Getting back to essentials

I found this chapter in Wiggins very applied. Essential questions require the empathic facet and are applicable to the upper level of Bloom’s taxonomy (judging) where there are no right or wrong answers. They lead to big ideas and are built on challenging commonly-held beliefs or on posing dilemmas. The hallmarks of essential questions include:

  • recurrence
  • core idea
  • stimulate inquiry (and yet more questions)
  • appeal to diverse learners (offering alternate viewpoints)
  • force rethinking
  • require  connecting with personal and prior experience

I especially appreciated the recursive aspect inherent in the admonition that a question cannot be deemed essential without an examination of the content, assignments and assessments that surround the question.

The distinction between overarching and topical questions was equally useful as it showed how specific contexts (cases) in topical essential questions lead to overarching essential questions (which require specificity). The division of approaches–open versus guided–allowed the construction of a 4-cell matrix:

Open Topical Overarching
Guided Topical Overarching

I was somewhat surprised that that the following discussion didn’t suggest a sequence of Open->Topical to Open-Overarching to Guided->Topical to Guided->Overarching. That seems like a natural progression that moves from specifics to generalizations and from open inquiry to focused understanding.


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