In my last post, I mentioned how this year, my students are keeping Sketch-Reflection journals. These are journals that I made with alternating drawing and lined paper so that my students could reflect in words and also create sketches throughout the year.
As the year is off and running I am finding that essential questions are lending themselves well to these journals. Essential questions are those that are meant to drive teachers’ teaching and probe students’ thinking as we teach them new concepts. They are to be open ended so that students can discuss the ideas they are learning.
As my students and I work through content, we keep these questions in our minds and refer to them often. Sometimes we do so in whole class or small group discussion. Other times, I will refer to an essential question when I am working with a student one-on-one. However, I enjoy asking students to first reflect on these questions in their sketch-reflection journals best. The way the journal is laid out, each two-page spread has a piece of drawing paper next to a piece of lined paper. As the students answer the essential question in their own words, they can also sketch out their ideas as well.
Most times, I have guided this process. For example, one day I asked students to create a sketch of a place value chart to the one-hundred millions. They were to do a precise sketch of the chart without any tools besides a pencil and eraser. Once they were done with that, I asked them to reflect on the essential question posted in the picture: “How does the position of a digit affect its value?” This was answered on the lined side and students were able to refer to their sketch.
In another example, students have been creating logos to accompany the comprehension strategies we are studying. I’ve been asking them to make each of the logos on one sketch paper in their journal. (This has also tested their fore-planning and spacial sense since we have been creating seven total over the course of about 7 weeks.) After completing three comprehension strategy logos, we visited the essential question, “Why is it important to comprehend what we read?” I gave them a short time to reflect on this question and later after learning and practicing other strategies, we revisited the question and the students added to their answers.
In both cases, my students were given quiet time to work on their own ideas and then share their thoughts with their peers. It has been interesting to see how answering these types of questions has stretched some of my students thinking. For example, after years of working with both concepts: place value and comprehension strategies, a handful of students have commented on how they didn’t realize what those words really meant. In other words, this reflection time has been a time for them to clarify meaning to what they are doing and why they may do it.
I look forward to working with the third EQ noted above. I imagine having students draw out the elements of a story and then explaining how those things work together to make a good story. There seems to be so much potential there.
I have to admit, when first told we should be writing our daily objectives and EQs on the board for students to refer to, I kinda rolled my eyes. (Hey, I’m honest.) But putting these things to good use in the classroom is really where some great learning can take place. It puts some of the ownership on the students. And, well, that’s what should be happening. We all desire a class filled with active learners. We just need to show them ways they can stretch their own learning.
Please share ways you are using essential questions in your classroom!