Chapter 3: How do we design an essential question?

Tuesday we talked about what makes a question essential. Today we're going to further that discussion by delving into what Wiggins and McTighe call the designing of an essential question. We touched on actively exploring the content, looking at targeted understandings and overarching versus topical essential questions.

Let's start with exploring the content. No matter what  you consider your "essential content" to be, that is the place to start.  It was interesting to have Wiggins and McTighe confirm what our administrator has been telling us for years now when we're working on curriculum. He taught us to highlight the verbs  and key nouns in the standards to get to the point of what is essential. This method was helping us really unpack the standards,  become a more cohesive team,  and our students are reaping the benefits. I see now that this system has the potential to set the stage for inquiry based learning. In chapter 3 there is a table that highlights this method and gives examples of essential questions to use with a small sample of ELA, Math And Science essential standards.

When we've unpacked the standards and come to an understanding of the big ideas; then we can  target our desired students' understandings.  These understandings are generally essential in all disciplines. Understandings are not concrete and "teachable" in the traditional sense. Understanding comes from "guided inference." We are not teaching them what to think but how to think.  By designing our essential questions around our targeted understandings this is what we are doing.

Another way to think about how to design topical essential questions is to look at the overarching essential questions derived from unpacking "essential content" standards. The overarching questions assist in coming up with more "topic-specific" questions.  A bonus to this idea is once the targeted understandings are established;  the overarching questions to support said understandings are in place, the topical questions can be designed to span  grade levels.  In turn, causing a spiraling effect  that provides the roots needed to develop and deepen understanding.

Essential Questions can also be designed by using possible and predictable misconceptions. With time and experience as an educator, comes the patterns of misconceptions of students'  to the more abstract and subtle ideas.  Another way to find misconceptions is to use pre-assessments. Using these predictable patterns will gain insight to many essential questions.

Wiggins and McTighe also found their previous study on the 6 facets of understanding to be quite useful in this endeavor as well. The six facets of understanding that they propose are: the capacity to explain, interpret, apply, shift perspective, empathize and self-assess.

I hope you found something to take back to your classroom and look forward to chatting about this topic tomorrow.

Don't Forget the Twitter chat tomorrow @ 6pm use #MMPD #inquirybasedlearning I changed the questions a little so use this chart for reference. 


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