Wiggins & McTigue definition:
―questions that are not answerable with
finality in a brief sentence… Their aim is to
stimulate thought, to provoke inquiry, and to
spark more questions — including thoughtful
student questions — not just pat answers‖
―instead of thinking of content as stuff to be
covered, consider knowledge and skills as the
means of addressing questions central to
understanding key issues in your subject‖
Put them up in your classroom!
Common mis-understandings –
Essential questions are simply lesson
objectives reworded in an interrogative
They are not –
How do we use semicolons?
Essential questions are posted on the board
and changed to reflect the goals of the
Essential questions will be answered that day
(week, unit, year, etc.).
According to Wiggins and McTighe, essential
questions actually have one or more of the
following 4 connotations:
Essential questions are ―important questions that recur
throughout all our lives.‖ They are ―broad in scope and
timeless by nature.‖
Essential questions refer to ―core ideas and inquiries within
a discipline.‖ They ―point to the core of big ideas in a
subject and to the frontiers of technical knowledge. They
are historically important and alive in the field.‖
Essential questions help ―students effectively inquire and
make sense of important but complicated
ideas, knowledge, and know-how — a bridge to findings
that experts may believe are settled but learners do not yet
grasp or see as valuable.‖
Essential questions ―will most engage a specific and diverse
set of learners.‖ They ―hook and hold the attention of your
The importance of intent…
framing essential questions, we must first
as what our intent is. If we don‘t know
―why we pose it, how we intend students
to tackle it, and what we expect for
learning activities and assessments,‖ we
don‘t really know really know what we
addition, essential questions should be
few in number — ―two to five per unit‖
(121). The authors argue against
composing too many questions, as
―prioritiz[ing] content‖ enables students to
―focus on a few key questions‖ (121).
We‘re looking for a few good questions!
Tips for Essential Questions…
authors have a great list of tips for
using essential questions on p. 121, but
one idea jumped out in me. ―Help
students to personalize the
questions. Have them share
examples, personal stories, and
hunches. Encourage them to bring in
clippings and artifacts to help make the
questions come alive‖ (121)
The value of framing a course
or unit in terms of essential
questions is invaluable:
“The most vital discipline-bound questions
open up thinking and possibilities for everyone
— novices and experts alike. They signal that
inquiry and open-mindedness are central to
expertise, that we must always be
learners… [Essential questions] are those that
encourage, hint at, even demand transfer
beyond the particular topic in which we first
encounter them. They should therefore recur
over the years to promote conceptual
connections and curriculum coherence.”
Devise your own essential
question for your unit…
Wiggins & McTigue‘s first
meaning, devise an essential question
All of us have some line of inquiry, some
essential questions that we haven‘t
In posing essential questions of this
type, we teach our student that
―education is not just about learning ‗the
answer‘ but about learning how to learn‖
―Our students need a curriculum that treats
them more like potential performers than
sideline observers‖ (122).
Students describe school or classes as
something to get through. No
wonder! They aren‘t really often asked to
participate in it, to use what they know or
think about what they‘re learning beyond
regurgitating for a test!
The thought that struck me as I finished the
chapter is that students learn in spite of school
too often, and not because of school.
―An understanding is an important inference,
drawn from the experience of experts, stated as a
specific and useful generalization‖.
―An understanding refers to transferable, big ideas
having enduring value beyond a specific topic‖.
It ―involves abstract, counterintuitive, and easily
(It) ―is best acquired by uncovering and doing the
(It) summarizes important strategic principles in skill
areas‖. –pgs. 128-129
2 types of Understandings…
Understandings – are unitspecific‖.
―Overarching Understandings – are
broader and (as the name implies) offer a
possible bridge to other units and
courses‖. – p.145
should understand that…
A full sentence generalization
Derived from the NOUNS & ADJECTIVES
within the BIG IDEAS of the GOAL.
"knowledge" refers to discrete facts that
can be taken as givens,
"understanding" refers to the theory or
inference that we make from those facts
focus on understanding means that we
must also be mindful of potential student
misunderstandings and typical transfer
Establishing clear and explicit goals also
means predicting the trouble spots that
are likely to arise in teaching and
NAEP 8th-grade mathematics –
constructed response test item
Assessment of Educational
How many buses does the army need to
transport 1,128 soldiers if each bus holds
More than 30% of students:
31, remainder 12
are indicators that someone might
―know‖ something without really
What is Understanding?
What is Understanding?
Men just don‘t understand women.
He knows the historical facts but doesn‘t
understand the meaning.
I understand what she is going through.
I didn‘t really understand it until I had to use it.
Does anyone here understand French?
I now understand that I was mistaken.
I can understand the person‘s point of view.
6 Facets of Understanding…
– in one‘s own words, with
support and justification
Interpretation – making meaning
Application – transfer to new situations
Perspective – other points of view, critical
Empathy – walk in the shoes of others
Self-Knowledge – knowing thyself
Transfer: the link
six facets link the stages
Use the six facets as the test
of whether you are truly
the big ideas/essential
Require students to explain
what they know and good
reasons in support of it
Explain“why” it is correct
Interpretation: what does it
Application: use knowledge
by using it, adapting it,
Perspective: critical and
insightful points of view
Casting familiar ideas
in a new light
Empathy: walk in another’s
to get inside
another person’s feelings
Differs from perspective
Inside versus outside
Self-knowledge: Wisdom to
know one’s ignorance
actions inform as well as
Must first understand
ourselves before we
understand the world
Big Ideas, Understandings, and
What we want students to
phrased as Students will know…
Key factual information
Important events and people
Sequence and timeline
What we want students to be able
Phrase as “Students will be able to…”
Basic skills – decoding, arithmetic
Communication skills –
listening, speaking, writing
Thinking skills –
compare, infer, analyze, interpret
Research, inquiry, investigation skills
Study skills – notetaking
Interpersonal group skills
1. Consider: What does a
beginning driver need to KNOW
and to able TO DO?
SKILLS for a driver.
2. Now, consider: What does a good,
experienced driver UNDERSTAND that a
beginner (or lousy) driver does not?
for a driver.
3. Finally,consider: What is the ultimate
(long-term) goal of an effective Driver‘s
Goal in 1-2