Sharing joy and knowledge from an ordinary life

AfL in STEM Teaching MOOC Week 4

This week of the Assessment for Learning in STEM Teaching MOOC served as a really useful midpoint where videos of the course facilitators were used to answer participants’ questions about the learning on the MOOC so far.

  1. Intentional Dialogue– Questions primarily designed to cause thinking for students
  2. Hinge-Point Questions– Questions to help us decide where their learning needs to go next

Q&A Episode 1

Differentiation and Pace

Pre-planning and thinking will help you to deal with the students’ varying responses in class.

Think about groupings in advance and during the lesson- who needs the expert help from me as the teacher? Who can benefit from being paired with a peer?

Moving forward from a hinge-point question

We should already have a plan before the question is asked:

  • Discuss answers with a neighbour and then answer the question again
  • Whole class discussion with voting may be needed and that may lead to more teaching

The immediacy of feedback

Feedback whilst the students are still thinking about the topic- otherwise they’ll have moved on therefore immediacy is important. Spend time thinking carefully about what work they need to feed back on versus what work can be addressed with self or peer assessment.

Low ability learners with poor social skills

Building independence and maturity is important and should be built where it doesn’t already exist.

  • Begin with getting students to check each other’s work before handing it in.
  • Use whiteboards or ABCD cards (it’s a quick response but they’ll see how you respond to them quickly- with challenge and stretch for their learning)
  • Praise them for the way they’re working rather than being good at science for instance (aligning with Carol Dweck’s growth mindset)

Making hinge-point questions work

Brainstorm misconceptions with your colleagues, write a question, decide on the answer, plan what you’ll do with their responses.

Ask a hinge-point question at the end of the lesson- as an exit ticket. Describe, explain etc. Take in their responses and use these to plan the next lesson. The most incorrect responses they hand in can be used for later hinge-point questions.

Build a contractual dialogue with students in order for them to buy into learning.

Quick methods for assessing answers

MCQs are the best. They have been negatively associated with rote learning but they are really useful for in-class formative assessment.

What to do when the misconceptions are bizarre…

Hmmmm… that’s interesting- let me think about that for a moment… Be honest with them about you needing to think too.

Question wall for parking things you’re going to leave for the next lesson or later on in the same lesson so that you have professional thinking time.

How we decide what to do next

The syllabus will always provide pressure. Sometimes we go on knowing that the students don’t get it and sometimes we’ll decide to pause and go back- this usually depends on how many of our students get it or don’t.

Students explaining things to each other is an incredibly useful strategy to employ as it forces students to think about topics in deeper ways as well as saving you time.

Sharing teaching terminology with students?

Tell students it’s a hinge point question or that it’s a challenging one. The important thing is that they think hard and answer honestly- they should be made aware it’s a different kind of question that requires a different kind of thinking.

Storage versus retrieval in revision

Reading and highlighting is not enough and students should focus their activity on retrieval instead. Tests help students to retrieve information, even if the test is not even marked or it’s self-assessed.

Student continually gives the wrong answer

‘Tell me more’ is a useful response and then you can ask the other students to help them reach the right answer. Don’t feel you should shut the student down- it’s important for them to talk through their thinking. Give them time to chat through responses with peers before responding in a whole class situation so that some of the responses are solved.

Ongoing dialogue without writing it all down?

If you give oral rather than written feedback- ask the student to make notes about the feedback they’ve received. There are three benefits of this:

  1. Creates a written record of the event
  2. It develops literacy skills
  3. It’s a reminder, to the student, of the substance of the conversation

Do you always give out answers to hinge-point questions?

No. It’s information for the teacher and not necessarily for the students’ learning.


Curriculums are full and we’ll never escape it! You can try to cover everything (a mile wide and an inch deep) or you can be more selective. Not all content is equally important. Emphasise some topics more than others- the enduring ideas- delegate others to an out of school assignment or online learning. Just because the students need to LEARN all the material, we don’t have to TEACH every aspect of it.

Limited time means didactic approach is often preferable

Students can do a lot of learning for themselves and flipped learning can help with this. They learn some things before the lesson and then the conceptually challenging content is during the lesson.


There’s not a single take home strategy- it’s important to work from the students and what their needs are- what they need to work on and how their learning needs to improve. What are the teachers using already? What are their current challenges? How might they overcome these?


Q&A Episode 2

How do you remember everything the students say?

You don’t. You’re looking for what they do, don’t and partly know. Note down the parts you need to deal with later on in the lesson and in a future lesson- the partly knows is the key here.

Self esteem and questions

Hinge-point questions are for the teacher to slip in questions here or there. You won’t need many of them and the students won’t necessarily receive feedback on it. Tell them the reason for you asking the question- I want to know where each of you are at and how I can help you. Having multiple answers that are correct is helpful too- they will all achieve something in the answer if you ensure that one of them is something all students should be able to spot.

Moving on…

Do they have a gem of knowledge or a sounder level of understanding? Discussing this with colleagues will be helpful- what does this look like in your subject? What are you looking for from their responses? Asking students to connect topics is useful- rather than appreciating just one area of a topic- this is important to develop a deeper level of understanding.

Getting students to give honest answers

Make it clear that if they’re honest with their answers then they’ll get help. If they aren’t then they won’t. Whiteboards, cards and finger answering are useful strategies.

AfL within the MOOC?

A MOOC can’t be as responsive so the AfL strategies have been chosen because they’re more open- participants can respond in a variety of ways.  The discussion boards are where they can respond to people and help support learning.

Intentional dialogue- best kinds of question

Use Bloom’s Taxonomy or SOLO to help you structure questions. Is it always true that… then make a statement- the students then have to justify their answers.

How long can you bounce a question for if you’ve not been given the desired answer?

After 6/7 bounces, the answer may have not been achieved but the students will have said enough that the teacher can draw it together and respond accordingly. Do persevere though…

Self-assessment- reliability

Ensure that your dialogue and feedback to students is modeled in a way that students can learn from you.

Modeling answers and helping them to understand what good quality work looks like, is vital. Engage them in improving the work of others too…

Encouraging students to persevere on hard problems

Set them up for it- This is going to be challenging but I know you can make a good go of it. If they work in pairs or threes then that can help them to struggle through to an answer. Give praise for the way they work on things, not just whether they’re right or wrong.

Gathering evidence of learning from group work

Think of it as a more authentic way of judging students’ learning as in everyday life, we work as part of a team. You’re able to see who responded first and then how the others helped to develop those ideas. Treat it as a resource for supporting students in their learning.


Other resources related to these Q&A sessions can be found here:

I feel even more keenly this week, a strong desire to be back in the classroom (it’s a little over 3 months since I was teaching) trying all of these strategies out. I also notice how much of a fish out of water I am working through a science MOOC with a humanities background. The first two weeks were basic enough for me to grasp. Now, I’m required to have technical knowledge to really appreciate how misconceptions can be appropriately identified and then dealt with. I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with the MOOC groups next week so that I can engage with some practitioner perspectives in person.

Click here to read Week 1 Reflections

Click here to read Week 2 Reflections

Click here to read Week 3 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.

One Response

Leave a Reply


Praise: make it personal

This week’s learning challenged me to think about how I show my appreciation to students. I am aware of how I demonstrate it to colleagues


‘Measuring Progress’- It’s Messy!

When we planned this year’s Learning Festival, we made sure that sessions were being offered on areas of practice departments knew they needed development in.