Digging in to those Essential Qs
So you have designed some really great EQs... now how do you get them off the walls of the classroom and make them an essential part of the learning? One way is to build them in to students' reflections on the learning that is taking place.
I was recently invited back into the HS English classrooms during their examination of identity and nationalism, a unit which I helped design a few years ago. These concepts are so important for our students as they try to make meaning of our host nation (and for our local students, their home) which is still defining itself post-apartheid. The unit allows students to explore these concepts through a variety of works, starting with a few mentor texts. Then they are free to choose works in any mediums, recording their thinking in a journal throughout the unit. To find 'common ground' in text types ranging from graffiti to fast food ads, we supplied a journal frame within which all prompts were optional, except the last prompt:
Reflect on how has this work has deepened your understanding of the relationship between identity and nationalism. Students constantly reshape and record their understandings of these concepts and their relationship to one another. This process gives each student the 'think time' they need, leading to richer class discussions where each student can contribute to a 'class' understanding through their unique study.
Getting to the concepts
Finding those big concepts in what we teach can be really tough sometimes, and I have lots of conversations with passionate teachers who want to move beyond teaching 'the essay' in History, 'Romeo and Juliet' in Lang Arts, or 'the lab report' in Science. Teaching these things feels so important to teachers in their disciplines, and they are, but not for their content: it's for those bigger ideas behind them. The concepts are where it is at.
There is no link to this resource because it is simply a question: Why does teaching [said thing] matter? Or you could ask: Why should every student learn about this? If there isn't a big, essential reason, then most teachers will take stock. If there is, then there is usually a concept in the response.
Learning about Día de Muertos in Spanish is important because traditions tell us a lot about who we are. They reinforce values and strengthen communities. Students should have the opportunity to explore and analyse this relationship and think about how they are shaped by traditions.
And like magic, the teacher has uncovered the concepts: tradition, community, values and identity.