MSW KILLINGLY PUBLIC SCHOOLS Issue Newsletter 5 From the desk of Brad Thompson, Assistant Superintendent ≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈ Formulating Essential Questions How do we more deliberately stay focused on Big Ideas? How can we take a mass of content knowledge and shape it into engaging, thought-provoking, and effective work? How can we avoid the twin sins of “activity-based” and “coverage-based” teaching? The answer, in part, is the fourth step in the “unwrapping” process – that of framing instructional goals in terms of “Essential Questions (EQ’s).” EQ’s are deliberately selected to drive instruction and assessment toward the Big Ideas. The aim of EQ’s is to stimulate thought, to provoke inquiry, not just pat answers. Thus, not every question is essential. Questions are “essential” when the investigation of the questions leads students to discovering the corresponding Big Ideas. EQ’s are open-ended questions posed to students at the beginning of a unit to stimulate student interest and to “advertise” the Big Ideas selected as learning goals. These questions are most effective when they are posted in the classroom for the duration of the unit and frequently referenced during instruction. The goal is for students to be able to respond – both verbally and in writing – to the EQ’s with their own Big Idea statements expressed in their own words. EQ’s are non-judgmental, engaging questions, and answering them requires high order thinking. They cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” or with the mere recall of facts. These questions require students to think, make connections, draw conclusions, and justify their responses with supporting details. “Why” and “How” questions are most frequently used to frame EQ’s because they require students to demonstrate a deep understanding of the content in order to answer them. In developing EQ’s, teachers should be careful not to simply rephrase their Big Ideas in the form of a question. In so doing, the Big Ideas have already been identified. EQ’s should be written in studentfriendly language. Larry Ainsworth, Consultant with the Leadership and Learning Center, recommends that teachers first identify Big Ideas and then craft engaging EQ’s. He suggests teachers think of Big Ideas as the “desired travel destination.” By identifying the Big Ideas first, teachers decide the final destination of the learning journey. The “advertised” EQ’s will hopefully get the “travelers” excited about making the “trip,” and the lessons and activities selected will provide the “vehicle” to enable students to get there. Remember, the ultimate goal is for students to be able to answer the EQ’s with Big Ideas expressed in their own words. Thus, EQ’s make the learning of important content the result of pursuing the question. Because students know at the beginning of a unit that they will be expected to answer the EQ’s at the conclusion of the unit, teachers often utilize the EQ’s as their summative assessment. Often there is a direct, one-to-one correspondence between Big Ideas and EQ’s, but this in not an imperative. The determining factor is whether or not the posted EQ’s will lead students to the Big Ideas of the unit. Check rubric and example EQ’s on the backside. Look for “Designing Performance Tasks” in Issue 6. Great Things Happen Here! Essential Question Rubric (Taken from Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, 2002) Is the work focused on important, engaging, arguable, “Big Idea” questions? Proficient • • • Progressing • • • • Not Yet Meeting Standard • • The questions are important and thought-provoking. They require more than a single “correct” answer, promoting inquiry rather than recall. They have great potential for engaging students – to hook and hold their interest They provide a unifying rationale and priority to the work. They keep the learning of facts and skills focused on the Big Ideas. The questions may be of interest to learners, but they do not focus on the most important and arguable “Big Ideas” and/or are too vague to guide learning and/or are too narrow and inconsequential. While they may not have a single “correct” answer, they do not seem likely to generate much in-depth investigation of the Big Ideas(s). The questions are “leading” questions, used more to point to answers than generate inquiry. There is clearly a single “correct” unproblematic answer to be learned via recall or simple practice. Example Essential Questions Art: Literature: How does art reflect, as well as shape, culture? How do effective writers hook and hold their readers? What are the signs of a “fair weather” friend? Reading: What do good readers do when they don’t understand? How does an author create mood? Writing: How do writers convince and persuade? Science: How can frogs survive in the winter? Is DNA destiny? Why is March windy? Math: Why estimate – why not be precise? Government: How and why do we provide checks and balances on government power? History: Are we still living the Civil War? Does the Constitution provide equal rights – TODAY? What were the costs of Westward Expansion? Geography: Does where we live influence how we live? Health: Does sugar kill? Phys. Educ.: “No Pain, No Gain – agree? Note: Copies of all Making Standards Work Newsletters can be found on the Portal. Click on “Downloads”, then “Teacher resources.
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