Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding

Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding

Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding

Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding


What are "essential questions," and how do they differ from other kinds of questions? What's so great about them? Why should you design and use essential questions in your classroom?

Essential questions (EQs) help target standards as you organize curriculum content into coherent units that yield focused and thoughtful learning. In the classroom, EQs are used to stimulate students' discussions and promote a deeper understanding of the content.

Whether you are an Understanding by Design (UbD) devotee or are searching for ways to address standards--local or Common Core State Standards--in an engaging way, Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins provide practical guidance on how to design, initiate, and embed inquiry-based teaching and learning in your classroom.

Offering dozens of examples, the authors explore the usefulness of EQs in all K-12 content areas, including skill-based areas such as math, PE, language instruction, and arts education. As an important element of their backward design approach to designing curriculum, instruction, and assessment, the authors

•Give a comprehensive explanation of why EQs are so important;

•Explore seven defining characteristics of EQs;

•Distinguish between topical and overarching questions and their uses;

•Outline the rationale for using EQs as the focal point in creating units of study; and

•Show how to create effective EQs, working from sources including standards, desired understandings, and student misconceptions.

Using essential questions can be challenging--for both teachers and students--and this book provides guidance through practical and proven processes, as well as suggested "response strategies" to encourage student engagement. Finally, you will learn how to create a culture of inquiry so that all members of the educational community--students, teachers, and administrators--benefit from the increased rigor and deepened understanding that emerge when essential questions become a guiding force for learners of all ages.


We are off and running from the opening page. Plunging right into what matters most, Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins engage us in an exercise to determine what is not an essential question. They ask us to deliberate. We stop, think, and reflect on crafting our questions and consider the impact linguistic choices have on our learners. As readers, we are immediately drawn into vibrant inquiry.

Arguably, questioning is the most timeless and fundamental stratagem employed by teachers from Confucius to Aristotle to Descartes to provoke learners. In the past 20 years, the role of the essential question has risen as a curricular compass, setting the pathway for the learner, due in no small measure to the power of models such as Understanding by Design. The demand for high-quality essential questions is ubiquitous, yet there is a chasm between good intention and the ability to write them well. With the current scrutiny on teacher effectiveness, the emphasis on standards alignment, and the renewed focus on formative assessment, the release of this book is exquisitely timed if not prescient. We need this book now.

Not only is this book a manual that teaches us how to style questions, it is an engaging treatise on transforming instructional inquiry. The authors’ pedagogical exploration will directly serve our school-age learners by leading professional educators to revisit and refine practices. They employ fresh language that grabs our attention: “interrogating the content,” “tentative closure,” and “organizational culture of questioning.” It is a riveting read. Deepening the investigation, the authors crystallize the notion that essential question formation is the study of a specialized and potent genre.

In their workshop presentations, Jay and Grant frequently employ sports analogies, and so it is that we are coached actively through these pages. Accessible and eminently useful, Essential Questions provides viable rationales for using essential questions, a defining range of essential question types, a design process for shaping . . .

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