We used to think the purpose of posting essential questions in lesson plans and whiteboards was to keep teachers on task throughout a particular lesson. At a more fundamental level, essential questions set the stage for further questioning, critical thinking and problem solving.
Essential questions should make a connection to major issues, concerns, interests, or themes relevant to students’ lives. They are open-ended, non-judgmental, and meaningful. They invite an exploration of ideas and encourage collaboration. And, surprise, they integrate technology to support the learning process!
Onhand School’s Essential Questions Guide identifies five specific features of a quality essential question. They should be:
- Core-focused: The learning objective poses the question. It is the essence of what students should examine and know in a course of study. The same question can be re-asked throughout a main subject (for example, Math), but with increasing levels of sophistication.
- Inquiry-based: The question is open-ended and resists an obvious simple or single right answer. It precludes a creative choice that transforms the search for knowledge.
- Reinforce Thinking Skills: Requires students to draw upon content knowledge, personal experience, and other information they have gathered to construct their own answers. It causes students to search for an answer using critical thinking (ultimately using Bloom’s higher order thinking).
- Interdisciplinary: They usually lend themselves to multidisciplinary investigations, requiring for example, that students apply the skills and perspectives of math and language arts to social studies or science.
- Engaging: Should be created to provoke and sustain student interest. Engaging questions are thought provoking, likely to produce interesting student questions, and take into consideration diverse interests and learning styles.