What’s the Big Idea? (by Jim Burke)

Central Argument of the Book (pg. 19): Structure the curriculum as a conversation.


  • “Students enter school as question marks and graduate as periods” – Neal Postman
  • Questioning brings forward ideas already in the mind… Makes students more aware, cognizant or learning and understanding that has already occured.
  • “Every student can think critically and do serious academic work.”
  • “All genuine learning is active, not passive.”
  • Switch instructional focus from “what is taught” to “what will maximize learning”

Chapter 1 – An Intellectual Rite of Passage: Engaging students with essential questions

3 stages of designing lessons around good questions:
1 – Identify desired results
2 – Determine acceptable evidence
3 – Plan learning experiences and instruction

Thesis generator looks to be a great resource

Extensions of inquiry: pushing student further in their own journey of self inquiry.

Chapter 2 – Spirited Inquiry: Creating questions to access a challenging text

“We don’t need students who are obedient – those who think as they are directed; that way of thinking will ensure our country’s decline and it’s intellectual ruin.”

“…increasingly restless (students need)… a more responsive curriculum that allows them to take the wheel.”

Re-engagement of the restless = responsive curriculum

The value of leveraging online discussions (scaffolded/interactive blogging)

Responsive Curriculum example (pg 56) “Antonio, what was your inductive question about last nights reading?” this then becomes the starting point for a larger discussion we will have that period.

Delineation of Types of Questions:

  • Factual questions – Where did Raskolnikov hide the items he stole?
  • Inductive questions – Why does Raskolnikov kill
  • Analytical questions – How does Dostoevsky use gender to complicate the story?

“I don’t want kids sitting there watching me (or other kids) work – looking on while I (or other kids)… think.”

  • First – I do
  • Second – we do
  • Third – they do

Chapter 3 – Natural Curiosity: Using questions to explore relationships

George Washington Quote… “Well, we must take them as they are and make them into the soldiers we need them to be.”

We must e committed to taking our students as they are and shaping them into the people we need them to be.

When preparing to teach content… Ask… “What questions relate most to the student’s experiences.”

Reframe the curriculum into inquiry based units.

“The research base is clear: inquiry oriented classrooms cultivate motivation and engagement, deeper conceptual and strategic understanding, higher-level thinking, productive habits of mind, and positive attitudes toward future learning.”

“Some people are naturals, but even they need to think about improving or adding to the techniques that come easily to them. The rest of us must work at it…” Terry Fadem

Kids often lack experience using questioning to get information from people. They are more familiar with being peppered with questions from others…

Ten Rules for Asking Questions:

  • Extending Questions into Synthesis…
  • Good writing as a way to tie it all together..
  • Graphs Organizers as a Tool for Evaluating Inquiry
  • All good questioning should end in synthesis… Writing, drawing, discussing
  • Structured note taking is good… As long it doesn’t get represents or predictable
  • Decision Tree Organizer
  • Four Types: Expository, narrative, skimming, illustrative

Independent Reading and Work
• Allow students to frame their learning through self selection

Chapter 4 – Meaningful Conversations: Essential questions as a way into required texts

Conclusion and Appendices:

A few of the Resources (copies online at www.heinemann.com):

– Types of Questions Rubric
– AP Inquiry Project
– Thesis Generator
– Teaching the Questions
– Revising Crime and Punishment Papers (using “Track Changes” functionability)

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