20 Oct

I’m currently in Paris, presenting at the UbD by the Seine conference at the American School of Paris, and am really enjoying the school, the learning and sharing, and, of course, the food. I gave a three-hour session today on Models by Design work I’ve been doing, specifically how to use models by the teacher and models by the students to facilitate meaning-making and transfer in the classroom.

We started a little late because the morning session ran a bit long (or was it the cheese platter and wine offered at lunch? Ah, Paris…), so I didn’t get to the last part of my presentation, which is on using Essential Questions as models of meaning-making and transfer.

So I thought I’d post it here for everyone. Basically, it breaks down my more deliberate work with EQs in the classroom and how to use them as tools for transfer — the holy grail of educators (transfer = effectively applying all your skills, knowledge, and resources to new and unfamiliar situations; it implies that the training wheels are off and the student has learned to bike alone on a new street.)

Below is a handout I give in my MbD workshop on how EQs make good models for meaning-making and transfer. Feel free to share any ideas or EQs you use in the comments section. As usual, you’ll find these are also an excellent resource for SPIDER Web Discussions in that they can be the starting point for a discussion or a nice link for students to come back to as they continue to make meaning of a text or topic.

You may have read an earlier post on how I’m currently using EQs in my teaching, but if not, a quick refresher: I frame my courses with five or six EQs that we as a class come back to over and over again. I post them visibly and colorfully in the classroom and print them on the course syllabus and wiki so students are quite conscious of them. I try to work them into formative and summative assessments often (see below). I’m really pleased with how well this has worked in my classroom for the past two years and plan to do even more with them in the future. For now, enjoy some model EQs in English/Language Arts.

Models of Essential Questions for Making Meaning and Transfer

Content/theme-based EQs for ELA:
1. What if my right is your wrong?
2. Are humans inherently good or evil?
3. Do parents always know what’s best for their children?
4. Who is a hero? Can a hero do bad things and still be a hero?
5. Who is a child? Who is an adult?
6. Do we have free will?
7. Can we escape our social class? Should we try?
8. Who are the most powerful people?
9. Is women’s power inextricably linked to their bodies (and how they use them)?
10. Who is telling the story? How is he/she manipulating me?
11. Do we have a responsibility to others or only ourselves?
12. When is a story true?
13. Is language a weapon or a tool?
14. How does language reveal identity? Is it a reliable indicator?
15. When is it OK to borrow someone else’s idea?

Process/Skills-based EQs for ELA:
1. When is it OK to borrow someone else’s idea?
2. What lies beneath the surface of this text? How can I uncover it?
3. When and how should I speak? When and how should I listen?
4. Who is my audience and what am I trying to make them think or feel?

Example of how to use an Essential Question for making meaning and transfer:
1. September: Assign a journal response for homework: Why do people do bad things? Give some reasons and a few real-life examples or from texts last year. Bullet-points are fine.
2. September: Assign an essay on the EQ: Are humans inherently good or evil? Students use examples from the real world and their own life to support their argument.
3. October: The class discusses the EQ (perhaps in a SPIDER Web Discussion)
4. Semester 1: Students read The Lord of the Flies, Macbeth, and study the Stanford Prison Experiment.
5. January: Semester exam essay question on the same EQ: Are humans inherently good or evil? Students should use examples from semester texts to support their argument.
6. Semester 2: Students read The Kiterunner, What Is the What, or a selection of stories and poetry by Ursula Leguin, Tim O’Brien, Siegfried Sassoon, etc.; they also do a service project in the local community, identifying a local unsung hero and interviewing him/her for a presentation or project.
7. June: Final exam essay question on the same EQ: Are humans inherently good or evil? Students should use examples from the year’s texts and projects to support their argument.

*The texts or question are not the central focus here – choose any texts and EQ that offer chances to think critically and deeply. The key idea is that students are offered opportunity to make meaning by approaching the same EQ in a variety of ways with increasing depth at each stage. They are also offered opportunities to transfer their knowledge, paradoxically, through using the same EQ throughout the year because each essay will draw from new and more varied sources to make a cogent essay.
** Feedback is key in this process, especially for transfer – at several points throughout the year and especially after each journal, discussion, essay, and project, give students clear feedback on how better to answer the question given the assessment task.


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