Brianne Gidcumb | August 2015

Effective Questioning in the Arts

Effective Questioning in The Arts

It’s back-to-school time! If you’re anything like me, this is always a time of New School Year’s Resolutions. What do I want to do differently this year? How can I increase student engagement? Am I doing everything I can to give my students the music education they deserve?

One of my biggest struggles in the music classroom was accomplishing everything I wanted to in a limited amount of time.  As well as, trying to do so in a way that encouraged deep thinking. One of my constant New Year’s Resolutions has always been to provide more opportunity for higher order thinking skills. However, this can be a challenge when you have a 20-minute class period. The types of questions we ask in the classroom, and the opportunities we allow for our students to come to the answers of those questions can make or break our effectiveness at achieving that goal. So today, let’s look at some tips for effective questioning in the arts classroom.

Identify your essential question

First, we must identify the “big idea.” What is the larger question around the piece of art your students are engaging with? It’s time to think beyond your lesson plan! Is the true, essential objective of your lesson that students demonstrate that they know that Georges Seurat painted “A Sunday on La Grande Jette” using a technique called pointillism through identification and the development of a matching product. Or, is there something bigger? The essential questions for National Core Visual Arts Standard 1.2 read:

“How does knowing the context histories, and traditions of art forms help us create works of art and design? Why do artists follow or break from established tradition? How do artists determine what resources are needed to formulate artistic investigation?”

Outline some big ideas and essential questions for your content area that encourage creative, artful thinking can serve to guide you this year.

Build an effective questioning toolkit.

This is a great time to look at the essential questions built right into the National Core Arts Standards. And, begin developing some lines of effective questioning helping students meet those standards. What kinds of questions will you ask to encourage inquiry around a piece of art, music, theatre, or dance? How will you guide students to the big idea with smaller questions? Check out this article on question starters for each level of Bloom’s taxonomy, and develop some guiding questions for your content area.

Give wait time.

When time is at a premium, it’s easy to forget to do this. However, giving students moments of thoughtful silence to formulate their own observation, ideas, hypotheses, and opinions is crucial to developing artistic minds. Every student should have time to think individually before discussion, so that they all have something to share. Challenge yourself to give your students just a little bit longer this year!

Allow opportunities for all students to engage.

This might mean giving students time to turn and talk with a partner. It might mean instituting a “no hands up” policy allowing you to choose, who will respond. This gives students the opportunity to continue thinking while responses are made. Encouraging discussion among all students is difficult to do within time constraints, but it is vitally important to ensure that every child is thinking critically and artfully.

Dig deeper.

Follow up to student responses in a way that encourages deeper thinking. Ask students to explain their thinking using support and evidence from the piece of art. This is a standard and a skill that crosses all curricular lines, so encouraging this, we are achieving standards in every content area. What better use of time is there than this?

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: