Aleksandra Sobala-Woźniak is a CAS Coordinator and English teacher at Private High School Gaudium et Studium. In this interview, we explored CAS – a key component of IBDP – thoroughly, answering the most concerning questions for students: what CAS is, what is required from students, and how they can excel in this subject.
Question 1. What is CAS?
CAS stands for Creativity, Activity, and Service. It is a unique program because it’s not an academic subject. Together with Theory of Knowledge and Extended Essay, it lies at the very core of the IB Diploma Programme and is the reflection of the IB values. The program begins in the junior year of IBDP and lasts at least 18 months. During that period students need to regularly (ideally on a weekly basis) engage in different experiences within the three CAS strands – creativity, activity, and service – and maintain a reasonable balance between them. That would be the definition of CAS in a nutshell.
Question 2. What are the requirements and how is it assessed?
There are a few formal requirements. First of all, as I said, the program lasts 18 months. Apart from the 18-month engagement, students are expected to complete a CAS portfolio which is a collection of evidence and student reflections on their engagement within CAS.
In the CAS portfolio, students need to demonstrate that they maintain balance between the three strands and that they are achieving the 7 Learning Outcomes upon which the completion of the program is based. There is also the CAS project. Students are required to participate in at least one CAS project. The project lasts a minimum of a month and involves collaborative work. Another requirement is the three formal interviews with the CAS Coordinator. The first interview marks the beginning of the program and then the second one is halfway through the program. The third one is upon the completion of CAS. As far as the assessment is concerned, there’s no summative assessment.
The CAS coordinator or advisors will guide and support the students providing regular feedback on their engagement. A student must meet all the formal requirements to graduate and be awarded the IB Diploma. If they do not, they may only get the IB Diploma Programme Results certificate.
Question 3. Is CAS more about exploring opportunities or mastering current activities?
In fact, it is about both. CAS is such an individualized program that it’ll be different for each student. Everyone has their own unique background, perspectives, and values. Each CAS journey will be different, but equally valuable and enriching for the student. For instance, there will be students who are dedicated athletes and they will be mastering their skills in the fields of sports. They will be able to demonstrate their achievements and the school community will be proud of them. But looking at the other end of the spectrum, there will be students who hate sports and whose relationship with physical activity has always been, let’s say, a rocky road. For those students, going on a bike trip or taking a long walk around the lake will be an accomplishment.
I believe, stepping out of your comfort zone should always be appreciated in CAS. Every time a student tries to open up to explore new paths, I feel particularly proud of them because it takes self-determination, especially if they struggle with some anxieties, which, I find, is very common these days. If they muster up the courage to stand up to the challenge, this is a great achievement in itself and should be recognized and celebrated. I think CAS serves as the perfect ground for such an attitude!
Question 4. What are the common mistakes that students make regarding CAS?
I think the most prevalent mistake among students is how they approach CAS. Some students embrace a negative attitude towards the CAS program. That doesn’t allow them to enjoy the process. For those students, CAS becomes what they feared most in the first place – a heavy burden. Even if they don’t say it out loud, it’s visible. They feel forced to participate in CAS experiences and reflecting on them is torture. But, at the end of the day, CAS is not about making the Coordinator or any other teacher happy.
CAS is a journey of self-discovery, it’s about making connections with people around you; people from your school, your neighborhood, or a global community. CAS is also about learning new and polishing old skills. It may open up countless opportunities, but it’s only possible if you’re the captain of your ship. Only then will you be willing to devote your time and energy to some outside-of-school experiences and benefit from them.
School is important and IB DP is very rigorous and we all know that. But what we’re striving for is balance which is one of the 10 IB profile attributes. I think there’s no other school curriculum that allows students to try themselves in so many fields. Contemporary world doesn’t allow for much reflection either. Finding the time in your already busy schedule to engage in creativity, activity and service and reflecting on it in different ways might actually be a lifelong skill. Another mistake would be procrastination which, I think, is a common human trait many of us share.
Nevertheless, it’s a problem for students who very often reflect on their experience a month after it happened when it’s hard to recall all the emotions and thoughts it provoked. So, understanding the process of reflection… actually reflecting when emotions are the most vivid would be the best thing to do and postponing it doesn’t really make things easier.
Question 5. How can students improve their CAS portfolios?
Students can improve their portfolio by writing meaningful reflections and providing a variety of good CAS evidence. So first of all, meaningful reflection is when a student not only demonstrates the understanding of the seven learning outcomes as well as the CAS stages, but also talks about things that were successful and things that didn’t work out according to the plan. Overcoming obstacles, facing challenges is what makes an authentic reflection because that’s what real life is all about – adapting to uncertainties and inventing plan B. A good CAS portfolio also has a variety of CAS evidence. I believe that the more evidence, the better. And remember – evidence is not just an illustration of some enjoyable moments. Evidence should help you tell a story about your experience.
Question 6. Do you have any tips for students regarding CAS?
As for the tips, I think what counts is proactive attitude, taking actions and not just sitting and waiting for things to happen. Also, stay open-minded and curious. Keep in touch with your CAS Coordinator and the CAS advisor, if you have one, and consult them when in doubt. The whole point of the program is to do things you love and CAS advisors and the coordinator can help you with that. Talk to your colleagues as well! If you share ideas, it might turn out that you have some common interests. It’s also a good thing to invite each other to your experiences. CAS is fun and I know it may sound like a cliché, but it’s true.
I had students who told me in our third CAS interview that, at the beginning, they thought it was going to be such a boring subject, such a boring program, but it turned out that they did things they were interested in all along and would have done them anyway. Plus, they felt particularly grateful for the opportunities to engage with the local community and to do some good.
I think that’s very important and valuable. Another tip would be to try new things and to remember that even if you want to withdraw and stop doing them, you can. CAS is not about being successful all the time – it is sometimes about being flexible, failing, and changing your decision, but also being responsible and behaving in an ethical way, so always keep your eyes and hearts open.
Question 7. What excites you the most about CAS?
I would say that it has made me reflect on, and also question, my ways of knowing things. In particular, how my perspective compares against the perspective of young people. As I said earlier, it is a constant and personal journey of self-discovery, but it works in a very peculiar manner – the CAS program of my students has become, in a way, my own self-discovery journey. I find it very inspiring.
In this article, not only did you learn what CAS is and what requirements there are, but also gained in-depth knowledge of how to approach the program so that it would be as meaningful and beneficial for you as possible and discovered useful tips to enhance your experience. Furthermore, special thanks must be given to the interviewee – it is her passion and dedication that have made this article so valuable.