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Skip to 0 minutes and 2 seconds JONATHAN: I’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. 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. 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.

Skip to 0 minutes and 38 seconds So it’s not something which is realistically going to be able to be done with all classes all the time. 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. They’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. So I placed the hinge point question about 10, 15 minutes into the lesson.

Skip to 1 minute and 12 seconds 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. And 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. 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.

Skip to 1 minute and 51 seconds MARTHA: Evolution’s a fairly new thing in primarily curriculum. It only came in with the new curriculum. 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. So 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.

Skip to 2 minutes and 38 seconds The children really were engaged by the first two activities. When 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 beaks, 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.

Skip to 3 minutes and 9 seconds So the conversations that I was getting from the children were really, really good. 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. If 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. But 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.

Skip to 3 minutes and 40 seconds 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. 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.

Skip to 4 minutes and 7 seconds 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 4 minutes and 16 seconds JONATHAN: 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 4 minutes and 51 seconds So 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. 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. I think you do need to spend time on it.

Skip to 5 minutes and 27 seconds 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? Could you do it on those? And discuss them with colleagues and share them with colleagues. And also trialling them– write hinge point questions.

Skip to 6 minutes and 0 seconds Trial it in the classroom. 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.

Teachers' reflections

Jonathan and Martha share their reflections about using hinge-point questions in their lessons. They refer to the classes we’ve shown in the videos in this course.

Key lessons learnt

As you watch the video, note down the key points they make about planning the use of hinge-point questions, how they used them in their classes and what they decided to do after gathering evidence of student learning.

In the comments below, identify one challenge you might have in implementing hinge-point questions, and propose a solution to allow you to address that challenge.

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Introducing Assessment for Learning

National STEM Learning Centre