Contact FutureLearn for Support
Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 10 secondsI've been using diagnostic questions for quite a long time now. And I find them really useful across all key stages. I use them a lot at A level. I use them in Key Stage 3 and at GCSE. And my use of hinge point questions has been relatively new. I started looking at it halfway though last year when I was doing a course in AFL. I was introduced to them and I tried them with some of my groups. And I have found that to be extremely effective. I think diagnostic questions are really easy to use on a day-to-day basis. They are questions which often require a multiple choice answer. It could be true or false, or it could be open answers.

Skip to 0 minutes and 47 secondsAnd they do give you understanding about what the student is doing. The hinge point question, the real benefit of these is with that, you're actually using that information at that point in time to actually change what you're doing with the students. You are differentiating the lesson based on their responses. Now, if you're honest about it, that actually does take quite a long time. If you want to have a really decent hinge point question and some really decent activities, you have got to spend the time planning it and really thinking about those questions. So it's not something which is realistically going to be able to be done with all classes all the time.

Skip to 1 minute and 22 secondsIt's something that you need to maybe choose a particular class with, a particular topic, and start with. You can try it one class or one topic to start with. Try a hinge point question with them. See how it gets on. If it works well, maybe try it with a different class, if it's the same topic. And just build your repertoire or hinge point questions over time. I think science is a particular issue here, because a lot, I think, sort of not-so-effective practise tends to group your science learners by their literacy ability, so you end up with a group who are low in literacy or poor at recording, who are just working with a less able activity.

Skip to 1 minute and 53 secondsAnd that's set, because they're in that group for literacy, and then they're in that group for science. And obviously, so within that group, they may be poor recorders who have absolutely excellent background knowledge, excellent understanding, and then not ever given a chance to build on that, or a chance to thrive. Whereas this approach-- Whereas this approach just allows that child to understand they're not having to read anything. They're not having to write anything. They're just learning.

Skip to 2 minutes and 21 secondsThey'd already done two lessons beforehand on osmosis. Those lessons, however, had focused mainly on the how science works skills, the investigative skills. So we looked at plotting graphs and using the data. So we did a potato experiment. From that, I knew that they had a basic understanding of osmosis, but they didn't really fully understand it. So I planned the hinge point question to come after we'd gone and talked about some of the definitions. I thought it was really important that they understood what the definitions were and the keywords. I didn't want them to get the hinge point question wrong because of a misunderstanding of the meaning of the words. So I wanted to do the keywords first.

Skip to 2 minutes and 58 secondsAfter I did the keywords, I wanted then to go and work out how I was going to go with the lesson. So I placed the hinge point question about 10, 15 minutes into the lesson. Therefore, we had the rest of the lesson to go and sort of work on that. So your hinge point question was an opportunity to check understanding, diagnose their thinking? Absolutely. Yeah. So it gave me an opportunity to see absolutely where their understanding of osmosis was, and therefore gave me the information I needed to work out how to go and differentiate the lesson. Now, I'd already planned different types of differentiation in before the lesson, depending on what responses I got.

Skip to 3 minutes and 34 secondsAnd as I said, most of the students actually didn't fully grasp osmosis. And therefore, I asked most of the students to go and work on the more basic, fundamental concepts of osmosis before stretching them a bit further later in the lesson. That's interesting. Because my next question to you was did your hinge point question go as you had planned? And you're already saying, actually, things occurred differently. I tried the same lesson with a different year 11 group last week. And when I did the same question with them, more of the students actually were getting the correct responses. So I was getting about a third of the students were getting C, C, which were the two correct responses.

Skip to 4 minutes and 10 secondsAnd therefore, they were working straightaway on the higher order things, explaining exactly what they found, and about two thirds were working on the more fundamental knowledge-based parts of osmosis. So in this lesson, the majority of students got either the first or second or both of the distractors, which meant that I had to then go and say, well, actually, we're not going to go and have a third of you working on this. Almost all of you are going to go and work on the fundamental knowledge. And then once you've done that, you can then go on and extend your knowledge to the higher-order thinking sort of questions. I've taught this lesson before. Evolution's a fairly new thing in primarily curriculum.

Skip to 4 minutes and 49 secondsIt only came in with the new curriculum. We, as an academy, did supply it a year early, so we actually taught this unit last year, although officially it's only come in since this September. So I've only actually taught this unit once before. It's very-- there are many, many layers of understanding in this particular lesson. And when I taught the lesson last year, my feeling was that, for some of the children that had a wonderful time playing with food and getting to eat sweets, but they hadn't really understood any of the concept of why we had done it.

Skip to 5 minutes and 22 secondsSo my intention today on using a hinge point question was to give them that same learning opportunity, but use the question is a way of eliciting which children had understood and were ready to move on, but making sure that those children who hadn't really linked the activity to the learning had a chance to go back and consolidate. Overall, this was quite a short lesson, so it felt quite squashed. What we would have done in normal practise would have extended all of the ideas a lot. So I think it was a little bit limited, just because of the circumstances today. The children really were engaged by the first two activities.

Skip to 5 minutes and 59 secondsWhen they were looking at each other's hands, the kinds of conversations that they were having were really, really interesting. And the similarities and differences that they had picked up were fascinating. And we could have based a whole lesson around that, but I just want to use that as a starter to get them thinking. Again, with the bird peaks, we had lots and lots of really good understanding. And they were looking at the features. And it showed me how they've developed their skills of observing and explaining and reasoning, which is something we've worked on particularly in science in school. So the conversations that I was getting from the children were really, really good.

Skip to 6 minutes and 30 secondsBut I think that the positioning of the question was satisfactory. They had had enough time to think about the idea. They'd been very engaged. And so that was the point at which I really needed to find out, OK. Where do we go from this? We've put the groundwork in, but to move the learning forward, I've got to assess right now. I need to know exactly what it is that they do and don't understand, otherwise there are children who won't be going any further when they should be, and there will be children who don't know and are just sitting, unsure, and not really getting it. I knew what I wanted them to tell me.

Skip to 7 minutes and 2 secondsSo I had to try and think about the question in order to find the answers, so they had some success-- so they would relax so that they could then answer their questions. It depends on what I'm seeking-- what I want from that particular activity or what our learning objective is. And it might be that I've had a child who's been very quiet, and I don't know what they know about this subject. So I might target them quite specifically. And I might ask them a first question that I definitely know they already know the answer on. So they're not going to have that, [GASPS], panic. And then ask them a second question that follows. You go, oh, OK, then.

Skip to 7 minutes and 37 secondsIf you think that, why is that? Well, could you explain that to me? Or, ooh. Sometimes they give you a lovely answer, so it immediately springs that they will elaborate on it, which then leads to another question that you can pull more out of them. Or if it's a yes or no answer that they've given you, you might have to reword the question again and then give them a little bit of time to think about their answer. Or, oh, can anybody else help them out, to get the conversation flowing. And it's knowing the children and using quite a lot of experience from previous years. So you kind of recognise misconceptions.

Skip to 8 minutes and 19 secondsI mean, I've had children in the past who I've known what their misconceptions are just from hearing their conversations or from things they've said in previous lessons, or at the beginning of the lesson. So when I come to my planning, I'll be thinking, well, I need to ask that question to see if they say the same thing again. Also I can then lead it into the activities so that I can change their perspective on what their misconceptions are.

Skip to 8 minutes and 52 secondsI find them very effective. Because before, what I was doing a lot is I was giving a diagnostic question to the class. I was getting the answers back in, and then I would kind of mull over those answers. And maybe the next lesson or the lesson afterwards, start kind of teaching maybe one direction or another. So what I wasn't doing before is actually differentiating the lesson as effectively as I could be based on the responses of the lessons. I was maybe identifying misconceptions, and therefore teaching to the class-- but to the whole class about the misconceptions that a few students may have had. Whereas others may have actually completely understood it.

Skip to 9 minutes and 31 secondsSo effectively, in that way, you're all kind of wasting the time of the students that have understood it. Hinge Point questions are effective because they give you the opportunity to differentiate the lesson and to challenge all students, no matter how well they've understood the topic. As I say, the less-abled students, the ones that haven't got the topic as well-- you can support them and help them to get a real grasp on the fundamentals. Whereas, at the same time, the ones that have understood the topic and have got real fluent in talking about osmosis, or whatever the topic may be, you can real push them on and try and get them towards the higher-level answers.

Skip to 10 minutes and 8 secondsSo I do feel the question was really well-placed in the lesson. It was the right time to move on. So following that question, the children then had the opportunity to build on their learning. So I had a very independent group who were looking at their environments, which is part of our topic at the moment. We're looking at a wide topic called Frozen Planet. But the first part of that has been about different environments. So the children were basing their learning within their topic work. They were applying what they'd understood from the early part of the lesson. The other children had my teaching assistant or myself supporting them to really get back over the concepts that we'd already talked about.

Skip to 10 minutes and 41 secondsSo we had that chance to sit back, revisit what we'd already done in the earlier part of the lesson, pull out what was really important, and actually return to the hinge point question as well, and try and get them to explain to me the answers that they had chosen and their feelings for why these were correct, and then revisit where, perhaps, their inaccuracies, their misconceptions were. And so the question allowed me to differentiate very clearly. The first thing that I need is an individual response. I need to be absolute certain that the response the child's giving me shows their own understanding.

Skip to 11 minutes and 14 secondsIf they've copied from a friend and they end up in a group where they're not actually well-placed, their learning is going to be closed down for the rest of the lesson. So it's really important to me to get an individual response. So we try and keep the-- it's like a sort of secret ballot, I suppose. And we make a bit of fun out of that, and it works quite well. Within the answers to the hinge point question, there were some inaccuracies. And within this question particularly, there were sort of layers of understanding within the different points.

Skip to 11 minutes and 39 secondsSo we had two ideas that were incorrect, an idea that was correct, an idea that was correct but explained the correct thinking in a much clearer way. And that allowed me to think about the layers of understanding that the children had, because we're thinking about layers of understanding rather than correct and incorrect. The activities that I had planned were progressive. So was a series of activities that they could have moved through quite quickly. So using those layers of understanding within the question, but then also using the activities in the way of moving on, as well, to be sure that every child is reaching their potential in that lesson.

Skip to 12 minutes and 22 secondsAs I said before, you've got the time issue. It does take time to make decent hinge point questions. And I think it's also in the design of the hinge point questions is quite difficult. So it's very easy, I guess, to come up with a question, then just try and rattle off three or four answers which you think might be wrong. But if you do that, you'll find that a lot of the answers that you come up are the distractors. They will be quite obviously wrong. And the students will spot them straight away. They'll choose a correct answer. You think they've understood the topic, but actually they probably haven't.

Skip to 12 minutes and 52 secondsSo I think one of the things is designing the hinge points questions is problematic. I think you do need to spend time on it. There's various ways of doing it. As I said, you can go and give them an open-ended question, get the responses from that, and use those responses as distractors. You can also go and look at the research. There's quite a lot of research out there, various studies, which have looked at using diagnostic questions. If people have tried it before, often these questions are going to be really quite good. You could speak to colleagues. If you maybe go and split a topic open-- say, well, I'm going to go and design two or three on this particular topic?

Skip to 13 minutes and 23 secondsCould you do it on those? And discuss them with colleagues and share them with colleagues. And also trialling them-- write hinge point questions. Trial it in the classroom. You'll probably see them work out if it's worked or not. And what I would suggest is doing follow-up questions. So once they've all chosen their answers, if you go and do follow-up questions to really delve into why they've understood and why they haven't, you might find that the actual response that they've put, which is the correct answer-- they've got that correct answer for the wrong reasons. So you need to go and then maybe think about how you're going to rejig your hinge point question in the future.

Skip to 13 minutes and 56 secondsThere are challenges, but I think they all can be kind of overcome if you come up with strategies to work on them. I think assessment for learning is one of those things you learn once you're thinking less about yourself as a teacher, which is where you tend to be in your NQT year and however long after that. And you're really starting to think about the needs of your class. I think there's a light bulb moment in the very early moments of your career where you kind of think, yes, I can do this. So I don't need to worry about the fear anymore. Now I can start thinking about the learners.

Skip to 14 minutes and 23 secondsAnd from that point on, assessment for learning becomes incredibly important. The more experience that I get, the more of the people that I see teach, the more conversations I have with other colleagues-- both in school and outside-- the more I learn about assessment for learning. You can pick up little techniques from all kinds of different places. But the key thing for me is that the more experienced you get as a teacher, the more you understand how important it is for moving learning on. Because only by knowing your children's needs can you know what they need to do next.

Skip to 14 minutes and 56 secondsAnd if you want to make progress and you want to raise standards, you've got to make some kind of assessment in order to do that. You've got a lot of children-- say you've got 30 children plus, sometimes, in a class. So being absolutely spot on with every child in every subject every day is a really difficult thing to manage. And that's where things like hinge point questions really come in to their own, because they give you that very quick snapshot of where the child is. One of the things is knowing what to do with that assessment once you've got it. Sometimes collecting the assessment could be quite easy, but knowing the next steps-- it has to be a cycle.

Skip to 15 minutes and 35 secondsYou have to be moving through a cycle of learning all the time. So just collecting the assessment is one challenge, but then you've also got the challenge of knowing where to go next, sort of working out exactly what every learner in your class needs, and how to get there, I suppose-- how to actually facilitate the learning once you've gathered the evidence. When you try and design questions, it can be quite difficult sometimes, especially if you know the answer you're looking for. Because you can get quite locked on. So you have to almost test run them and say them out loud. And you have to also think about what you want the children to achieve from you asking that question.

Skip to 16 minutes and 17 secondsWhere's it going to lead to? What is the purpose? And do you go straight for that meaty question, or do you need to build them in first? And sometimes you do get it wrong, and you just have to recover quickly and think on your feet and find another question. Or, if you're doing multiple choice questions where you give them options-- is thinking about how the knowledge fits in there and what their misconceptions are and trying to throw an answer into the mix so that they can extend their thinking and make it really purposeful in a way that you're actually able to judge what the children know or don't know about what you're asking them.

Skip to 17 minutes and 10 secondsAt the beginning of the lesson, I think I would have referred more to vocabulary. Because at the end of the lesson, I've had a very quick look at the learning exit. And I actually picked up and gave them an extra task, because we were linking back to variation and adaptation, and they weren't really clear on the meanings of those words. So having taught it, if I taught it again, I would spend more time working on the vocabulary at the beginning, I think, and being clearer in their depth of understanding about the meaning of those two words. When I was walking around-- the learning exit activity I find fascinating.

Skip to 17 minutes and 40 secondsWe use it quite a lot because you're eliciting information at the end. So I can go and use that display at the end of my lesson to see where they are and see what they're interested in, and also see who's really got the vocabulary. So as I was walking around, I realised that no one was using that language in their explanation. And when I was saying to pairs, oh, could you actually include in this a description of, an explanation of this word, they were kind of going, oh? Huh? So they hadn't linked what they were learning to the vocabulary at all. I always will use them in pairs.

Skip to 18 minutes and 11 secondsI think it just gives those children a chance to confer about their ideas first. You could use them individually. I think it would be just as effective, to have a very independent idea. The way we've always run it is we share those ideas before they leave the room, so it's as much a timing. Because I've already used a hinge point question, I'd expect the children to be roughly with children who've got the same idea. If it were to use absolutely personalised learning, you're right. I'd have to give it to an individual. But it's a wide picture for me of where I'm going next. I've already got a basic idea from what's gone on in the lesson where we're going next.

Skip to 18 minutes and 43 secondsBut I'm just using that to pick up little bits, little snippets, really-- snapshots of where the class have got to.

Jonathan, Martha, and Emma’s reflections

This video has extracts from interviews made by the course team at Aston Academy in Sheffield and at St Matthias Church of England Primary School in Malvern.

Review the extracts.

  1. How does each teacher’s reflection match your own response to watching them in action, this week, and in previous weeks of the course?
  2. In particular what do you take from Jonathan and Martha’s observations on their building of hinge-point questions into their day-to-day teaching?

Feel free to post your observations as a comment and to respond to other peoples’ comments.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Assessment for Learning in STEM Teaching

National STEM Learning Centre