Extended Essay: reflections

With its explicit emphasis on engagement and reflection, the Extended Essay asks students to consider the research and writing process, and their learning through this process, alongside the question and texts they are writing about.  There is a formalised reflection structure that students and their supervisors need to follow; the idea of students reflecting on the process is not new to the task, but since the revisions in 2017 it has been made more explicit and is now part of the assessment criteria and grading.  6 out of a possible 34 points are awarded on the basis of the reflections students write on the RPPF (Reflections on Planning and Progress Form) and this is designed to assess the students’ ability to reflect thoughtfully and honestly about their process.

Find on this page some guidance and examples to help support the reflection process for Extended Essays in English Literature.

What are the requirements?

  • Three “reflection sessions” must occur between the student and the supervisor during the research and writing process: an initial meeting near the beginning of the process, an interim meeting and a final meeting known as the viva voce.
  • Students must fill out the "Reflections on Planning and Progress Form" or RPPF during the process and this is submitted with the essay at the end.  
  • After each of the three required reflection sessions, students must write a reflection in the correct box on the RPPF.  Once done, the supervisor needs to enter the date and their initials in small boxes beneath each reflection. 
  • The total word count for these reflections on the form must not exceed 500 words.
  • Following the whole process and after the essay is submitted internally, the supervisor writes a summative comment in the last box on the form.  The students do not see this comment.  
  • The examiner uses the RPPF in order to assess Criterion E: engagement.

How can supervisors guide students with their reflection?

The IB have provided guidance, questions and support for helping students with reflections; this can be found in the Teacher Support Material for the Extended Essay via the Programme Resource Centre on My IB.  They provide generic questions for each reflection session which are very useful.  

Find below a table of questions adapted from these, tailored to help students writing English Literature essays in each of the reflection sessions.  This table can be downloaded by clicking the link below or seen by clicking the icon beneath this.

 English Literature Extended Essay: questions for reflection sessions 

English Literature Extended Essay: questions for reflection sessions

Some of the following questions can be used to guide your thinking during each of the reflection sessions. You can lead this discussion by considering the questions that seem most pertinent to you, while your supervisor will also choose questions to ask depending on where you are in the process.

Note what you need to bring to each session and what you need to do after each session.

Reflection session and what to bring?

Sample Guiding Questions

What to do next

Initial 

  • the chosen text(s) with annotations
  • Proposal  - text and topic
  • Notes/mindmap etc.
  • Draft Question(s) 
  • Questions for your supervisor 
  • Possible secondary sources
  1. Why have you chosen/what led you to this text/author/genre as the focus for your essay?  Why do you think it would make a good choice for exploration?  
  2. What is your initial RQ?  Why is this a good question for the chosen text(s)? What makes this a question worth asking? 
  3. What are you hoping to discover about this text with this question? 
  4. Is the question contestable/open to debate? 
  5. Does the question have a clear literary focus; is it framed in a way that is focused on the author, their choices and the effects created? 
  6. Have you looked at secondary sources for this text?  Does it have a ‘critical history’?  If so, what do you know about this?  What are the patterns/themes that run through this history?  What challenges and opportunities might this present?
  7. What debates, controversies, or concerns are you already aware of with your text and topic choice? 
  8. Is there enough material to support your research topic, both within the text (primary source) and beyond (secondary sources)? 
  9. What problems or complications might you encounter with this text, topic and question? 
  10. What do you anticipate will be your biggest challenge moving forward? 

1. Write a 150 word reflection on the RPPF. 

2.  Show this to your supervisor who will sign and date the form.

3.  Follow up on any advice, tasks, etc. your supervisor gave you during the reflection session.  

Interim 

  • Working document
  • Planning/outline/draft
  • Annotated text/secondary sources
  1. Have you made any changes / adjustments to your RQ?  Why?  
  2. How and how much have you revisited your text? How has the process of rereading supported, extended or challenged your initial thinking?
  3. Which literary aspects of the text are you most focused on?  Will your question and thinking so far lead you to some in-depth and explicit literary analysis? 
  4. What secondary sources have you used so far?  Which have been most useful or enlightening and why? How have you critically engaged with sources?
  5. What different perspectives on the text and topic have you explored?  Have you taken into consideration any confirmation bias? 
  6. What aspects of your secondary reading have supported, extended, or challenged your initial thinking? 
  7. Which aspects of the essay so far do you think are the strongest and why? 
  8. What aspects of your essay so far do you feel need further exploration? 
  9. Do you feel you are moving towards a conclusion that responds to your RQ?
  10. Do you think your question and planning so far will allow for an explicit and consistent focus on a range of relevant authorial choices and the effects of those choices?

1. Write a 200 word reflection on the RPPF. 

2.  Show this to your supervisor who will sign and date the form.

3.  Follow up on any advice, tasks, etc. your supervisor gave you during the reflection session.  

4.  Complete your extended essay. 

Final (Viva-Voce)

  1. What conclusions did you arrive at?  Do you feel they are justified and well supported by the essay’s argument and the  analysis of the text?
  2. How did the process as a whole support, challenge, or extend your thinking on the text and your RQ?
  3. What would you consider to be the most rewarding / challenging parts of the research and writing process?
  4. What advice would you give to a student researching a similar text, author or topic? 
  5. How has writing this essay changed your perspective on: a) the text b)the author c)the process of writing a literary essay?
  6. Which secondary source did you find most/least helpful and why?  
  7. What remaining questions do you have? 
  8. Do you feel your essay “adds knowledge” about the text/author?  Why / why not?
  9. What have you learned about yourself as a learner?
  10. What strategies and skills have you developed in this process and how might these by useful in the future?

1. Write a 150 word reflection on the RPPF. 

2.  Show this to your supervisor who will sign and date the form.

Resource:  Guiding Student Reflection (IBO 2017)

What makes a strong reflection? 

The top band (5-6) for Criterion E (engagement), identifies the following characteristics for reflections where engagement can be assessed as excellent: 

  • Evaluative about decision-making and planning
  • Include reference to challenges in the research process and the student’s consideration of actions and ideas in response to these challenges
  • Communicate a high degree of intellectual and personal engagement with the research focus and process of research
  • demonstrate authenticity, intellectual initiative and/or a creative approach 

As is evident from these descriptors, excellent engagement does not mean a smooth and easy process, nor that the final essay is necessarily very strong. Essays that do not score well in the other criteria can still achieve high marks for engagement if the student's reflections meet these expectations. 

It is important for students to realise that to score in the highest band for engagement, their reflections need to be evaluative.  The IB's guidance outlines "three levels of reflection" which also correspond with the three bands in this criterion: descriptive, analytical and evaluative. Many of the questions in the table above are intended to get students thinking evaluatively about their decisions, planning and process. 

Sample reflections

The following sample reflections scored in the top band and come from an essay with the following title and research question:

An Analysis on the Characterization of Elaine of Astolat in the Context of Four Poems

Research Question: How have female poets responded to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s romantic depiction of “The Lady of Shalott” to reflect the concerns they had of the societal climate of their time?

Reflection 1

From the beginning of this process, I knew that I wanted to explore a topic regarding Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous poem, “The Lady of Shalott”. I was inspired by John William Waterhouse’s painting of the same name which I admire for its romantic qualities. My initial idea was to explore how Shalott’s tragic story is reflected through a visual and literary lens. The research question I had initially set was, “How is Shalott’s tragic story reflected in the literary medium in Tennyson’s poem and the visual medium in Waterhouse’s painting, and how do both works reflect elements of the Romantic era?”. In my first meeting with my supervisor, she agreed that this could be an interesting topic but advised that I brainstorm other research possibilities regarding Tennyson’s poem explicitly. Using her advice, I realized how familiar I already am with the painting and decided to challenge myself by exploring the  way Tennyson portrays Shalott in his poem

 Comments

The first reflection establishes a high degree of personal and intellectual engagement with the chosen text, as well as initiative in terms of thinking about the initial direction of the essay.  The last part of the relfection makes it clear that the student is open to feedback and responds to this thoughtfully in order to evaluate their choices and the purpose of the essay, and then change plans accordingly. 

    Reflection 2

    Since my last reflection, I focused on determining the specific path of my essay regarding Tennyson’s poem, and really struggled to narrow my research question. It wasn’t until I learned how impactful Tennyson’s poem was to writers in the decades after it was written that I became compelled by Elizabeth Drew Barstow Stoddard’s “Before the Mirror”, and Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Elaine”, and how differently they portray Shalott to fit different meanings. Since both poems aren’t well known and are quite ambiguous, exploring the texts in a literary comparison will push me to engage extensively with each of them. My supervisor also advised me to research the poets themselves to deepen my understanding of their different writing styles. By the end of our meeting, I decided to narrow my research question to, “How is the conception of Elaine’s character different in the different versions of her story and what were the intentions of each poem?”

    Comments

    The second reflection outlines challenges faced since the first reflection, as well as how research and learning allowed the student to find a route out of these struggles.  As in the first reflection, the desire to write something that will challenge the student is evident, as is a genuine interest in these newly discovered texts. Indeed, it is clear that the student sees the research and writing of the essay as a process of exploration and discovery, and that they are driven by an aspiration to learn and to write something new.  

    Reflection 3

    The process of the essay was a bittersweet experience. The most frustrating part was writing the second draft as my supervisor and I came to the realization that my essay could be much stronger if I was more specific in my research question. This meant that I had to redraft half of my essay to explore how female poets responded to Tennyson’s romantic depiction of Shalott to reflect their concerns for the societal climate of their time. But, I have to admit that completing the essay to the best of my abilities despite the stressful process of redrafting was very academically fulfilling, especially as I investigated Tennyson’s poem through a slightly more feminist lens - one which I’d never been able to investigate in full depth before. I am proud of how resilient I was in the face of adversity. Since I have never written an essay in such depth and length, I feel that I’ve learned much more than just the nature of my topic, but also the importance of essay structure, and how to break apart and investigate difficult texts through a literary lens.

    Comments

    The final reflection references some considerable challenges faced in the writing process, analysing the decisions made and then evaluating the outcomes and their learning through the process as a whole, both in relation to the research question and in terms of their experience of the research and writing process. 

    Overall, these three reflections convey a process that was challenging but full of learning. They concisely capture an authentic journey of discovery, driven by a high degree of intellectual and personal engagement.  What also comes across is the student's independence and initiative, as well as a recognition that the process was helped by a thoughtful and proactive collaboration with their supervisor.

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