Essential questions

Question: How to make students engage in learning? How to make a unit/lesson look more relevant and more meaningful?

Answer: One of the problems faced by teachers is when the topic taught seems irrelevant or devoid of a meaningful context. The students seem indifferent because the content, at first sight, looks rather severed from their needs and backgrounds. This is often the case in our schools because teachers become more concerned with covering the whole curriculum rather than mediating a learner-oriented content.

Becoming a better teacher: eight innovations that work by Giselle O. Martin-Kniep addresses this and other problems as well in a comprehensive and thorough manner.

To make sure that students identify with the subjects that are taught and engage in the curriculum, teachers can use what Giselle calls "essential questions". These questions "allow teachers to tackle the curriculum while helping them treat it as something to be discovered and negotiated." They can help generating debates and raise the level of discourse in the classroom and can also serve as a good way to relate previously taught topics to the currently taught one.

Giselle argues that these questions have the following criteria in common:

  • They are universal
  • They are never fully answerable
  • The more we grow mature, the more we discover we still have more to learn about the answers
  • They lead to the realization that knowledge is an ongoing process and one that makes life worth living

Here are some examples by the author about what essential questions look like:

  • Are we really free?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Do we have control over our destiny?
  • If we are so alike, how do we explain our differences?
  • Can there be good without evil?
  • Are all cultures equally valuable?
  • Can you win and lose at the same time?
  • When is cheating not bad?
  • Is education essential for success in life?

How can we use these questions? It depends on the topic or unit that is going to be taught. For a lesson talking about the merits of the Internet, one may start by asking the question: Is technology a foe or a friend? The question: are humans inhumane? Can provide a framework for a lesson about "crime", etc..

Side note: Do you have any comments? Please add them here.


muhajer69 said...

hi tarek,
i find your techniques of pre-reading ( essential questions)very accurate and is obvious that experience counts in teaching.the visuals you used as well as the brainstoming to prepare learners for the text discovery and to elicit some rellevant ideas for the upcoming phase ( writing)without reealing anything about the text.i can do nothing but to bow.i can see that you manage in a very professional way the integration of skills.there is so much to learn from you MR. TAREK

CJ Miyake said...

Nice post Tarak. Thanks for your Star Words idea at oshieroo. I'm sure it will help out some teachers who are in need of some vocabulary ideas.

I miss teaching so much! I have moved back from Japan to California and miss my students. I am working hard on Oshieroo right now to make some major improvements. If you have any ideas let me know!

Thanks again.

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