Achieving transformational learning begins the way all other learning does—with a question.
Teachers are busy people and brilliant at the art of asking the right questions. As any great educator knows, the best questions are the ones that get students thinking, exploring, and dreaming. Of course, we're talking about essential questions here, but is there a fast way to assess essential questions to make sure they've got the goods?
An article on BTGrad echoes these same sentiments:
"Designing curriculum around essential questions is a way many teachers help students connect content to big ideas that matter. A common pitfall is thinking you are using an essential question, but it falls flat; it does not engage students. Why not? How can you tell if a question is really essential?"
We recently published a bestselling book called The Essential Guide to Essential Questions, and in it is a special tool we called the X-Press Checklist. It's actually the work of Grant Wiggins, late author of Understanding by Design and the godfather of essential questions, and Denise Wilbur, president of AuthenticEducation.org.
We would have been remiss not to pay homage to such a brilliantly simple yet effective tool for helping teachers assess essential questions for inspired learning. Here it is below, along with guidelines presented by BTRGrad for how best to use it. We sincerely hope you find this tool as useful as we have, and we're honoured to feature it in our essential questions teacher's guide.
How to Use This Resource
- First brainstorm possible essential questions for a unit, without judging or thinking too hard about getting the words right. Try to come up with 5-10 possible questions. Often the best question is not the one that comes to mind first (or second).
- Narrow your options. You can probably cross a few off the list right away.
- Test the remaining options against this checklist. Which questions score the highest? This should help you narrow your list to 1-3 essential questions for your unit. It will also help you edit your final questions. Can you make the question more controversial? More demanding of evidence?
- Once your questions match all the criteria, you can wordsmith away to make sure the language is student-friendly.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Mar 15, 2019, updated September 17, 2021