Guided Inquiry and the IB Extended Essay

Dear Colleagues,

The International Baccalaureate is a global curriculum and one that we proudly offer at our school. Very recently I became the Extended Essay Coordinator. As you will note in the image below, the Extended Essay is part of the core of the Diploma Program of the IB. It is one of the few occasions that students are able to pursue a topic that they are interested in. It is the perfect foundation for the implementation of Guided Inquiry Design.

The IB Diploma Program with the Extended Essay at it’s core. Copyright International Baccalaureate

The Extended Essay is a 4000 word academic piece of writing centring around a question based on one of the subjects that the student is currently studying. The student needs to have enough background knowledge to tackle the topic in depth. Students are allocated a supervisor (based on their topic) at school who will spend about 4 hours over the course of the year, guiding and intervening as necessary and various stages of the process. As you will note in the document below, using the various stages of Guided Inquiry breaks up the year long project into manageable steps.

We begin our journey one year before it’s due date. Students are presented with the Extended Essay (Open) and asked to engage with all of its possibilities. We spend a couple of weeks immersing the students in the EE, walking through the potential for different topic areas, we concept map different ideas, they talk to teachers and do a lot of reading before submitting a proposal of potential topics. We need to do this quite early in the process to ensure that we can allocate a supervisor to support them through their journey.

One of the most difficult parts of the process is the Identify step, where students are required to narrow down their topic to a specific research question which will guide them through the rest of the research process. In order to get there, we ask students to undertake a literature review during the Explore phase, which requires them to annotate at least four sources of information. This has the double effect of ensuring that their topic has enough background information to formulate a question and identify where their extended essay is going to go. Note, that we often go back to this step during the process because as we all know, often our research starts in one area and ends in another. The reflection process is incredibly important to students at these important points in the process because it enables them to understand their own thinking and make steps in taking the next step in the process. It also allows supervisors to intervene and offer guidance, make suggestions, and help students move on in the inquiry process. We use a system called Managebac, which easily allows students and supervisors to communicate throughout the process, while also scaffolding the reflection process.

After identifying their question, students spend a whole term gathering sources of information that will help them answer their question. This allows them to conduct primary and secondary research while at school and gain support and guidance from teacher librarians and their supervisor. We ask that they write a big chunk of their essay (create) over the Christmas (long summer break in Australia) holidays, which then allows us to provide some feedback and guidance on the direction of the extended essay. You will see that at the end of the process (which actually takes about six months), students are in a revolving door of creating, sharing and evaluating their work. We repeat this process at least once, allow students to self-assess and make changes before submitting the essay to be externally marked.

Students are required to be highly independent during this process. This is their work and close marking is not allowed by supervisors or teachers. This is why Guided Inquiry Design is so important in scaffolding the process for students.

I welcome your questions and comments about this and would really like to hear how other teacher librarians use Guided Inquiry Design in the Extended Essay!

Erin Patel – Head of Libraries & IB Extended Essay Coordinator, Kambala