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August Event 2010


Centering our Practice Around Four Essential Questions
a summary of August Event 2010

Four essential questions can be used in increasingly powerful ways in our educational communities to help more students learn more. Those four questions are:

• What do I want my students to learn?
• How will I know what and how well students are learning?
• How will I respond when some students do not learn?
• How will I respond when some students already know or learn quickly?


These four questions can be used by individual teachers, students, and collaborative teacher teams. With each turn of the kaleidoscope, the questions become even more powerful tools to help more students learn more.

Using the four questions as prompts, individual teachers can design compelling, challenging, focused curricular units, provide for balanced assessment, and plan for differentiated instruction both before and during instruction. Question 1 encourages teachers to identify enduring understandings and clear learning targets to guide instruction. Question 2 incorporates both a powerful summative assessment that allows learners to demonstrate their learning and on going assessment for learning to help students to successfully demonstrate their learning in the summative assessment. Questions 3 and 4 remind teachers that what is most important is not that they taught it but that students learned it.

Put in the hands of students, the four questions can become powerful tools for learner engagement and self-direction. Teachers help students with question 1 by articulating learning targets in ‘I can’ statements written in student-friendly language – ‘I can write a topic sentence.’ This leads naturally to self-assessment – question 2. Self-assessment used effectively can lead students to ask what they need to do if they are not learning or if they already know and can demonstrate the learning targets. Teachers will need to be proactive in helping students identify what they can do in either instance.

These questions become even more powerful if teacher and students use them to co-create a unit of study. Teachers identify the essentials in a unit as implied

by mission/vision and the core issues/questions in an area of study and then ask students what they want to learn within this unit of study. Building on students’ interests dramatically increases student engagement and learning.

When learner-centered collaborative teacher teams use the four questions, both teacher and student learning increases. Instead of asking – What do I want students to learn?, teachers ask – What do we want students to learn? Together, teachers identify the essentials in a common area of study or a common set of skills. Question 2, then, prompts collaborative teacher teams to design common assessments to determine what and how well their students are learning. Administering and examining common assessments is equivalent to action research – studying their own practice to address issues in student learning. As teachers study the data, they identify patterns and ask questions about instructional practices that are effective for a variety of learners. They then return to their classrooms to implement their new learning and gather data on student learning.


As collaborative teacher teams study the data regarding student learning, they also identify areas in which they want to grow. This knowledge can lead to teacher- identified professional development giving teachers greater autonomy over their professional learning. Student learning becomes the engine that drives teacher learning.

Using the four questions in these and even more ways can lead to authentic and durable school improvement.
August Event Archive
2016 Teachers Learning Together
2015 Connect-Engage-Grow
2014 CELEBRATING and CONNECTING
2013 Opening Doors to Student Understanding
2012 Becoming Students of Our Students' Work - Together
2011 Aligning Learning Targets with Appropriate Assessments
2010 Centering our Practice around Four Essential Questions
2009 Differentiation: responsive teaching for student learning
2008 Serving Children with Grace and Skill
2007 What a Difference a Word Makes
2006 Parents as Partners
2005 What Story will Shape your Classroom?
2004 Celebrating and Nurturing Good Teaching
2003 Bound Together by a Common Vision
2002 Building on the Foundation
2001 Pausing at the Columbia
Copyright 2010 - NorthWest Christian Schools International
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