I recently read Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins’ Essential Questions: Opening the Doors to Student Understanding, and thought, “How wonderful to have a book so totally supportive of creativity, while focusing all the while on understanding.” The Creativity in the Classroom Model links creativity, learning for understanding, and motivation for learning. This book provides a fine “how to” for the link between learning and creativity.
Essential Questions explores (as you might easily guess) the role of questions in framing instruction and deepening understanding, through stimulating inquiry, sparking debate, and raising additional questions. Essential questions, as defined by McTighe and Wiggins, have seven key characteristics. As you look at the list, think about how each characteristic relates to creative thinking. Essential questions:
- Are open-ended (no single answers here!)
- Are thought provoking, often sparking discussion or debate
- Call for higher order thinking; recall is not sufficient
- Point toward important transferable ideas within and across disciplines
- Raise additional questions and spark further inquiry
- Require support and justification, not just an answer
- Can and should be revisited again and again.
Where did you see opportunities for creativity? Here’s the list again, with a few of my thoughts.
- Are open-ended (no single answers here!) Open-ended questions provide opportunities for fluency, since no single answer will suffice.
- Are thought provoking, often sparking discussion or debate. These are questions that can be viewed from multiple perspectives, allowing for flexibility along with analysis.
- Call for higher order thinking; recall is not sufficient. Higher order thinking entails inference, prediction, and evaluation of ideas, all of which are important for investigation across disciplines. And, of course, learning to use information to draw conclusions is essential for creative questioners.
- Point toward important transferable ideas within and across disciplines. Using ideas in new and varied ways is a good way to practice flexible thinking. In many cases, using transferable ideas across disciplines can also spark metaphorical thinking. For example, considering the concept of “power” in politics and physics invites both literal and metaphorical comparisons.
- Raise additional questions and spark further inquiry. Raising questions and sparking inquiry is the essence of creativity within the disciplines.
- Require support and justification, not just an answer. Perhaps surprisingly, critical thinking is an essential part of high-level creativity. Generating many ideas is no help unless the creator can choose the best ones. Thinking about what makes an answer a good one is an essential part of that process.
- Can and should be revisited again and again. What could be better practice in flexible thinking?
Thinking about curriculum through essential questions is a fine way to support both creativity and learning for understanding. If you’d like a guide through the process, Essential Questions is a great place to start.
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