This week I had an email from a German language and literature teacher looking to introduce inquiry early in the academic year for her IB HL students in order to prepare them for their HL essay later this year. The HL essay is an externally assessed “1,200-1,500 word formal essay which develops a particular line of inquiry of their own choice in connection with a non-literary text, a collection of non-literary texts by one same author or a literary text or work studied during the course” (IBO, 2019a, p.42), which is worth 20% of their final grade. Interestingly, the IB says “The HL essay was introduced in response to the concern expressed by teachers that without a written coursework component, students would not develop the citation, editing and research skills that are important for the work they may need to carry out their courses of study at university – the HL essay targets precisely those skills” (IBO, 2019b, p.45). In this context it is certainly fulfilling its purpose – encouraging teachers to set aside time within the taught curriculum to develop inquiry skills in order to prepare them for their coursework. Of course this is also an opportunity to develop skills needed for the extended essay – but thinking through how to integrate subject specific preparation with the general preparation the whole cohort requires for the EE is probably a post for another topic!
In this case the teacher had a fairly straightforward task in mind as a first ‘research’ task. She wanted her students to investigate different types of texts and their characteristics (in German), and asked if I could direct her to some generic FOSIL resources to support the Connect, Wonder, Investigate and Construct stages. While our Investigative Journal is generally useful in most inquiries, resources for other stages at this level tend to be a bit more inquiry specific, so I need to gather a bit more information.
There is a lot of scope for us to get involved in supporting students (and teachers) in building inquiry skills as they prepare for the HL essay. This looks like it will be an important on-going conversation not one-off inquiry support;
It looks like the IB have a very specific set of “text-types” in mind here – i.e. things like blogs, diaries, encyclopaedia entries etc. (example from English B here). However, if I do some general internet searches on “text type” I also get lists like “Narrative, Expository and Argumentative” or “Narrative, Non-fiction, Poetry”. I need to know how the teacher intends to direct the students to the ‘right’ set of text types – this would constitute part of the Connect stage;
As far as I can tell from what the teacher has told me so far, as it stands this is not an inquiry question. It is a “guess what the teacher is thinking” question – there is a fixed set of expected right answers. Obviously inquiry can (and should) be used as a tool for content delivery, but there should also be scope for the student to form and express their own opinions and construct their own meaning.
The teacher does not intend this to be a full inquiry – it is just a brief introductory task to start students off in good inquiry habits. However, given at the end of this process they will be expected to come up with their own lines of inquiry, it would make sense to model a productive line of inquiry. This does not need to make it a large or complex task – a couple of small tweaks could produce the same desired outcome while remaining true to the principles of inquiry.
My initial idea was to build a question around the Marshall McLuhan quote “The medium is the message”, but I thought it would be better to look for a suitable quote from a German philosopher. My knowledge of German philosophy was woefully inadequate to the task, however, so after spending a morning trawling quotations websites, I’m afraid I gave up! If anyone can suggest something suitable I would be very grateful…
For the time being I have suggested to the teacher:
Give students a list of the text-types you want them to investigate (or at least some prompts to get them going in the right direction);
Ask them the question: “The philosopher Marshall McLuhan said “The medium is the message”. One interpretation of this is that you can’t separate what you say from how you say it. Do you think an author’s choice of text type shapes their message? Give an example.” Explain that in doing this you need them to find examples of all the different text types and explain their key features, and then at the end choose one of your examples and explain whether/how you think that message might have been different if expressed in another text type.
If she wants to go ahead I have offered to design suitable FOSIL resources to support this.
This all seems like a lot of effort for a very small-scale ‘research prep’, but I am hoping that the pay-off will be long-term involvement in designing the students’ route to the HL essay. However, it may not fit with what the teacher needs at this stage. We will see…