Monday, June 9, 2008

Essential Questions

I spent a great few hours on our last faculty workday of the year reflecting on this year and looking towards next as our division head asked us to define essential questions for each of our courses (based on Understanding by Design -- this book has landed in my life in quite a few ways this spring -- see posts below -- I guess I am meant to use it!). The most invigorating part of the afternoon for me was spending time talking about good teaching with my colleagues. That kind of conversation always seems to be the first to go when things get too busy during the school year because it seems less pressing than the upcoming deadlines of comments or grades or interims. But the irony of course is that this is THE MOST pressing part of education. Why give grades for a course that is not as well-designed for the students' learning as it can be? Why give grades for assessments that don't strive for any defined goal? What do those grades mean without the underpinning of good teaching?

I have worked mightily this year to develop my PLN with Web 2.0 tools, and I have found some great resources of teachers all over the world (follow great teachers CoolCatTeacher, Thespian70, or AngelaMaiers on Twitter or read Susan's blog on using tech well, J. Clark Evans's blog on melding teaching and tech, or Cruel Shoes about the big ideas of teaching). But talking face-to-face with the teachers in my own building cannot be replaced. To know that I am teaching with other great educators and that we are all trying to be the best we can be creates an energy that encourages me even more.

So, here are the essential questions our English department drafted for our core courses. These are all still in the working stages, so please help us revise if you have ideas.

Introduction to Genres (9th grade):
  • What do we learn from the “masters” about how to write well?
  • How can you use these tools to make your own writing “masterful”?

British Literature (10th grade):

  • How can the written word change society?
  • What is the "British literary tradition"? (first semester)
  • How do these works challenge the traditions? (second semester)

American Literature (11th grade):

  • Who am I as an American?
  • How does the literature and an understanding of its chronology and themes show how we as a people came to be who we are today?

World Literature (12th grade, including AP English Lit):

  • Who am I as a citizen of the world?
  • How does the literature and an understanding of the geography and culture from which it came expand your world view?

I look forward to hearing your ideas, combining my real-life colleagues with my virtual ones.


  1. I have been visiting various blogs for my term papers writing research. I have found your blog to be quite useful. Keep updating your blog with valuable information... Regards

  2. I searched Essential Questions American Literature, and yours was the first site to come up. I teach 11th grade Am. Lit., and had to tell you that I love the whole sequence of questions, but especially the 11th grade questions. :-)