Essential Questions, by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins, p. 15
My Thoughts on the Excerpt
1. Learning Targets for Lessons, Essential Questions for Units
If students are able to thoroughly investigate an essential question within a given class period, the odds are it’s not an essential question. As stated, it could instead possibly be a leading question or guiding question…On the other hand, students can benefit from a learning target being posted for every lesson.
For students, learning targets assist in making clear what they are learning, and possibly why they are learning it and what success criteria looks like. A three-part learning target that satisfies these requirements could be, “I can draw inferences from a story…so I can better understand its plot, and…I am successful when I can tell others about the plot using inferences.” (A typical, one-part learning target might stop after drawing inferences.) Here, the benefit is students knowing specifically what they are supposed to accomplish, and as a result they are more likely to (1) understand the material and (2) take responsibility for their learning by making their own assessment-based choices to reach their targets. As Rick Stiggins has written, “Students can hit any target that they know about and that stands still for them.”
2. Teachers and Students Must Own Learning Targets and Essential Questions
In a previous district I witnessed a top-down mandate in which teachers were ordered to post learning targets for all lessons, but they didn’t receive professional learning as to why or how they could impact learning. So, teachers created massive amounts of learning target posters, somewhat reluctantly posted them when necessary, and in the end their students missed out on valuable learning opportunities…For teachers, there was pretty much zero professional learning or communication from administrators other than something to the effect of, “This is research-based, so do it!” Meanwhile, from what I saw, students didn’t receive any explicit instruction in regards to how to leverage learning targets to self-assess (and the teachers were not to blame for this mishap).
The same “rules” also apply to essential questions. Teachers and students must understand their why and their how. Furthermore, if we truly want students to own essential questions, the endgame should be student-created essential questions, which was the next step for me after I became comfortable with incorporating my own essential questions into my instruction…For any given project or unit, students can decide on the essential question as a class, or individuals/groups of students can possibly design their own essential questions…My forthcoming Hacking Project Based Learning book (for the Hack Learning series), which I am co-authoring with Erin Murphy (@MurphysMusings5), will feature an entire chapter on student-created essential questions! Look for the book to drop in late 2016.
What are your overall thoughts on essential questions and/or learning targets? How have you seen them used effectively in the classroom?
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