Completing the Career-related Programme (CP) reflective project can be challenging for both students and supervisors. To speak more on this, IB Voices met with Rebecca Austin Pickard, former CP coordinator of Dane Court Grammar School and author of the CP reflective project. In this first episode of a series focused entirely on the CP, she will highlight strategies to mitigate some challenges faced when implementing the programme and the potential of this culminating experience for students.
Listen to the full interview on the IB Voices podcast
What about your experience with the reflective project prompted you to write a book on this topic?
Rebecca Austin Pickard: I was driven to write this from a mixture of circumstances. I left my school a few years ago to go back to university and I wanted to explore the reflective project in more detail because I had this suspicion that it had real world significance. I set myself the challenge of interviewing people from all sorts of professions just to gauge an idea of where it stood. When I saw the criteria of knowledge and understanding, critical thinking and engagement and reflection, I was thinking that surely, these are needed in real world situations. So, I talked to as many professionals as possible and after my presentation at the Global Conference in Vienna, a publisher from Hodder approached me and told me that I should write a book that helps students through the reflective project and so here we are.
What would you say is the greatest value of the reflective project?
I think the greatest value of the reflective project is that it is a unique assessment that promotes critical, ethical and reflective thinking from an IB perspective. It’s this wholly constructivist exercise where students shape their understanding of the world. With that being said, it is very complex if done really well because it’s an extraordinary exercise where all these types of thinking merge. However, it allows students to recognize the value of multiple perspectives and commonalities in behaviour, attitudes and thinking across a global community.
The most important value of the reflective project is when you realize that it’s all about the process and not the final product. As a supervisor, you can get bogged down in getting the product out of the student and making sure that they deliver what they need to deliver without taking time to enjoy the journey. The reflective project should be a ‘road trip’ with several stops along the way so the more you focus on the journey, the more the students will get the skills they need for the future.
“The greatest quality a supervisor can have is to be a good questioner and master the art of the open question”.
Have you noticed any common challenges among students in the reflective project?
I think the same issues come up again and again. Similar to the extended essay, it’s all about getting the question right because you have to make sure that it has a clear ethical dilemma and it’s not too broad or narrow. The most important thing is the willingness to keep going back to the question—sometimes students think once they’ve set their question they can’t change it or respond to it. Going back to it and saying ‘actually, no I need to shape this a bit more’ shows real risk-taking.
But from there, often the question can cause problems because it’s about recognizing what the ethical dilemma is. A good friend of mine who teaches philosophy always says ‘if you want to find the dilemma, look for the clash’. Therefore, every reflective project question should have a clear clash or conflict—it shows that there isn’t an obvious solution to the problem.
What can supervisors specifically do that can help students stay on track throughout the process of developing the reflective project, whether virtually or face-to-face?
I have been championing the supervisor role for a long time now because I don’t really think supervisors realize how much they can do and how exciting their sessions can be with their students. Their main role is to be the witness of this young person’s process. They are following the journey of this reflective project process both as an observer and an inquirer. The greatest quality a supervisor can have is to be a good questioner and master the art of the open question. I recommend the Socratic method, but supervisors can use other means to get the student to take charge of their project.
It also helps if the supervisor is not an expert and is willing to put themselves in the hands of the student, who’s going to be telling them all about their topic. I remember a few years ago, a speaker talking about the process of learning and how it’s defined by wanting to find out more. I thought that was interesting because that’s what we want the supervisor to do—to be taught by the student and to be encouraging. Just help them and make sure they don’t go completely off course. The supervisor role can be really exciting, and I have met so many people who are making it a really lovely role.
“Everything in the reflective project gives students the skills needed to navigate their career path”.
Have you noticed any advantages, innovations or enhancements that have resulted from this transition to a more online or blended learning experience?
I’ve been talking about visible thinking and when you do online blended learning, then you absolutely have to use visible thinking tools. When you have a personal and professional skills (PPS) class working in a lesson on skills for the reflective project and they’re all contributing to slides in synchronous learning or they’re all contributing to a Padlet, these are dynamic tools that you can use in class. The online environment and amazing technology at hand make for far more opportunity for visible thinking and it’s really interesting when you look at it from a lens of using experiences in the workforce and how visible thinking tools can be used to communicate our thinking, research and interconnectedness with our work.
What would you say is the most important piece of advice teachers and supervisors can give to students regarding the reflective project?
I think the real question is how do we get students using ethical frameworks to understand the reflective project. When you approach it from that angle, students find it more accessible and they have this framework to hang their ideas on. It also gives them an opportunity to find their own voice which is want we want. This allows them to see dilemmas from multiple perspectives—the criteria indicate that they should be looking at two or more perspectives and all too often, students are looking at for and against. We want to avoid that because that’s not how the world works. We want them to see that dilemmas are often nuanced without an obvious solution and you have to work hard with sensitivity and intercultural understanding to get to a solution.
Everything in the reflective project gives students the skills needed to navigate their career path. It teaches them that not following a straight trajectory is fine and it’s all about enjoying the ups and downs along the way and responding to them in a sensitive way.
This interview was conducted by Robert Kelty, Senior Development Manager 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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