About five years ago I came to the startling realization that my teaching lacked direction.  I didn’t really have any idea where I was going pedagogically and, as a result, my students didn’t either.  I was the captain of a ship that was guided by the whim of temperamental winds and leaderless currents.  Interestingly, none of my students ever really questioned me about where they were supposed to be by the end of the course – they simply assumed that I knew where I was going like sheep following a blind shepherd.  If a student ever did question the direction and purpose of a course, I could easily pull together some pat answer about learning how to read and write better.  Boring.  Uninspiring.  The hardest part about this realization was that I would’ve hated being a student in my class.  I would’ve hated not knowing where we were going and would’ve quickly lost motivation.

It was through backwards design and inquiry that I began to find direction in my teaching.  Backwards design helped me understand what I wanted students to know or be able to do after they completed a course with me and inquiry gave me the framework to reach these goals.  It took me four years to refine an inquiry question that had the longevity to inspire and engage my students for a whole semester – a story for another post.  To make a long story short, I found that the questions themselves need to engage – they can’t simply inform.  As such, I’ve tried to make my essential and inquiry questions somewhat provocative – questions that would capture the interest of a room full of teenagers.  The question that my students and I have pursued this semester is:

How can I live a happy life?

I also have four questions that guide the learning in my classroom:

1. How can I accurately interpret a text for meaning?

2. How can I manipulate others through effective communication?

3. How can I avoid being controlled by the media?

4. How can I become a powerful reflective and critical thinker?

These questions challenged, guided, and engaged my class this last semester and  there is still lots (LOTS) of room for improvement.  However, I feel like my class has a direction and purpose that was seriously lacking in my early career as teacher.