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Building Better Questions

posted Sep 13, 2018, 5:19 PM by HSD Principal
Following up on our webinar from a couple of weeks ago (and, yes, it was really long after a full day of teaching), we want to make sure essential questions are being addressed as we plan our units and lessons. As you are thinking through the questions you are asking, here is an article on How to Make Your Questions Essential that has a framework to help you rate your questions. Grant Wiggins (author of Understanding by Design) and Denise Wilbur describe essential questions:
  • They stimulate ongoing thinking and inquiry.
  • They're arguable, with multiple plausible answers.
  • They raise further questions.
  • They spark discussion and debate.
  • They demand evidence and reasoning because varying answers exist.
  • They point to big ideas and pressing issues.
  • They fruitfully recur throughout the unit or year.
  • The answers proposed are tentative and may change in light of new experiences and deepening understanding (McTighe & Wiggins, 2013).
As you plan, they suggest you ask the following questions of your questions:
  • How well does the draft question meet the criteria?
  • If the question is too convergent, how can I phrase it to invite inquiry and argument? If the question is factual, what question on the same topic is worth arguing about?
  • Is the question merely engaging? Or will pursuing it lead to the topic's big ideas?
  • Is the question general enough to use across other units? Or is it bound too narrowly to just this topic or text?
  • Does the question get at what's odd, counterintuitive, or easily misunderstood? Or is it a predictable question with mundane and relatively superficial answers?
  • Am I trying too hard to craft the perfect question?
  • Am I looking for questions in all the wrong places?
As you are planning the questions you will ask, you can also help students with the questions they ask. Like other skills, question-asking can be modeled, taught, and practiced in the classroom. In this article on 5 Ways to Help Students Ask Better Questions, Martin-Kniep writes that teachers can:
  1. Guide Students to Question What They See or Read.
  2. Establish Criteria for Questioning.
  3. Provide Protocols and Structures for Student Feedback.
  4. Invite Students to Generate Their Own Essential Questions.
  5. Design Learning Experiences That Encourage Students to Be Critical and Engaged Consumers.
As you model asking good essential questions, you can build that skill into your students as well, a skill that will serve them well on their way to being Christlike lifelong learners.