A Focus on Extended Essays

Joanna Cull

Our IB Coordinator, Zoe Badcock, explains the process behind one of the main achievements of the International Baccalaureate programme - the extended essay

Students discuss their extended essays

Our IB Coordinator, Zoe Badcock, explains the process behind one of the main achievements of the International Baccalaureate programme - the extended essay.

A buzz was running through the air. Students and teachers were moving with purpose and our new Bixe Learning Space was alive with the thoughts of our IB Diploma students. Last minute preparations were being made for presentations, and then silence fell as the first students started to present their research so far and their plans for the next few months on their journeys to complete their Extended Essays.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (DP) has a “Core” which all students take. This contains a course called Theory of Knowledge, a service oriented personal development element known as CAS (Creativity, Activity and Service) and a research argumentative essay of 4000 words called the Extended Essay. At ISZL, our DP students start the process of thinking about the Extended Essay in November of their first year in the DP (Grade 11). Their finished essays are submitted at the end of September in year 2 of the DP (Grade 12).

In March this year, the IB had just announced that the assessment modifications that had been in place for the IB Class of 2021 would be continued for the IB Class of 2022. In some subjects this provides a lot of flexibility and so our DP teaching team grasped the opportunity to innovate and set aside a week to focus on the Extended Essay. 

The Extended Essay is one of the biggest learning experiences for DP students. They have to go through the process of scoping out a topic to study. What will be interesting to them and their readers? What is controversial and will provide an element of argumentation and discussion? What is doable in 4000 words? Deciding on the topic and the preliminary research question will normally be complete by February and students mark this staging point with a formal interview and reflection that counts towards part of the marks for the Extended Essay. The second stage of the research process is the development of the research and argument. Students sometimes hit a block at this stage and so the Extended Essay Focus Week 2021 came to life.

Back in our Bixe Learning Space, students were able to focus on their research, have meetings with their supervisors and our librarian, Mrs Kandelaars. Ann-Sophie commented on the benefits of this week, “Having time to just work and better understand the path our EE was going to take. Having a meeting with Ms Kandelaars and getting tips from her made it really easy to understand the structure and different routes I could take.” 

Cassidy said, “I loved being given blocks of time to work independently to really accomplish what I needed to. It was also very helpful to be able to schedule meetings at any point (I met with my supervisor 3 times this week, and with Ms Kandelaars once).” 

Nicholas appreciated the space to think, “The time management aspect. Having our own time to complete work allows us to practice self-motivation. As someone who tends to work best in a relaxed environment, this week has certainly been productive.”

Friday came, and there was excitement as students made their presentations to a group of subject experts. Pitching their ideas and waiting for feedback on how they might proceed before the arrival of Stage 3 of the essay, Writing and Presenting. Topics included the possibilities of no-till agriculture in Switzerland, the impact of the temporary withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on New York City’s climate policies, the poetry of Sylvia Plath and the theatre of cruelty. In the feedback from the presentations, students clarified their way forward and developed plans.

Our IB Diploma Coordinator, Dr. Zoe Badcock commented “I’ve been really impressed by the drive and commitment that our Diploma students have shown this week. They have organised themselves, made meetings, done deeper research, completed pilot studies in the experimental sciences and stepped up on their journey to become expert researchers. This week has created space for these students to explore their passions and offered them the chance to stretch themselves further and achieve more than they believed possible.”

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