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5 Essential Learning Questions

5 Essential Learning Questions

Author: Katie Hou

In this lesson you will review the 5 essential questions for learning and evaluate how they connect to the work of the PLC.

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Hello, and thank you for joining me for the five essential learning questions. By the end of today's tutorial, we will be able to answer the following essentials questions. What are the five essential learning questions and why do these matter?

Let's get started by looking at the five questions. The first question we're going to look at is what do the students need to know and be able to do? This is an important learning question because it takes into account assessment. Research says that assessment is supposed to assess what students need to know and be able to do.

So if you take something like understanding by design when you're creating your lesson plans, you know these things going forward into the lesson. And the assessment merely shows that the students have achieved these things. So we want to just make sure that our assessments are aligned with what they're supposed to do.

And this also gets us talking about curriculum. These five essential learning questions we're going to talk about are really important because they get conversations going among our professional learning communities. So when we talk about what do the students need to know and be able to do across a grade level, or across a certain discipline area like science, the people in that grade level or discipline area can discuss exactly what the expectations are so that they're consistent across the board.

The next question is, how will we teach them? This again is a curriculum question. How will we teach them what they need to know and what they need to be able to do? Hopefully, this question will lead to a lot of collaboration among your staff on the variety of pedagogy techniques that are out there.

So we all have different ideas of pedagogy. And when we talk about how we will teach our students, this is a really good time to collaborate and get new ideas. And I'll say that through this collaboration, I get new ideas every year. And it's not necessarily that we need to reinvent our lessons every year, but we definitely can tweak them. And this is a conversation starting question for that.

The next question is, how will we know if they know or can do? So how will we know if they know the information or can do the tasks we ask them? This, again, is going to be an assessment question, just like our first question. Are our assessments aligned with what they know and can do, and do our assessments tell us what they know and what they can do?

This also leads to collaboration among the professional learning community, because we might have a variety of different ways to test students. Some people want to give students a multiple choice question test that is somewhat of regurgitation of information. I favor more of a skills based assessment. That doesn't mean that my assessment that I favor is any better than the assessment of the other person. And we can get to these conversations through collaboration.

And it's also really important for calibration. And we'll talk more about calibration in a future tutorial, but essentially this is just having consistent expectations for an assessment across the board. So if I'm measuring what a student knows and can do, it needs to be the same way that another teacher measures what they know and can do.

And the next question is what will we do if they don't know or aren't able? This is important because again this gets at the heart of curriculum. What can we as teachers change? We need to always be looking at what can we do differently. Is this a content issue? Is this a pedagogy issue? How can we better serve these students? How can we better get the information across that we want them to know? Or our expectations too high? Do we need to look at our demographics, or look at our student body and reassess what our expectations are?

And this also forces us to look at assessments because sometimes assessments can be flawed. It's really important. An example of this would be looking at data. How many students missed question one? How many students missed question four? If the entire class or the majority of the class missed question four then you either A, didn't teach that concept fully or B, there's a problem with the assessment on question four.

The last essential question asks what will we do if they're already there? This is an important question because not all students are going to be learning at the same level. The question preceding it was what do we do if they don't know? But what do we do for those advanced or gifted children who are ahead of the curriculum?

This is another conversation where you're professional learning community can set goals for the curriculum, and where they can collaborate with one another, giving ideas and tips so that we can differentiate the instruction to reach all learners. This is where a lot of the enrichment activities are going to be taking place, so we can push those students to the next level.

Like I said earlier, having these five essential learning questions is a really good thing because it helps us create SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. And when a professional learning community comes together to create a goal, they meet the requirements of the SMART acronym. Having these five learning questions be something that's discussed at these professional learning community meetings can lead to the generation of SMART goals for the school, or for a grade level, or for a content area.

So does your PLC use these five essential questions in some way? Remember in the past, we've talked about how in education the names change but the theory is really the same. So you might be doing this. Maybe it's just not called the five essential learning questions. Think about whether or not you are.

Today, we talked about what the five essential learning questions are and why they matter. As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the Additional Resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skillset. Thank you for joining me and happy teaching.

Notes on “5 Essential Learning Questions”



(00:14-01:12) What do students need to know and be able to do?

(01:13-01:48)How will we teach them?

(01:49-02:49)How will we know if they can/do?

(02:50-03:45) What will we do if they don’t know, aren’t able?

(03:46-04:21) What will we do if they are already there?

(04:22-04:54) SMART goals

(04:55-05:17) Reflection

(05:18-05:42) Conclusion

Additional Resources

Navigating Learning Targets

This Georgia Department of Education site provides resources (including videos) for connecting learning targets to the essential learning questions.

Stevenson Elementary School: Professional Learning Communities

This website explains how to use the PLC essential questions to drive improvement. The school also draws connections to Response to Intervention (RTL) and Gifted and Talented in response to the PLC essential learning questions.