|Have no simple
"right" answer; they are meant to be argued.
Essential Questions yield inquiry and argument - a
variety of plausible (and arguable) responses, not
straightforward facts that end the matter. They serve as
doorways into focused yet lively inquiry and research. They
should uncover rather than cover the subject's
controversies, puzzles, and perspectives. They are intended
to result in conclusions drawn by the learner, not recited
facts. For example, Does art reflect culture or help to
shape it? Can we look but not see? Why do "seers" see what
the rest of us don't? Does the artist see more clearly or
|Are designed to provoke and sustain
student inquiry, while focusing learning and final performances.
Essential Questions work best when they are designed and
edited to be thought provoking to students, engaging them in
sustained, focused inquiries that culminate in important
performance. Such questions often involve the
counterintuitive, the visceral, the whimsical, the
controversial, the provocative. For example, Is the Internet
dangerous for kids? Are censorship and democracy compatible?
Does food that is good for you have to taste bad? Why write?
Students develop and deepen their understanding of important
ideas as they explore these questions.
|Often address the conceptual or
philosophical foundations of a discipline.
Essential questions reflect the most historically
important issues, problems, and debates in a field of study.
For example, Is history inevitably biased? What is a proof?
Nature or nurture? By examining such questions, students are
engaged in thinking like an expert.
|Raise other important questions
Thought-provoking Essential Questions are naturally
generative. They lead to other important questions within,
and sometimes across, subject boundaries. For example, In
nature, do only the strong survive? leads to What do we mean
by strong? Are insects strong (since they are survivors)?
What does it mean to be psychologically strong? Inquiries
into human biology and the physics of physiology also
|Naturally and appropriately recur.
The same important questions are asked and asked again
throughout one's learning and in the history of the field.
For example, What makes a great book great? Are the Harry
Potter novels great books? These questions can be
productively examined and reexamined by 1st graders as well
as college students. Over time, student responses become
more sophisticated, nuanced, well-reasoned, and supported as
their understandings deepen.
|Stimulate vital, ongoing rethinking of big
ideas, assumptions, and prior lessons.
Essential questions challenge our unexamined assumptions,
the inevitable simplification of our earlier learning, and
the arguments we may unthinkingly take for granted. They
force us to ask deep questions about the nature, origin, and
extent of our understanding. For example, In light of
fractions, place value, irrationals, and negative square
roots -- what is a number? Is it "democratic" to have an
electoral college? What IS a friend? Can the enemy of my
enemy be my friend? What is a story, if a story has no clear
plot or moral? Is history more of a story than a science?
What is the implications for studying history, if so?