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Grey Matter Chatter

November 2019


Research and innovation lie at the heart of any good socio-economic strategy and make a pivotal contribution to the development of a society. They are the foundation of new career paths, economic and intellectual growth and underpin a wide range of policy priorities in organisations and governments.


In this edition of Grey Matter Chatter, Mandy Durnford, the HOD of the Hilton College Library explains how the Grade 11 Extended Essay inspires boys to conduct research into a topic that they are passionate about.




As part of an ongoing quest to remain informed and educationally relevant, Hilton College has investigated various international curricula to ascertain their strengths and the desirability of adopting elements of these into our own teaching. The International Baccalaureate’s Extended Essay, a mandatory research essay on a topic of the student’s choice completed in their final Diploma year, was identified as one such element.


The English Department championed this initially but over the years the Hilton College Grade 11 Extended Essay has become a ‘whole school’ endeavour. The EE is an in-depth, research-based piece of work and is undertaken independently. The aim is to promote high-level research and writing skills, intellectual discovery and creativity. It provides an opportunity for pupils to engage in research in a field of individual interest, under the joint supervision of two staff members; a subject supervisor and the pupil’s English teacher/supervisor with overall supervision and co-ordination being done by the library. The result is a major piece of formally presented, structured writing of 2 000 – 3 000 words, which is assessed against common criteria by both supervisors.




To imbed metacognitive skills, the essay writing process is scaffolded with several check points throughout the process. The EE is launched in the last term of Grade 10 with both pupils and parents being informed about the parameters and expectations involved. By the second week of their Grade 11 year, pupils must have formulated an essay hypothesis and be ready to defend it before a group of staff in a ‘Shark Tank’ type scenario. Over the next term and a half, students submit a critical review of sources; an essay outline, a draft and their final essay. Throughout the process they must set up meetings with their supervisors and attend workshops held to teach both research-based and academic writing skills. Both supervisors and the librarian assess the pupil’s progress and give regular feedback.


The essay is compulsory not only for each Grade 11 pupil but for each member of the academic staff who must undertake to supervise one or two pupils. The result forms part of their Grade 11 November report. While some pupils find the EE challenging, they also discover that they are capable of achieving more than they thought and that completing the EE is rewarding. An important aspect of the EE is self-management as while the workshops and some limited lesson time is scheduled for the EE, pupils are expected to complete this essay in their own time. It is Hilton College’s contention that pupils must take control of their own learning both in preparation for matric and university.


83% of respondents to a survey undertaken with past pupils in 2017 felt that the EE had helped prepare them for university. They mentioned the benefits of undertaking a longer, formal piece of writing; having to deal with academic sources and plagiarism software; of learning research and referencing skills and having to manage their own time. Overall 78% of these respondents felt that Hilton College had prepared them well or very well for the academic challenge of university life.

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