HL Essay: Exemplar 2 (White Noise)
Ask a teacher whether we should teach critical theory to IB Language and Literature students and the answers you receive are as wide ranging and diverse as the theories that exist. It is worth reflecting, perhaps, that no classroom is atheoretical, although it may be that the biases, perspectives, and models that frame teaching are never explicitly admitted. Whatever your own position is, there are, within the literature on teaching and learning, strong arguments made that endorse the teaching of theory. As Stephen Bonnycastle points out, "the main reason for studying theory at the same time as literature is that it forces you to deal consciously with the problems of ideologies [...] If you are going to live intelligently in the modern world, you have to recognize that that there are conflicting ideologies and that there is no simple direct access to the truth". Bonnycastle's point clearly addresses issues of critical thinking and citizenship, and may hint at international mindedness which is undergirded by a recognition of multiple perspectives.
In the following HL essay, we publish the excellent work of a student who has studied Don DeLillo's novel White Noise. DeLillo is on the Prescribed List of Authors (for last examinations in November 2020), but is omitted from the Prescribed Reading List (for first examinations in May 2021). White Noise, many argue, is not DeLillo's best work, but it is probably the novel that brought DeLillo to the attention of a wider readership. Published in 1985, this often funny novel does sometimes feel like the literary equivalent of watching Miami Vice reruns - a novel that is, in other words, very much of its time and without the hipster quality that seemed apparent at publication. This said, the novel deals with issues that remain current, vital, and likely to appeal to teenage readers. Concerns about media, mediation, technology, consumption, the environment, and relativism all feature in the novel. The novel is a quintessential postmodern novel and lends itself to a postmodern critique. It is clear in this HL essay that the student has been taught the novel through the 'lens' of postmodernity, and that the teacher has provided supplementary reading to support teaching and learning. As you read the essay you may like to reflect on your own teaching and the position you take on critical theory in the classroom.
For your students, in addition to the essay, we have published reflective entries from the writer's (sometimes mediocre) learner portfolio. These provide an opportunity to think about and discuss what students can include in their own learner portfolios, and how and why they may do this.
Sample HL Essay
Criterion A: Knowledge, understanding and interpretation (5 marks)
- To what extent does the student show knowledge and understanding of the work or text?
- To what extent does the student use their knowledge and understanding to reach conclusions about the work or text in relation to their chosen topic?
- How well does the student use references to the work or text to support their ideas in relation to their chosen topic?
Criterion B: Analysis and evaluation (5 marks)
- To what extent does the student analyze and evaluate how language, style, and wider authorial choices influence meaning in relation to their chosen topic?
Criterion C: Focus, organization, and development (5 marks)
- To what extent is the presentation of ideas organized, focused, and developed?
- How effectively has the student integrated supporting examples into their essay?
Criterion D: Language (5 marks)
- How clear, varied, and accurate is the student's language?
- To what extent is the student's choice of register, style, and terminology appropriate?
The Learner Portfolio as a Reflective Document
In writing this HL essay, the student was asked to maintain a reflective record of their writing and interactions with the teacher. The learner portfolio is not intended to be assessed. While some teachers or schools may choose to assess the portfolio, it was not designed with this intention. Instead, it is intended to be a quasi-autonomous space for students to reflect and develop knowledge, understandings, and skills over time. It is, nevertheless, important that students are given some guidance on developing their learner portfolio if it is to become a meaningful record of learning.
Once students have worked with the HL essay (above) through discussing its strengths and limitations, and marking it, ask them to read, then discuss the extracts from the learner portfolio (below) that accompany this HL essay. Use the following questions to guide a consideration:
- How detailed are the entries in the learning portfolio? Are they too detailed, insufficiently detailed, or just right?
- What do you think about what the student writes? Is it appropriate, and is it likely to help the student over time?
- What qualities and limitations do the student's entries reveal?
- What advice would give to the student to improve their use of their learner portfolio?