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Guiding students through the reflective project

Understanding the Career-related Programme (CP) reflective project criteria is beneficial for supervisors because they can provide concrete advice and lead students through this exciting journey. IB Voices recently sat down with Wilma Shen, CP coordinator at Renaissance College in Hong Kong, who shared her school’s strategies for the reflective project supervisor training and marking standardization in the second episode of a series focused entirely on the CP.

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Listen to the full interview on the IB Voices podcast

How does your school identify and train reflective project supervisors?

Wilma Shen: In January, we introduce the reflective project to our year one Career-related Programme (CP) students. Around the same time, we also begin training the supervisors since we work on various CP pathways with our external career-related study partners. For example, if a student’s career-related study is on arts and design then we will pair them with a supervisor who has the same background.

My main focus for the supervisor training is to lay out the difference between the extended essay and the reflective project. For example, we explore how the ethical dilemma relates to the career context and look at it from an international dimension. During the workshop, we also provide different examples and have teachers work together to develop and refine a good ethical research question. For example, if the topic was alternative vehicles some teachers would focus on the price challenge while others would look at the monopoly of the market by a few automobile companies. We also go through the requirements of the reflective project and the projected timeline for the process.

“When supervisors understand the requirements, they can provide concrete guidance and feedback to lead students on a very exciting journey”.

Can you explain what standardization is and how that works at your school?

Standardization is a process where all supervisors mark the reflective project and work together to double check their marking and verify that they are consistently applying the same standards. So we divide the supervisors into different pod groups (each group has three to four people) and the student projects are selected at random. The supervisors within each group are then asked to mark the report according to the criteria and they submit their marks through a Google form for data collection.

After this, we will organize a meeting to discuss the discrepancies and justify the grade given. Initially, we would just conduct internal standardization once the final report was submitted but now, we have expanded to two stages: one internally within the school and another externally with six other CP schools under the English Schools Foundation in Hong Kong (ESF).

How has this attention to detail impacted your programme?

I think it’s had a huge impact on us in three areas. Firstly, we have witnessed more positive results and an increased interest from our staff members who want to engage in the reflective project process. As I mentioned before, most staff members have extended essay supervision experience, but they know very little about the reflective project in the CP context. So, the workshop training and standardization procedure can open their eyes to a different type of research work that has a lot of applied elements and real-world career perspectives. Some have even said that they enjoy this supervision experience more than the extended essay one because of the close connection with the students’ career-related studies and the ethical dilemma in the real world of work.

The second impact is that we can achieve more consistent and accurate marking for our students’ work. Sometimes it’s very difficult to remain objective when you are marking your own students’ work because you have built this relationship with them over the past 10 to 11 months. Having internal standardization will minimize this effect and give everyone a chance to express their rationale and debate any of the discrepancies. Also, the process of external standardization gives us a sense of where we stand in our marking compared to the benchmark used by other schools.

The third benefit is that the external standardization has really improved our understanding of the reflective project as we get to see a larger variety of student sample work. For example, in the first year we were able to see two alternatives formats on fast fashion; one was a recorded interview and the other was a featured documentary. We were able to see samples of different topics such as mechanical engineering and sports science and that gave us an opportunity to see what topics and ethical dilemmas students chose and the resources (both primary and secondary) used to collect data.

Guiding students through the reflective project

Were there any challenges that you encountered in the planning and implementation of supervisor training and standardization? If so, how did you address them?

One challenge was to ensure that all supervisors understood the requirements of the reflective project. For example, the ethical dilemma needs to be associated with a student’s career-related study and the chosen research question needs to have more than one right answer and requires the use of an argument. To address this challenge, we put a lot of emphasis in the training to address the two common problematic areas. One is a descriptive vs interrogative essay and the other is creating a good research question. By practicing and experiencing the development of a good research question themselves, the teachers can understand what students need to know and guide them to feel more confident, and they are eager to serve as supervisors for this process.

Another challenge is to scaffold the ethics and ethical dilemma for students and supervisors. When supervisors give feedback, it’s very important to help students see different dimensions of an ethical dilemma and lead them to explore various stakeholders, perspectives and viewpoints. To tackle this, we use very useful and effective tools to help scaffold the ethical issue. One tool is called ethical thinking analysis and it involves answering seven key questions:

  • What are the facts?
  • What are the ethical issues?
  • What are the alternatives?
  • What are the stakeholders?
  • What are the ethics of the alternatives?
  • What are the practical constraints?
  • What actions should you take?

If a student can answer all these questions, we will have a clearer idea of the different stakeholders, perspectives and viewpoints. Another method is the McGann box whereby the evaluation and analysis of the data can be divided into four big areas: the situation, conflicts and values, traditions and principles and decisions. These tools can really help students and supervisors dissect the ethical dilemma, leading them to explore it from different perspectives and undertake their research.

What advice would you give to schools wanting to improve their internal standardization process?

Having gone through the process myself and reaped the benefits of conducting this internal and external standardization process, I would strongly encourage every CP school to form an alliance with other schools in their region or area. I would also recommend doing internal and external marking because they serve as quality control and are a great training opportunity for any new supervisors or coordinators, especially now with the advancement of technology. I think we can do this conveniently without really adding cost to the school. The biggest beneficiary of this practice is the students. When supervisors understand the requirements, they can provide concrete guidance and feedback to lead students on a very exciting, rewarding exploratory journey and students can enjoy the process better.

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This interview was conducted by Zachary Fernebok, Product Marketing Manager for the Diploma Programme and Career-related Programme at the International Baccalaureate, and one of the hosts of IB Voices. Listen to more stories from students, schools, educators and more on the IB Voices podcast.

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