Essential questions are questions that we use to provoke a deeper understanding, further inquiry, or a transfer of learning when teaching complex topics. In this video, learn about characteristics that make a good essential question. Karin will even show you how to write an essential question based on the enduring learning.
- In this lesson, we will identify essential questions that will guide our instruction of complex topics. As I mentioned in our last lesson, enduring learning and essential questions are closely related. In fact, we are going to use our enduring learning to help us frame essential questions. Essential questions are questions that we use to provoke a deeper understanding, further inquiry, or transfer of learning. These questions help students better understand the enduring learning.
Good essential questions have the following characteristics. They are open ended questions. Require higher-level complex thinking. Usually thought provoking, which could lead to debate. Require support or justification. And contain enduring learning knowledge. If your curriculum does not contain essential questions, then you can use your enduring learning concepts to write essential questions. For example, my first enduring learning piece says, area formulas for triangles and other quadrilaterals can be derived from the area of a rectangle.
I can rewrite this in the form of a question or prompt. Explain how the area of a triangle and area of a rectangle are related. Another question related to deriving formulas is, explain how area and volume formulas are related. Notice how these questions are open ended, require students to fully explain their thinking, and are directly related to my enduring learning. Just so that you see the big picture, let's categorize a few questions as essential questions and non-essential questions from other disciplines.
If I'm teaching a theme on friendship, I can have students respond to a story with a question. Who is John's best friend in the story? This is not an essential question because it refers only to this story. However, students could use their knowledge from the story to answer the question, explain the qualities that you might find in a best friend. This question is more open ended and general. Another example of a non-essential question is what influenced Van Gogh's paintings? This is not an essential question because it pertains only to Van Gogh.
We could rewrite this question as explain how artists get ideas for paintings. This question is more thought provoking and may require support from other artists that they've studied. Our last example is the question, is your hypothesis correct in your science experiment? This is not an essential question because it pertains only to that specific science experiment in the classroom. Let's take this outside of the classroom and apply it to any science experiment.
Explain how you decide if your hypothesis is correct in a science experiment. Notice that our non-essential questions pertain to a specific assignment or topic. And our essential questions are more open ended and general, but require specific conclusions to be drawn from our lessons and assignments. So how does the enduring learning and essential questions fit into teaching complex topics? These two pieces help us to see the end result.
This is the ultimate knowledge that we want students to fully understand in order to be able to solve real-world problems in other disciplines and later on in life. Students also need to be aware of the end result. Therefore, you will want to share these essential questions with students at the beginning of the unit so that students know what content mastery they are working towards. As you continue planning, your focus should always come back to these questions.
And whether your plan is allowing students to develop the enduring learning necessary for understanding complex topics.
Karin Hutchinson is an experienced teacher who now helps other educators find new ways to teach. She starts off this course with a quick overview of learning theory, focusing on how students gain new knowledge. These theories set the stage for Karin's framework for making learning accessible to a variety of learning styles (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic), making lessons engaging with gamification and choice, and scaffolding instruction to help guide learners who need extra help. Watch to explore strategies for planning instruction, how to respond to learners, and get resources you can put into action in the classroom today.
- Understanding what makes a topic complex
- Using a unit planner
- Writing essential questions
- Identifying what students must do
- Anticipating potential problems
- Creating assessments
- Lesson planning via UDL
- Representing information in different ways
- Engaging students
- Having students act on and express their knowledge