Monday, May 18, 2015

Essential Questions: Engage Students in Meaningful Learning and Promote Deep Understanding

Written by Linda Ashida

As the school year draws to a close, many teachers at Elk Grove High School are preparing for Spring and Summer workshops when they will have time to reflect on the year with their Professional Learning Team colleagues and revise their curriculum for the coming year.

Some teams are working on redesigning learning units so that they are framed around Essential Questions. In the Collab Lab we have had conversations with some of these teachers about what really makes a good Essential Question. We have also discussed how can we best design learning experiences framed around those questions in order to engage students in meaningful learning and to help them develop deeper understanding of key concepts and higher-order thinking skills.

Just this weekend I was flipping through the most recent ASCD Professional Development SourceBook and I came across a "sidebar" resource that is a perfect refresher on the characteristics of good Essential Questions.  So I thought it would be a good time to share that resource and a few others to inspire teachers as they prepare for the coming school year.

The Seven Defining Characteristics of a Good Essential Question:

(from the ASCD Professional Development SourceBook, via Essential Questions:  Opening Doors to Student Understanding by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins)
  1. Is open-ended; that is, it typically will not have a single, final and correct answer.
  2. Is thought-provoking and intellectually engaging, often sparking discussion and debate.
  3. Call for higher-order thinking, such as analysis, inference, evaluation, prediction.  It cannot be effectively answered by recall alone.
  4. Points toward important, transferable ideas within (and sometimes across) disciplines.
  5. Raises additional questions and sparks further inquiry.
  6. Requires support and justifiation, not just an answer.
  7. Recurs over time; that is, the question can and should be revisited again and again.

Other helpful resources on Essential Questions:

This site has examples of Essential Questions and varied videos that serve as great resources.

2) ASCD Website:  Excerpts from the the book Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins.
This site has examples of Essential Questions by discipline, as well as examples of what is and what is not an Essential Question.

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