I hereby propose a moratorium on the word important in any GPS enduring understanding or essential question.
Today I attended a very good session for third grade teachers on “unpacking” a standard. When it got down to writing essential questions, it was amazing at the number of EQs that contained the word important. What got me to thinking about the issue was an EQ that my team wrote on the writing standard. We proposed, “Why is writing so hard?”, the idea being that we would tap into the students’ dislike/fear of writing and springboard into the various solutions as suggested by the elements of that standard.
The crowd reaction at first was one of excitement, but then it was suggested that the EQ was too “negative,” and the next thing we knew, the EQ had been amended to “Why is writing important?”
If the purpose of an essential question is to provoke discussion and exploration, and it is, then why in the name of all that’s engaging would we shy away from a provocative question like “Why is writing so hard?” and replace it with some teacher-talk like “Why is writing important?” There isn’t a kid on this planet who doesn’t see right through the “important” BS: it’s just a trap to enforce the student’s compliance with the teacher’s view of things. It is humbug of the most offensive sort.
I completely understand that not every teacher would want to lead off with such an in-your-face EQ, but honey, please. Most of the EQs were simply lesson plans in disguise. Do you really want to dig into whether “following the rules of grammar helps you understand written and oral communication?” ::yawn::
So we could have rewritten the question, “Are there ways to make writing easier for me?”, or “What can I do to make my writing better?”, or any other question that actually sounds like it might be asked by a student, preferably a question that produces some interest in seeing it answered.
Therefore, teachers, a new commandment: Thou shalt not write essential questions that merely embed thine unfiltered instructional agenda without any attempt to understand how a student in thy care might actually think.
Because that’s important.