Chapter Two - Why Use Essential Questions

If nothing else, take Chris Anderson's advice and use  essential questions to "stay curious!"

Today we're going to discuss chapter two of Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding. Wiggins and McTighe give us 7 different reasons to use essential questions and today we're going to delve into those reasons.

 In this day and age, we are living in the culture of instant knowledge.  Information is literally at our fingertips.  With this thought, I realized as an educator it is not my job to impart knowledge but to spark curiosity; encourage our next generation to ask those questions, and give them opportunities to practice this inquiry. Wiggins and McTighe state that to signal this is a key goal in education, we need to use and encourage our students to use, essential questions.

Let's talk student engagement. What does engagement look like for you? Engagement goes far beyond compliance. Engagement is a sparked curiosity. A love of learning is engagement. How do you make engagement happen in our room? Do we use essential questions? How can we use essential questions to spark curiosity?

Standards!? This might just be a curse word for teachers. But wait, Wiggins and McTighe (2013)  are on to something when they say,
Nearly every teacher we know faces a common challenge: there is simply too much content and not enough time to teach it all optimally. Yet there is a paradoxical quality to planning and teaching once all the content has been specified: it seems to the teacher as if  everything is important, and that it is all connected- that's why it was chosen! But if everything is important and connected, then nothing is self-evidently important from the learner's perspective. of our criteria for an essential question is that it points to the larger, transferable ideas and processes in standards. Indeed, essential questions offer a practical vehicle for prioritizing the content in standards and enabling teachers to focus subject matter in a way that makes the key ideas more overt. (pg. 20)

A good way to think about this idea is to think about the Common Core (this is not a reference in support of or disagreement with The  Common Core State Standards.) Our district adopted Build Your Own Curriculum (again not an endorsement or an opinion) this year which is also helping me  also put this into perspective.

So I'm going to tell you how this curriculum works. It is set up from the top down. The top being the course, or in this instance ELA (English Language Arts). The next level of focus is the unit - a.k.a. over arching essential questions (or if you will, ELA Common Core Anchor Standards) Which narrows down to topics -a.k.a topical essential questions (or if you will, ELA Common Core Standards). Which can also be known as "learning targets" or the tip of the triangle.

 Some may argue that providing transparency for students is more harmful then helpful. Isn't that just giving the students the answers or taking opportunities from them to figure things out on their own? No, what transparency does for students is give them a focus and a purpose. Their job is to take this knowledge to the next level. Apply it to a real life scenario. Determine how it could be used in the context of what's important to them. It will model for them that the act of transparency is a life skill that will serve them in situations that need problem solving and basic human interaction.

The use of essential questions is a great way to model meta-cognition. To be successful in any field, understanding how to ask and use essential questions is vital. By teaching students how to ask and use essential questions, we're modeling a life skill that they will be able to transfer into strategies for future use. That's not to say that students shouldn't come up with questions on their own because they should. It's the finding of balance between  teaching and learning that will make this process successful for all.

Essential questions, when used authentically, can solidify connections  within  and amongst a variety of subjects. Due to all the new brain studies on learning it is widely known that connections solidify deep and significant learning. This meets our overarching goals of transfer and application of knowledge.

And last but certainly not least, a subject  that is near and dear to my heart...differentiation. Essential questions can support meaningful differentiation. Yes, I said meaningful. Unfortunately, I've seen and have been known to set a different set of standards for struggling readers. Using essential questions will encourage this exact action not to happen. Essential questions signal to everyone that everyone is capable of learning.   With the focus on the question and not the content, everyone will find some success, which may not be what they typically experience.

I'm going to wrap it up now. Don't forget to join us tomorrow, July 10th for the twitter chat. It will begin at 6 pm CST.

Also don't forget I will post question in the forum. Feel free to use them or your own questions to start up a discussion. 

I look forward  to sharing chapt. 1 with you next Tuesday, July 14th. 
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