Brianne Gidcumb | May 2015

Driving Questions to Guide Inquiry in the Arts

In last month’s webinar on Project Based Learning and the Arts, we briefly discussed the role of “driving questions” in an inquiry based learning experience in the arts or arts integrated classroom.

A driving question is presented at the beginning of an inquiry based learning experience as the frame for the project. A good driving question is one that “focuses all other questions towards a solution or product” ( It is open-ended, engages high-level thinking, and requires students to synthesize information from multiple sources, experiences, and activities.

Characteristics of a quality driving question:

  • Open-ended enough to allow for individual investigation
  • Relevant to students (resembles issues/problems/questions students might encounter in the real world)
  • Meaningful to students (resembles a real-world problem or issue)
  • Supports self-directed learning through multiple activities and sources
  • Involves authentic problem-solving
  • Consistent with standards (aligned with assessment and learning outcomes)
  • Lends itself to collaboration and cross-disciplinary work

 Where do we begin?

The essential questions in the National Core Arts Standards are a great place to begin looking at how to develop driving questions in the arts. Whether or not your state has adopted them, I think these essential questions that are built right into the standards are a great asset in looking at how we can take what we already do as arts educators and just frame it from an inquiry standpoint. Look at the standard you want to accomplish, and work up to the essential question. From there, you can rephrase it to give students some direction. Your driving question should be open-ended enough to allow for students to take different paths, and also specific enough to drive them towards a product.

Driving Questions to Guide Inquiry in the Arts, Education Closet

In Visual Art…If you want your students to explore a particular element of visual art, you might pose the question, “How can the principle of rhythm be incorporated into an art composition?” Through student investigation, they will explore examples from various artists and movements, and create a composition of their own to demonstrate their understanding of the element of rhythm. They might also provide a critique of various examples of rhythm in existing artwork. It’s up to you to frame how you want students to demonstrate their understanding.

In Music…”How do musicians select repertoire?” This essential question is pulled from National Core Music Standard #4. Rather than programming a concert or performance for your students on your own, this question could be reframed and specified to a particular genre, and students could program a musical revue for performance.

 Examples of arts-related driving questions:

  • Where do artists get their ideas?
  • How has art changed through time?
  • Is the artist’s intention relevant to the viewer?
  • What is the purpose of public art?
  • What choices must an artist make before beginning a work?
  • How can familiar stories be adapted for the stage?
  • How can we create a piece of collaborative artwork that will give viewers some information on our home state?
  • How can we recycle materials to create a musical instrument?

Online resources for developing driving questions:

New Mexico State University “Developing the Driving Question” Widget: This instructional widget guides you through the process of creating an open-ended, standards-aligned, interdisciplinary inquiry question.

Buck Intitute for Education Tubric: This resource, a free download, designed to help you practice writing driving questions by framing initial words, person or entity, action or challenge, and audience/purpose.

Project Based Learning Online Resource: Go to Module 2 to see a video in which a team goes through the process of developing a quality driving question for a cross curricular project.

Driving Questions ePortfolio: A great resource to help you design quality open-ended and driving questions. I especially like the “Guidelines for Writing Effective Driving Questions.

100 Sample Art-based Driving Questions: A list of 100 driving questions for interdisciplinary projects from North Lawndale College Prep Charter High School. This list is a great place to find samples of driving questions that you can adjust to fit your content and/or grade level.

Leading Project Based Learning: Another great online resource that defines and clarifies what makes a good driving question.

Moving to inquiry based learning is simply a shift in how we plan. The key is to start small. Take something you already do successfully and just frame it with a question until you become more comfortable with the inquiry process in the arts/art integrated classroom.

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: