Monday, August 17, 2015


Once we have established the desired end-point for the learning experience, we then need to chart the course on which we are going to take the students. We can do this through the use of Essential Questions.

Essential Questions – The Pathway to Knowledge
What are Essential Questions? Though Wiggins and McTighe define Essential Questions a little differently, for our purposes let us take Essential Questions to refer to any question, statement, or subsidiary knowledge that helps set mid-point markers to guide the acquisition of the intended Key Learning.

The function of Essential Questions is 2 fold. Firstly, it allows us to deliberately plan a sequence of experiences which allow the students to discover the knowledge for themselves. Secondly, it helps us build the bridge of meaning for the students from where they are, to where we want them to be. Let me give you an illustration.

I often see this poster on pub walls;
Those who drink get drunk.
Those who get drunk go to sleep.
Those who go to sleep do not sin.
Those who do not sin go to heaven.
So let’s all drink and go to heaven.
Putting aside the laughable message, the manner in which the argument is laid out is what I want to focus on.

From where we are, to where the author wants us to be, each statement progressively gives us a plausible reason for the subsequent stage of the argument, till at last the desired end point is reached. This is the essence of what we want to distill from concept of Essential Questions. Let me illustrate further.

Subject: Newton’s First Law – Inertia
Level: 15 year olds of upper middle socio-economic standing
Good family background
Possibly having some background knowledge
Duration: 60 minute lesson at 9am in the morning, 1st period.

Let us assume that we are dealing with the dream class of students; bright, eager, able and fresh.

What might the Enduring Understandings be? How might we want to lead them to the intended Key Learnings?

In this example, there are several possible Key Learnings we could select. We could focus on the fact that forces are always trying to achieve equilibrium or we could focus on the fact that forces can be balanced or unbalanced.

Are the 2 concepts mutually exclusive or interrelated? If they are interrelated, which is the greater of the 2? Will one lead to the other? If the understanding of forces being balanced, will lead to the understanding that all forces are trying to achieve equilibrium, then the former is the Essential Question, the pathway, whilst the latter is the Enduring Understanding, the end point.

Now we ask why they need to know this. Since they are able students, will we want to appeal to their desired career choices and make allusions to that? Will we want to appeal to their intellect and associate this key knowledge to deeper concepts more advanced than their syllabus in an effort to make them feel an even greater sense of achievement? Assuming we want to do the latter, we may set the Key Learning as;
‘When forces try to achieve equilibrium, motion results.’
To lead them to that learning, we might use this series of questions;
‘Why do things move?’
‘How do objects start and stop moving?’
‘How do forces start and stop objects moving?’
Once we have established this, we need to check if the pathway leads to the intended Key Learning. We do this by checking if answering the questions will lead the students to the intended Key Learning. If it will, then our job is done.

Essential Questions need not be presented as questions. It could be a series of problems to solve, or tasks to accomplish. Regardless of the form, they should be mid-point markers which help lead our students to the intended Key Learning.

Jump ahead to Enduring Understandings
Jump ahead to Students will be able to
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