Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Extended Essay

I was asked to write a short piece about our IB students and their Extended Essay assignment.  See what you think:

The Extended Essay as a component of the IB Curriculum
“You know this wasn’t so bad.  I think I learned more in this assignment than I have in some of my classes.” (student, Class of 2012)
“I didn’t think I could do this when you first told us about it.  I’m so proud of myself for completing it.” (student, Class of 2012)
“The Extended Essay was the perfect training for writing college papers.” (College freshman, Class of 2011)
The learning involved in researching and writing the extended essay is closely aligned with the development of many of the characteristics described in the IB learner profile. Students are, to a large extent, responsible for their own independent learning, through which they acquire and communicate in-depth knowledge and understanding. (from the IB Diploma Programme Extended Essay Guide)

One of the most rigorous components of the IB curriculum is the Extended Essay.  It falls within the center of the Hexagon of Core Courses, just like TOK and CAS hours.  Students have the opportunity to research a topic of their choice from any of the core courses and then compose a 4000 word essay on the topic. The paper must pose a research question, and then through investigation and analysis, support an opinion.  The score on the essay is combined with the score from the TOK essay as part of the total IB results.

As the librarian of our school, I serve as the Extended Essay coordinator, directing and helping students with the assignment.  The paper is written outside of class time, much like a college paper.  However, unlike a college assignment, students have an individual teacher mentor assigned to help them with the details of researching and writing.   

Many of our IB students approach the assignment with some degree of hesitation.  This is probably the biggest and most involved assignment they face within the curriculum.  However, the paper is also one of the most rewarding aspects of the programme, as it gives the students the chance for independent, self-directed learning as well as a huge dose of self confidence when they finish and see their accomplishment.

One of the biggest issues with the papers concerns the level of research needed.  The assignment requires rigorous, academic research and for many students, this is the first time they can’t just “surf the Internet” to find information.  Teaching about peer-reviewed journals vs. magazines as well as using databases to find information becomes a necessity as the students begin the research and continues throughout the process along with learning to cite sources correctly.  The teacher supervisor has a big role here, helping the student find appropriate sources and using the correct citation format—whether it’s MLA, APA or Chicago Turabian.

Although initially overwhelming to most students, the essay can be one of the most powerful experiences of the IB curriculum.  Learning the researching and writing skills along with the time management needed to complete such a large independent assignment are as valuable as any content in the core curriculum classes and these skills benefit students far into the future.

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