Well-Chosen “Hinge Questions” to Check for Student Understanding
“Do They Understand This Well Enough to Move On? Introducing Hinge Questions” by Harry Fletcher-Wood in Improving Teaching, August 17, 2013, http://bit.ly/1bKxc89
In this Improving Teaching article, history teacher Harry Fletcher-Wood explains the “hinge question” – a carefully crafted check for understanding mid-way through a lesson to see if students grasp the central concept, need to have it briefly clarified, or need the teacher to start all over again. The four key characteristics of good hinge questions, according to British researcher Dylan Wiliam, are:
- They’re concise: students can respond in under two minutes.
- The question is worded so that that students can’t get the right answer for the wrong reasons; common errors and misconceptions are made visible.
- The teacher can see responses from every student by using mini-whiteboards, Plickers, clickers, or some other form of all-class response system.
- The teacher can assess the responses and decide what to do in under 30 seconds.
What were Fletcher-Wood’s reactions when he started using these in his classes? “Hinge questions have transformed my teaching,” he says. “Firstly, and most dramatically, I learned far more about the errors students were making… Had I not ‘sought error’ in this way, I would not have been aware of these understandable misconceptions, nor would I have been able to correct them.
“Secondly, it slowed teaching dramatically – indeed, a handful of lessons were brought almost to a standstill as I kept trying to talk through student misconceptions. This risked disengaging… and reinforces the importance of only trying to change two or three things at once… Additionally, they allow me to discuss and correct student misconceptions in a safe environment for students to make mistakes – because almost all of them will make mistakes at some point.
“With more experience, I learned to predict student misconceptions and create learning activities around them, to know when to move on with the group and help individuals later, and, most powerfully, to activate students to explain to each other or debate with each other and work towards a conclusion. At the simplest level, it involves breaking down questions into sub-questions, enabling students to isolate the characteristics of individual lessons.”
Here are some examples of hinge questions from different subject areas, with students using mini-whiteboards to display their answers:
• In a math lesson on unlike denominators: What is a fraction between 1/6 and 1/7?
• In a solar system lesson: How long does it take the Earth to travel around the Sun? To spin once on its axis?
• In a climate lesson: Why is the Earth colder in areas further away from the equator?
- The Earth orbits the Sun.
- The Earth orbits the Sun at an angle.
- The Earth is a sphere.
- The Earth has a hot core.