Break Habits with Big Questions: Let the C3 Framework come alive for your students

By Dan Fouts posted 01-07-2018 11:20:55 AM

Big Questions

We often think there’s one way to organize our units and it goes something like this: Introduce a study guide of terms, list out some goals and objectives, add in some unit-specific questions and then give a picture of what the summative assessment may look like, usually coming in the form of either a multiple choice test, essay or both. At the end of the unit, we start over.  Sound familiar?  

Think about it, though. When we do this, we are sending a subtle message that learning begins and ends with self-contained units and that knowledge builds in sequential steps along a predictable path which ends. Our intuition tells a different story:  learning is a recursive experience where what we learn often comes back up again and again in different settings and new forms.

So let’s follow our intuition and break a habit. Dimension One of the C3 Framework- Developing and Planning Inquiries- suggests we organize our teaching around questions. What if at the beginning of a unit on colonization in a US history course, we introduced the question: How does American history reveal the tension between our desire to be an individual and our commitment to the community? Our instruction would be geared toward inspiring students to shape a response to that question using the Puritans, Quakers and other colonial groups’ experiences as content. Here’s the key though: the question is broad enough that it could carry over into subsequent units where students could build more sophisticated arguments. The learning would continue throughout the year.

By organizing instruction this way we show students that learning doesn’t end. To the contrary, it becomes more comprehensive and meaningful. Just as important, we preserve the integrity of our content while at the same time nurture the student skill of argumentation, a skill which the C3 Framework suggests is of inestimable value to students long-term.

If you want to see how to organize an entire US history course using Big Questions, check out my socratesquestions blog.


Dan Fouts

AP government, US history and philosophy teacher

Maine West High School, Des Plaines, IL