As part of our inquiry learning each school was given a .5 planning day for the Teacher-Librarian and teacher to co-plan a unit together. Our first task, and one of our goals was to develop a robust inquiry question that was authentic, significant and relevant to students’ learning. To help frame our planning we used the Understanding By Design planning template that allowed us to stay focused on the big ideas and to uncover the essential questions for the units.
What is an essential question?
We know that essential questions should reflect what is needed for learning core content, but what makes it essential? Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (Understanding By Design, 2005, p.110) propose that a question is essential if it is meant to:
- Cause genuine and relevant inquiry into the big ideas and core content
- Provoke deep thought, lively discussion, sustained inquiry, and new understanding as well as more questions
- Require students to consider alternatives, weigh evidence, support their ideas, and justify their answers
- Stimulate vital, ongoing rethinking of big ideas, assumptions, prior lessons
- Spark meaningful connections with prior learning and personal experiences
- Naturally recur, creating opportunities for transfer to other situations and subjects
We grappled with our essential questions, and mulled over the enduring understandings and here is what we came up with:
EAL Essential Question: Who am I?
Grade 3/4 Essential Question: Why are rocks, minerals, and soil important to us?
How did we determine our essential questions? We delved into the curriculum, looked for cross-curricular connections and thought about what we wanted our students to know and to understand at the end of the unit. This was challenging as EAL has their own outcomes and we had a split grade 3/4 class to make curricular connections across the subject areas.
Even though this is an inquiry, both of my teachers have decided to structure the learning through the guided inquiry process. As a result, we also came up with sub-questions that would guide the student learning along the way.
As we continue on in the inquiry, I think it will be important to come back to the criteria of an essential question and reflect on whether or not our questions met that criteria.