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AfL in STEM Teaching MOOC Week 3

After the #ukfechat discussion with Dan Williams @FurtherEdagogy on being more evidence informed in relation to practice, I felt inspired to include more of this in my work with teachers in our AfL MOOC Groups at The Sheffield College. The Storify of this chat can be found by clicking here.

Although the staff are participating in the AfL MOOC, which has a focus on questioning as an assessment for learning tool, I was well aware that they had other things they wanted to explore and challenges they were facing that they were seeking solutions for. Much of these can be solved with the things they’re learning on the MOOC and I can prepare accompanying materials to support their learning. I am finding more and more that each meeting with each of the groups contains unexpected discussions and explorations of very different kinds.

We began by exploring these ideas in relation to revision (rather topical at this time of year): What Works, What Doesn’t. This certainly challenged the staff in terms of what we had all been advising students to do for revision- against what actually works.

We then began to discuss other aspects of practice that were evidence informed.

I advised them that educational research was to be taken with a pinch of salt and a good deal of careful consideration before assuming it would apply immediately to every single context. That being said, a range of links were shared with the groups and then added to our ‘Collection’ on PearlTrees here.

These two blogs were key to our discussions:

Be Research InformedDan Williams

Improving revision with effective techniquesJamie Davies

They had also not come across John Hattie before and so effect sizes were used as a conversation starter. Warnings were given about how reliable his research might be though…

I’m thoroughly enjoying facilitating these discussions with the MOOC Groups and sharing how things are going in the classroom. Colleagues have each been encouraged to try out and experiment more with some of the strategies we’re exploring together and on the MOOC.  Much of this has been around groupings and different questioning styles. We meet again next week to share more learning.


This week on the MOOC:

Stimulate students to think, ask diagnostic questions and then assess the dialogue you receive.

Hinge-Point Questions


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Hinge- A point in the lesson when you check students are ready to move on and if so, what direction?

We were given an activity to complete where we were asked to identify the hinge-point questions. From this activity, I quickly realised that I hadn’t the foggiest clue what a hinge-point question was. I then discovered the following:

  1. They should be constructed so that it’s difficult to guess the correct answer- the level of challenge is key.
  2. The question should help us to direct support where required and ideally this is planned in advance so it’s important that the hinge questions are constructed around misconceptions.
  3. They are invariably multiple choice questions- so as to avoid lengthy answers (they should be a quick check of learning) and also therefore avoid an unhelpful yes/no response.
  4. These questions should be used for the teacher to identify whose knowledge is secure and who requires more support. They should not be used to provide feedback and explore answers in any great detail- intentional dialogue will help with that.


We were then asked to respond to a number of multiple choice questions for ourselves about teaching practice- all designed as hinge point questions.

The following question is the one that challenged my thinking the most:

Which of the following is the most important effect of increasing the “wait time” between a teacher asking a question and taking an answer?

  1. You are more likely to get a correct answer.
  2. More wrong ideas are “aired”.
  3. The teacher can select who might be able to answer correctly.
  4. Answers tend to be in sentences rather than single words.
  5. Students listen better to the answers given.

My immediate response was that number 4 was surely correct as waiting longer emphasises the question, allows the students space to think and heightens the importance of the question in their minds. Yet the response suggested as correct was number 2. I’m still thinking now about why this might be the case…

A hinge-point question used midway through the learning of a concept to provide evidence to the teacher, which they can then take action on, is the “best” point at which to use a hinge-point questions.

Some examples of teachers using hinge-point questions in class (via videos) were then presented:

What I observed each teacher do well:

The first teacher

  • He asks a question of high challenge
  • There are multiple answers to choose from
  • He uses wait time
  • He provides coloured cards for them to respond with.
  • He gives them further wait time so they can think about why they chose their answer.

The second teacher

  • She emphasises that the students should conceal the answer they think from their peers so that the teacher can easily identify what they think- on their own.
  • She then says they’ll move on to other activities depending on their responses.

The third teacher

  • She sets it as a challenge for the students to demonstrate what they know.
  • True/ false question- they write down 1 or more that they think are correct.
  • If they have some answers they’ll stay with her, if they had others then they’ll go with the TA.

Click here to view the hinge-point questions shared on the MOOC so far.

A Summary

This video is helpful for an outline of hinge-point questions:

These links are also useful:

Hinge-point questions are designed to help the teacher to check on learning, at a point where they feel most students have developed the necessary conceptual understanding, so that they can decide what to do next.

A hinge-point question is a brief item of formative assessment which enables the teacher to know whether it is appropriate to move on, to briefly recap, or completely re-teach, a concept before moving on.

Typically hinge-point questions:

  1. Have wrong answers that match the most common student misconceptions or alternative conceptions
  2. Are difficult for a student to get the correct answer(s) with the wrong reasoning or knowledge
  3. Are quick to answer (in less than two minutes, and ideally in less than one minute)
  4. Allow the teacher to realistically view and interpret all students’ responses in 30 seconds or less and so will often be in multiple choice format.

Developing Hinge-Point questions with colleagues is recommended- to develop your teaching skills but also your own understanding of your subject- making that more secure in addition.


One of my favourite comments from the forum this week:

‘What the research suggests is that students cling on to misconceptions and require events that create cognitive conflict in applying these ideas to bring about change Just telling students the right way to think about it means they are likely to hold on to the alternative conception in their heads but know, for school/exam purposes they say specific ideas. The problem with this is that the students do not have the basic foundations of understanding on which to build more complex ideas. This can lead learners to utilise rote learning as a means of answering exam questions and they come to view science as a compendium of facts.
Time is a major factor and teachers don’t like to leave issues undealt with but over a topic there should be several opportunities to air and challenge misconceptions. More importantly, in order for students to eventually be able to learn without the teacher leading the way, which must be our ultimate goal as teachers, you have to start letting students learn from one another and use one another as a resource. Read Margaret Heritage on this! Its what we call self-regulated learning. Learners will need this when they go onto work or higher education.’


Click here to read Week 1 Reflections

Click here to read Week 2 Reflections

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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