a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Mrs. Rush, can I come in at lunch today to spend some more time in the gallery and talk to you about my essential question choice?

It was a simple request for a pass to come in at lunch.  Or so it seemed on the surface. 

We have been working towards a new approach to the mandated curriculum this semester. 

This year in my district the curriculum is divided into six week units, each centered around an essential question.  First semester I struggled to use the essential questions effectively—to allow enough time for students to dig into these big ideas, muck around, make meaning, and take ownership.  I spent a lot of time reflecting, trying to identify the true roadblocks that prevented me from effective implementation of an idea I believe in.  What I came up with was simple.  Engagement.  My students were simply not engaged in the quest for insight related to these questions.   Once I had identified the problem, I moved on to thinking in terms of solutions. 

I started to think about the conditions I need as a reader and writer in order to be engaged in the quest for answers.  And I found myself asking, “If I need to get students engaged in the process of digging deep for answers to an essential question, why would I supply the question?”  Duh. 

So, this semester began with a reminder as to why humans read and write.  We developed essential questions around a big idea together.  Then, students began developing their own questions.  The final steps towards students selecting or writing an essential question around which to frame their reading and writing for the semester involve spending time in our gallery of questions (posted lists of student-generated essential questions based on ten big ideas) to listen to the questions that call to them—to feel which questions tug at their sleeves, begging to be noticed. 

Mrs. Rush, can I come in at lunch today to spend some more time in the gallery and talk to you about my essential question choice?

She came in at lunch to listen to the questions in complete peace and quiet.  She came in at lunch to talk about how she could find a question that would help her figure out the two big questions she is facing this semester: Which high school should I choose to attend? and Should I leave my current sports team after receiving an offer from my dream team?

This is not what mandated curriculum looks like.  This is what engagement looks like.  Asking and answering truly essential questions.

1 comment:

  1. Your slice has so much packed in it - your teacher struggles, giving ownership of learning to the students and finding what really matters. I think that even as adults we sometimes just follow directions and focus on the mundane, forgetting the essential questions until they just surface and force us to pause and figure life out.