How can we become clearer on what is being asked of us and reflect in a
manner that brings about deeper understanding for us and our students?
Recently during a building collaboration, we were looking at a teacher-designed unit of instruction, analyzing it compared to the scoring rubric. This simple activity assisted the teaching staff in understanding expectations of unit design, and highlighted for many the clear differences in our understanding of essential and guiding questions. These conversations left me wondering over the weekend. How can we become clearer on what is being asked of us and reflect in a manner that brings about deeper understanding for us and our students? As I was reflecting I began drawing from my earlier experiences with Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Several years ago we had been focusing on essential questions and enduring understandings as a district. I remember what Wiggins and McTighe were proposing seemed to be a far reaching goal that was more of a theory than something that could be put into practice in every subject, throughout the day, on a daily bases. Essential questions serve as “doorways to understanding”. Teachers should use them to probe deeper into student thinking and understanding. Students should be provided them in creating understanding and inquiry in their work and learning.
Good essential questions have seven key characteristics:
All questions are not created equal. As we design our questioning, one has to have a clear understanding of when questions are essential, and when our questions are not essential. Three kinds of questions are useful in teaching and student learning but are NOT essential:
Anyone that has worked with Wiggins, in person or through his written works, can tell you about his love of sports. His love for sports is continually highlighted in analogies that he uses to bring the theories of enduring understandings and essential questions into relevant classroom practice. As a mother of two boys, Wiggin's connection to his children’s sports leaves me continually reflecting on school and education theories and practices on the sports field. Sports is not about winning or losing, it is about setting, moving toward and reaching goals individually and with others. Today, the Common Core Standards and the educational programming in our schools require the same thing. Students need to set, move toward and reach goals individually and with others. The classroom’s culture determines the risks students are willing to take and the authenticity of their engagement. Effective questioning makes our teaching better, and creates an inquiry atmosphere in classrooms.
As you continue to work toward meeting your students’ needs please take the time to stop and reflect on how your questioning and linguistic choices have impacted learning and inquiry in your classroom. Remember all questions are not created equal.
Understanding by Design: Essential Questions
iTeach | Essential Questions
Post by Johna Sutton | Elkhorn Instructional Coach
This will be a resource built by the staff for the staff to encourage integration of 21st century skills into every student's learning.