Wide Open Questions: Unleashing the Power of Curiosity in an Agile Classroom | Jessica Cavallaro | 4 Min Read

April 24, 2023

Agile classrooms provide avenues for students to learn more than the mandated content. In the same time that one might dedicate to a teacher-focused unit, students are given the opportunity to immediately apply new knowledge to real-world situations. To facilitate this type of learning, the unit needs to be anchored by a Wide-Open Question (WOQ). A WOQ begins a unit that encourages students to explore new ideas and unique solutions to a problem. Unlike traditional content-based questions that seek a single “right” answer and therefore set students on identical learning paths, WOQs start with interrogative words like ‘Why’ or ‘How’ and are designed to be broad and open-ended. This allows students to bring their own interests and prior knowledge into the learning process. WOQs engage students in personalized learning and deepen their understanding of the content, as well as build skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving. 

WOQs promote the type of learning that goes beyond the walls of a traditional classroom. Yes, the student must use new knowledge learned in class to try to solve the problem, but the complexity and uniqueness of the question ignite intrinsic learning. Students become engaged in answering the question and PULL new learning as they search for an answer. This builds strong connections that go beyond one content area and allows students to build broad networks of knowledge that they otherwise may not learn or connect. Making connections among different knowledge areas is when sparks of innovation emerge. By replacing Essential Questions with Wide-Open Questions, new pathways of learning are developed that will have lifelong benefits for our students. 

Qualities of Wide-Open Questions (WOQs)

WOQs start with teachers working with their course standards, institutional competencies, and curriculum. When reviewing the necessary content, teachers summarize the big ideas of a unit. These are the important concepts students must know by the end of the unit. Typically, teachers then transform these big ideas into an essential or driving question. The essential or driving question leads students through the unit and keeps them focused on the big ideas and the expected end result. Essential questions are terrific at defining a learning path but often lack complexity and real-world application. In contrast, a Wide-Open Question is not tied directly to the content. It is a large complex question in which new content knowledge can help students find their own solutions. These questions…

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Jessica Cavallaro

Jessica Cavallaro is the co-founder of The Agile Mind, which interweaves Agile frameworks into K-12 education. She is passionate about the benefits of project based learning and creating purposeful education to drive innovation through inquiry. She is an advocate for developing systems that give students agency. Jessica earned her Bachelor’s degree at Pace University and Master’s in Education from Mercy College.