“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.” –Marcel Proust
Viva voce is a Latin phrase that means “with living voice” and represents an insightful way to describe one of the highlights of our school year. The dual reference of “with living voice” to signify both the concept of “word of mouth” and an oral examination, such as a thesis defense, accurately represents students’ experiences associated with our culminating International Baccalaureate (IB) Extended Essay experience.
The IB’s Extended Essay is an independent, self-directed work of research that is concluded with the writing of a 4,000-word paper. Through the process of investigating a topic of special interest, the IB highlights how students develop skills that include the formulation of a research question and the corresponding capacity to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate knowledge.
While the completion of an Extended Essay is an impressive accomplishment in itself, the American School of Brasilia extends the experience and learning through an event called Viva Voce. This special event may best be described as the verbal counterpart to the student’s written essay when our IB candidates literally talk about the passion and challenges they experienced when writing their essays. A three to five-member panel, usually comprised of parents, teachers, and students with expertise or interest in the subject, carefully read the essay and formally engage with the IB students during their presentations. The Viva Voce event is also open to our community to participate as a silent audience and, given the full attendance, there is clearly a high degree of support and interest.
Beyond this framework, what makes the Viva Voce experience so profound is the high degree of passion and engagement that students clearly convey for their research topics. It is not uncommon for students to write much more than the required 4,000 words. The following is a sample of some of the research focus areas:
- Economics: Government’s Management of Brazil’s Electricity Sector
- World Studies: Sustainable Fashion
- Film: Alfred Hitchcock’s influence in film
- Macro Economics. The effect of the Greek economic crisis in the EU.
This year, I had the honor of serving on Carolina’s panel, a student whose research question investigated the ballad structure in Oscar Wilde’s poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” While Carolina spoke to the panel and audience about both her findings and her learning, I could not help but be impressed by her reflections on how her research changed how she sees literature, human relations, and the world in general, but also by her depth of knowledge and understanding of Wilde’s work, as represented by her concluding statements:
“The author uses a poetic method as a tool of offering palpable representation of life at Reading Gaol, which causes people to feel sympathy and sadness. The convicted men inside prison are hopeful, therefore although the initial feeling is that of pity, the author transforms it into a soothing, otherworldly environment, one that proved the human soul capable of conquering the harshness of reality.”
Well done Carolina! And, well done to all Viva Voce students!
The deep learning experiences demonstrated not only by Carolina but all of our students is not the only factor that makes Viva Voce such a special experience. It is also the fact that teachers, parents, students, and members of the greater community are also participating in the learning experience. As it was the first time I had read Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol, I was grateful to Carolina for sharing her analysis and introducing me to such an important work of literature. I had similar feelings last year when serving on a panel for an outstanding economics paper and was seated with a talented economist from the British Embassy and the World Bank Country Director for Brazil. While I would like to think that I made some meaningful contributions to our conversation about economics, I have no doubt that I was also a learner on this day.
While these are my personal stories, I am confident that I speak on behalf of everyone who has participated in the Viva Voce event when sharing how meaningful and transformative the experience has been for students, teachers, and parents. To that end, Viva Voce is a good example of how learning can be personalized, relevant, and meaningful. In terms of school culture, Viva Voce also embodies and exemplifies the spirit of our mission statement: Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision.”