Central role of critical thinking
Critical thinking is an essential component of VCE Extended Investigation. It is directly taught within the study and is implicit in all the work students undertake.
The purpose of critical thinking is for students to move beyond the acceptance of information, towards a critical and careful consideration of the nature of different types of argument and reasoning. These skills are essential in each phase of their investigation.
Critical thinking is used by students as they select, design and investigate their research field. Students must demonstrate complex and contextualised understanding of the way that arguments and evidence function, both generally and when associated with their investigation. In particular, students should understand the development of argument within a range of sources, critically exploring their connections and areas of congruence and divergence.
Students are expected to understand the processes they have undertaken in their own investigation and critically reflect on them in both their written and oral work.
Inquiry-based and student-directed learning
VCE Extended Investigation requires a specific approach to teaching and learning because the investigations are individually student-directed within the boundaries set by the study design and associated advice, the school context within which the investigation takes place and the limited expertise of the student. The study balances the direct teaching of the necessary skills to undertake a research investigation with the application by students of these skills to their own self-directed investigation. It follows that teachers are not expected to be experts in the research areas in which their students are engaged.
Educated non-specialist audience
Students are required to present their findings to a non-specialist audience so they should use language that is accessible. As no two investigations are alike, the level of language adjustment required will vary from student to student. Some may find they are required to spend considerable time adjusting language for an educated non-specialist audience.
The key knowledge in both areas of study of Unit 4 includes: ‘adaptations of language and key ideas to suit an educated non-specialist audience’. However, it is advisable for students to begin adjusting their language early in the investigation process, preferably during Unit 3. Even as students begin to familiarise themselves with the specialised terminology associated with their field of research, teachers can provide them with a range of strategies to practise explaining their research to a range of audiences and this should continue throughout the year.
In VCE Extended Investigation, students develop research skills and a sense of the ownership of their investigation. The teacher’s role is to facilitate this experience for the students. They can assist them by:
- providing a range of frameworks, thinking strategies and writing approaches that can be applied to different research contexts
- providing the structures and parameters that guide students through the development, management, and conduct of their own investigation and assisting them to keeping within these, including agreed timelines
- acting as facilitator, advisor and trouble-shooter when students arrive at an impasse in their research (for example, if a student’s data collection approach does not work out as expected)
- assisting students to come to their own decisions about how best to deal with problems confronting them and decide upon their own course of action
- discussing the role and responsibilities of being a researcher
- providing structures and opportunities for students to reflect on their progress
- providing tools and strategies that enable students to identify cognitive biases based on their own experiences and motivations, and which may impact the types of information they value, the sources of data they collect, and the inferences they may draw.
Throughout the study, students will engage with a range of materials and tasks that require the application of critical thinking skills. Evidence of the development of each student’s critical thinking skills must be documented by a range of practical exercises within their VCE Extended Investigation Journal.
Critical thinking is an implicit and explicit component of Units 3 and 4. Practical exercises in critical thinking should be undertaken very early in Unit 3 Area of Study 3 and continued into Unit 4 Area of Study 1. It is particularly relevant for students to apply critical thinking skills in the design of their research question; their analysis of existing literature, methodological design and data; and in discussion of their findings and conclusion. A critical perspective will develop iteratively as student knowledge of their area deepens and analysis and evaluation is undertaken for different purposes. Teachers can support students through explicitly tailoring critical thinking exercises to different stages of an investigation process, which also introduces concepts and strategies that form the foundation for broad feedback on individual investigations.
Research and writing support
The teacher’s role as facilitator and advisor becomes more evident as students transition from the planning stage to the actual investigation. Teachers continue to monitor and support each student to ensure that their investigation is progressing, and that it remains manageable and within any defined and discussed boundaries of research area, time and resources.
Alongside this, structured regular classes need to continue so that students have the opportunity to learn, develop and demonstrate the key knowledge and key skills of the outcomes that inform and scaffold the development of their investigation.
This contact time is also essential for the teacher to authenticate students’ work and encourage them to maintain their motivation throughout the course of the year.
Development of work and feedback
The nature of School-assessed Coursework in this study is such that teachers will need to interact with student work somewhat differently from other studies. However, current VCAA rules for School-based Assessment still apply. The rules regarding the drafting of student work and authentication, as detailed in the current VCE and VCAL Administrative Handbook, must be observed. The Externally-assessed Task Authentication Form or equivalent, the Extended Investigation Journal, and observational records of student progress should be used throughout the year.
Teachers need to authenticate student work as it develops and also teach the skills of drafting and writing as part of the class program without going to the level of highly specific and individualised direction.
Feedback from teachers must reflect the fact that the tasks assessed in Unit 3 contribute to the final assessed tasks in Unit 4. Teachers need to ensure that the work of each student remains their own rather than the product of intervention by others.
Where feedback on assessed work is given, it must focus on broad and general issues in student work. Teachers are encouraged to provide verbal feedback rather than annotations on written work to assist students to reflect critically on their own work. Acceptable forms of feedback may focus on:
- report or writing structure
- the use of academic conventions, including referencing
- clarity of ideas
- justification of ideas
- design and conduct of an investigation
- development of ideas and argument
- adjustment of language for an educated non-specialist audience.
Feedback should not take the form of annotated written directions to students at the word or sentence level. Unacceptable forms of feedback may:
- require students to make word or sentence level changes
- redraft sections of work on a student’s behalf
- provide solutions to writing issues.
For example, a teacher may indicate that the main idea of a particular paragraph is unclear and use questions to assist the student in determining and clarifying the core idea. Teachers should subsequently refrain from working with the student to adjust the paragraph.
The use of writing models and samples is also an important strategy for providing feedback in VCE Extended Investigation. Teachers should use writing samples and models that demonstrate the issues being encountered in students’ own work and draw on these in both whole class teaching and individual conferencing to support students in identifying and taking action on problems in their written work.
Unpredictable factors may disrupt the progress of a student’s investigation. These may be beyond the student’s reasonable control; for example, the research not proceeding as planned, the student having trouble sourcing willing participants, or collected data producing unexpected or contradictory findings.
Difficulties may also arise as a result of matters that are considered to be within a student’s reasonable control. For example, a student may disregard early guidance without clear reasons, or they may not have managed their time well, or failed to make a consistent effort.
When formulating the evaluation and conclusions of their investigation, some students will need to discuss the difficulties they encountered. Throughout their literature reviews, it may be useful for students to contribute to a collective list of the various reasons given by researchers explaining inconclusive results. Professional researchers may report contradictory data or equipment failure but not poor time management or lack of motivation. Teachers should assist students in understanding the type of difficulties that are appropriate to discuss in their own written reports and oral presentations.
Regardless of the difficulties students face, as a result of matters within or beyond their control, it is important that they receive guidance from teachers about possible challenges, complications and limitations. Difficulties create opportunities for critical reflection; they can result in important learning experiences that inform future endeavours in this study and beyond.
Effort and motivation
Sustaining student motivation over the duration of an investigation can be challenging. Teachers can expect that students will oscillate between periods of uninterest and passion about their research area, which may or may not reflect the quality of their progress.
It is important to keep students engaged by helping them set realistic targets for each lesson, week, month and term. Lessons should be structured to enable students to accomplish something towards their own work; for example, identifying relevant terminology, learning ways to summarise readings, making informed decisions about how to express themselves and their ideas.
When student motivation is low, teachers should encourage them to engage with smaller achievable tasks. Teachers may be able to spark motivation through tasks such as formatting documents, researching appropriate bibliographic conventions, or searching news websites (local, national and international) for up-to-date items about their area of research.
Teachers can motivate students by encouraging them to maintain a steady and consistent effort with their investigation. These efforts can be emphasised by integrating achievement milestones into the research process. This may help students who are challenged by the deceptive distance of final due dates. It may also encourage highly enthusiastic students to balance efforts across their studies, build in reflection time and plan ahead instead of immediately moving on to the next task.
It is important for students to keep a record of all their work so that their final report is a consolidation of the breadth of work undertaken throughout the year. As an example, if teachers discuss with students the benefits and disadvantages of different research methods to help them justify their individual selected method, a record of this discussion may provide a clearer research purpose for their final report. Incremental achievements will aid students in writing a more effective final report that represents their engagement with their research area.
Students’ achievements can be celebrated by cultivating an atmosphere of collegial endeavour within the classroom. Teachers can foster expertise and ownership of knowledge within the classroom by encouraging students to talk about their experiences, successes and challenges. There are opportunities for whole group activities in this study, particularly in Unit 3 where students can collaborate in their learning.
Student work can also be celebrated within the wider school community through presentation events. Some students may also wish to present their research in the local community and this should be encouraged. However, to ensure fair and unbiased assessment of their work, students cannot release it to the general public or in any forum that may result in feedback that could form a breach of rules until after the assessment period has concluded.