Questions Driving You
Why did you choose the discipline you’re teaching and researching in now? What was it about its unique lens on the world that inspired you? Sometimes, in the rush to design syllabi and curriculum, and feeling buried by stacks of grading at points, it can be easy to forget the reasons we were driven to choose our disciplines in the first place. And just as these reasons inspired and inspire you, so too can they inspire students and provide a cohesion to your curriculum.
Questions Driving Your Course
Scholars have advocated for designing classroom work out of the very real inquiry and issues at the core of our academic disciplines. Applebee (1996) believes that our curriculum design should support the opportunity for our students to engage in the “conversations” that have built our disciplines and continue to sustain our inquiry within them. Bain (2004), in his study of what makes for the best college teaching, found some of the most impactful teachers to be the ones basing their courses out of the disciplinary questions that mattered to them. And McTighe and Wiggins (2005) suggest the use of what they call “essential questions” from your discipline to anchor your syllabus, teaching, and learning. Even in introductory courses, framing in this manner can help students be more active participants in their learning as they take up the very real current questions that the discipline seeks to answer outside the classroom. So, as you begin your course this week, we have four questions for you to ask yourself in an effort to drive your course with the questions driving you:
Why did you choose your discipline?: Answering this question can oftentimes help re-anchor you in the fundamental passion and inquiry at the core of your discipline and help you better see through the perspectives of your students. From there, you can identify the specific questions your discipline attempts to answer.
What questions does your discipline attempt to answer?: Here is where you can begin to stake some claims about the affordances and limits of your discipline’s view of the world. Does your discipline seek answers connected to literary interpretation and meaning-making? About the best ways to engineer physical structures? Your discipline no doubt asks and answers through specific lenses.
How are the questions in your discipline currently being asked in your discipline and out in the world?: Contemporary relevance can help with overall engagement, as students see how what they’re doing in your course may connect with present-day applications. This allows students to begin to answer the “so what?” about your course and why one may care to know the content and skills you’re engaging in.
How does your course help students ask or begin to ask the questions you identified in two and three above?: Your curriculum design choices are key. Provide opportunities for students to be anchored in the real inquiry and perspectives that matter most in your discipline. Make this inquiry explicit along the way. Your assessment choices are also important here, as you have the opportunity to provide real-world tasks for students that you and others in your discipline would engage in outside the classroom.
Applebee, A. N. (1996). Curriculum as Conversation: Transforming Traditions of Teaching and Learning. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press.
Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition. Alexandria, VA: Pearson.