their final product. During their presentation, they will have to effectively communicate their material and perspectives to the class and be the key participants in a discussion, which may include many debatable questions.

Promote opportunities for students to see an issue from multiple perspectives

These assignments can be expanded as reflection activities, by including third parties in students’ projects. Your students have taken one familiar (local) and one “strange” (global) approach to their topic and have argued about them in the classroom.

💡How about “testing” their ideas with a person who comes from a different culture? Introducing such testimonials would definitely add value and impact to their assignment.

This suggestion is directly connected with another important goal you can set in this instructional framework. I refer to “global learning”, “a student-centered activity in which learners of different cultures use technology to improve their global perspectives while remaining in their home countries” (Gibson, Rimmington, & Landwehr-Brown, 2008). This concept integrates technology in the learning process, as a mean for global reach for the discovery of global perspectives.

To achieve this universality, you don’t have to find an Aboriginal Australian with an internet connection (although that would be cool). What matters is simply the addition of a voice outside students’ daily locality. For example, when discussing the solution of a problem in math or science, a Japanese teacher may suggest a diverse course of action due to their student-centered problem-solving approach. And if you are debating human resource strategies, a Finnish educational administrator may surprise you with their proposals based on hiring only those applicants that have genuine interest for the job (Crehan, 2016).

For this communication to be successful, our students have to master a range of relevant skills. First, before reaching out to an expert, they must have acquired a sufficient understanding of their sources. Then, when contacting the person they’re curious about connecting with, they need to be ready to articulate a coherent and meaningful question. Finally, they should be able to interpret the answers received and expand on them, during a dialogue in the classroom or for a homework assignment.

If you think this process might be a bit time-consuming, consider this: you work on the improvement of students’ communication skills while you go on with your content, but now your content is enriched and your class is motivated. This investment will pay off during the next examination and beyond, including when composing a sound Extended Essay, coping with the assessed tasks of Theory of Knowledge (ToK), and establishing connections with Creativity-Activity-Service (CAS) projects.

Use the 100mentors app to bring the world in your classroom, and make the global feel local:

1. Assign students a topic to work on in both local and global contexts.
2. After discussing students’ perspectives, start the topic on the 100mentors app.
3. Ask the students to browse through other students’ questions, from a different cultural background, and practice formulating their own questions. 
4. Watch the answers and discuss how local and global perspectives affected these responses.
5. Prompt the students to enhance their assignments by making use of answers.
6. Consider extending the discussion across time zones with a live discussion session with the mentor that expanded their worldview the most.

This course of action suggests a straightforward implementation of Approaches to Teaching and Learning on two challenging strands: enhancing students’ communication skills while developing your instruction in local and global contexts – now it can be done.

Ready to get started with a tool that brings Approaches to Teaching & Learning to your classroom?


Bada, S. O. (2015). Constructivism Learning Theory: A Paradigm for Teaching and Learning. Journal of Research & Method in Education, 6, 66–70.

Belal, S. (2017). Participating in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme: Developing international mindedness and engagement with local communities. Journal of Research in International Education, 16(1), 18–35.

Crehan, L. (2016). Cleverlands: the secrets behind the success of the world’s education superpowers. London: Unbound.

Gibson, K. L., Rimmington, G. M., & Landwehr-Brown, M. (2008). Developing Global Awareness and Responsible World Citizenship With Global Learning. Roeper Review, 30(1), 11–23.

IBO. (2015). Approaches to teaching and learning. Retrieved September 23, 2019, from

OECD. (2018). PISA 2015 Results in Focus. Retrieved September 23, 2019, from

Pepy is a University and IB Diploma Programme Physics teacher, with an MA and Ph.D. in Science Education. She is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher in teachers' STEM education. As the Head of Research at 100mentors, she empowers educators to turn theory into practice with educational technology solutions.

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