Driving Questions: The Key to Making PBA Work
This week on the podcast, we are delving into the topic of Driving (or Guiding) Questions, and how they fit into PBA. In this post, I want to equip you with some resources from the World Wide Web for writing your own Driving Questions. Make sure you listen to this week’s episode when it drops on Friday to get our perspective on why you should use Driving Questions in your planning and instruction, what makes a good Driving Question, and some examples from our own instructional units.
Regardless of whether or not you’ve delved extensively into project-based learning yet or not, Driving Questions are one element you can add to your teaching repertoire right away, and they can make a big impact on your practice.
Characteristics of a Driving Question include:
About a big-picture idea
Connects to real life in a way that relates to or intrigues our students
Open-ended, with no one answer (and preferably virtually unlimited answers)
As you’ll hear us describe on the pod, Driving Questions are powerful because they help to focus every single thing you do in a given unit. Commit to this idea. In the past, I’ve written a big question for a unit, posted it on the bulletin board, and then barely even referred to it for the rest of the unit. Learn from my mistakes, please.
When you commit to this idea of the Driving Question actually driving everything you do, here’s what it looks like:
You’re excited to work on your unit plan, because the Driving Question is something that excites you
Gathering resources for your unit becomes simpler, because you can immediately discard anything that doesn’t relate to your Driving Question
Students have clarity about the overarching purpose of the unit
A narrative thread is developed that ties everything together
Your final outcome for the unit has a real purpose - to answer that question
For students and teacher, seeing everyone’s final outcome is interesting, because each person’s interpretation can be different
So where are these resources I promised you? Here goes:
This post from Andrew Miller, How to Write Effective Driving Questions for Project-Based Learning, offers a lot in a short space. He offers the basics, including an explanation of how a good DQ benefits both the teacher and the students. A second post, How to Refine Effective Driving Questions for Project-Based Learning, makes some key clarifications - it’s also worth a read.
If you want a more detailed post about DQs, head to Learning in Hand’s post, Crafting Questions that Drive Projects. Among other things, there is a great checklist here to make sure that your DQ is really refined and going to serve you and your students well.
Want to hack the process of writing a DQ completely? Try the Buck Institute’s Driving Question Tubric 2.0. It’s a tool you can print out and make that gives you a ton of mix- and matchable options for writing questions in an open-ended format.
TeachThought has a fantastic post titled, Are the Questions You’re Asking Important to Your Students… Or Just to You? This is an important read for anyone seeking to define what a good or effective Driving Question looks and sounds like. It isn’t enough to write a question that is important for the subject area you teach. Your DQs absolutely must connect in some way to your students, or you’re dead in the water, guaranteed.
After that point, my recommendation is that you just get your hands dirty and start doing this thing.
Take a look at the next unit you’re going to teach:
What is the basic topic of the unit?
Is it skill-based, content-based, or both?
If skill-based, how can you connect the skill they must learn to a subject of interest to them?
If content-based, how can you connect the content they must learn to their real lives?
Let us know in the comments what your next unit is - we’d love to brainstorm with you if and when you get stuck on crafting Driving Questions.
Once you have a Driving Question, commit to that sucker! Don’t forget to let it drive everything else you do in planning and executing the unit.
Let us know how it goes!