Student reflections on hinge questions

Student voice questions

Quick key student 2

As this was their first experience of a test containing a significant number of hinge questions, I was interested in gathering a snapshot of what the students in the class thought about the experience. To assist, I asked students to complete an exit ticket containing four basic questions,

(1)    Did you find the questions on the quiz “hard”?

(2)    If so, what made the quiz challenging?

(3)    To what extent would you say this type of quiz is good at helping you discover what you don’t know and what areas of the mountains topic you might need to focus on?

(4)    Do you have any other comments?

Student voice results

Interestingly, every one of the students responded that they thought the questions were hard! Broadly speaking, many students responded that this was due to the fact that the distracters were very similar and this forced them to think deeply about their responses.

You had to know what all of them meant to be able to answer the question”.

The answers were similar to each other with only small differences which made one of them correct”.

The questions are challenging and make you think about the answer, they make you double check”.

They were hard because they were all logically similar, none stood out as “right”.

They were tricky because there were certain details where in some places wording or information overlapped and left me puzzled between some answers”.

These results suggest that applying some of the principles behind hinge question design are reasonably effective in generating a deeper level of thinking in students.

In terms of how useful students found this kind of question design, student responses focused around the following…

They are useful because they quickly tell me what I need to revise”.

They help me pick on areas where my knowledge is weaker than others”.

They are good at helping us find out what we don’t know and the areas which we need to improve and possibly focus on.”

Again, these responses suggest that a hinge question quiz can act as a useful tool for helping students to diagnose content areas that need some further reinforcement or development.

Student criticism of hinge questions

In resonse to the “any comments?” section, some students responded with some interesting criticisms of the method.

These questions don’t help me improve my written responses”.

I would rather do test papers as they help me prepare for the real exam”.

It doesn’t help us to write written answers as we may not know how to phrase them”.

While I can understand the student point of view here, exam technique and students written communication is a skill set that this particular hinge question quiz did not seek to assess. The aim was to assess the extent of knowledge acquisition and level of understanding relating to mountain environments. Transferring that knowledge and understanding into a clear written exam response requires, amongst other things, an understanding of command words and effective written communication. I would argue that securing the knowledge and understanding around key learning points is the priority, exam technique and literacy development are embedded into lesson activities as we progress through the specified content. I will be interested to explore if the students performance in the mountains exam paper is any better than I might have anticipated after completion of the hinge quiz. This would make a very interesting area for further research. That said, what the quiz is, and isn’t assessing (and why) is something that I think is worth clearly communicating to students before they attempt future hinge question assessments.

A second criticism of the approach related to the nature of multiple choice assessments.

You know it is going to be one of the options so you can just guess if you don’t know”.

If the question was hard and I didn’t get it I just guessed. If I didn’t have a particular letter in a while I would put it down as that!”

If students guess the answer and get it correct, this is going to generate inaccurate data regarding student learning. To address this issue, when deploying future hinge question quizzes I’ll communicate to students that if they are unsure of an answer, leaving it blank is preferable to guessing the response!

Reflecting on the issue around guessing the response highlights the permeating culture in schools where students (and teachers) attach a high stakes approach to assessment opportunities. Despite my best efforts, the culture of getting it right first time and doing well on the test still dominates in the minds of most students I teach. The alternative view of seeing the quiz as an opportunity to identify areas to develop is one which needs to be continually articulated if I am to create a more productive learning culture in my geography classroom.



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Evaluating the use of Hinge Questions and the Quick Key app.

After collaboratively developing a selection of hinge questions relating to the OCR A Geography GCSE unit on mountains as an extreme environment, I was able to make use of the Quick Key app in class this week. This post aims to evaluate my first test of the Quick Key app and the extent to which it can be employed in conjunction with hinge questions as an assessment tool to diagnose misconceptions and improve instruction in the (geography) classroom.

Quick Key Studnet

The lesson context

The Y10 class have just completed a sequence of lessons on mountains as an extreme environment. The department collaboratively created a suite of hinge questions based on some of the learning which had taken place across the unit, making use of Rob Chambers Quick Key template, hosted on the Internet Geography website

In the previous lesson, students had been asked to prepare for a quiz on mountain environments and were asked to review the content contained within their exercise books and our extreme environment revision guide. When the test was issued to students they were informed that that the intention was that this quiz would act as a quick check on what they did/didn’t know following the completion of their investigation into mountain environments.

My intention was that in this lesson we would,

(1)    Complete the Mountains Quick Key quiz and scan the results

(2)    Display the correct answers and ask students to identify the questions that that they failed to get correct

(3)     Ask students to identify two areas of the mountains course content they need to improve and spend 10 minutes revising these aspects of the course.

(4)    Complete the mountains section from the 2012 Extreme Environments exam paper

(5)    Survey the students on their feelings towards the usefulness of a hinge question quiz

Practical issues

Initially, deploying a Quick Key quiz brought several logistical issues that are worth sharing. I had originally attempted to keep the quiz ticket and the questions on one page. On reflection, I attempted to cram too many questions onto one page and as a result, the bottom of the ticket had been removed from the document when printing. This led to scanning difficulties, in the future I’ll need to ensure that all the ticket is visible when printing.

As this was the students first time entering their ID onto the ticket, it was helpful to model exactly how this is ID number is to be written on the interactive whiteboard. I have found that on first using Quick Key tickets, several students and indeed staff, have become a little confused about how this should be carried out!

I also found that it is perhaps best to ask students to complete the test in pencil so that any errors can be easily rectified with an eraser and avoid any scanning issues.

Reflections on the Quick Key results  

The potential of Quick Key for generating data that informs instruction becomes apparent when the results of the tests are analysed. Firstly, Quick Key will quickly allow you to see how students performed in the test.

Results by Name Edit

These results can also be sorted by score. In this case, the students performing well and not so well did not provide me with any novel data.

Results by score edit

However, I found the most valuable data is generated when Quick Key allows you to sort the questions by score.

Results by question bottom

Generally speaking, studnets found this quiz challenging. However, Quick Key instantly revealed that in particular Q9 and, to a lesser degree Q1 were questions that students struggled to respond to correctly. Interestingly, both these questions involved geographical content relating to plate boundaries and mountain environments.

Q1 assessed students understanding of the relationship between specific types of plate boundary and the formation of fold mountains, while Q9 related to the types of plate boundary which have the potential for the generation of geothermal energy.

It was exceptionally clear from the results that the relationship between plate boundaries and fold mountains is an area of the course that I needed to revisit with students! Particularity in relation to the possibility of geothermal energy production  and plate boundaries. The deployment of a hinge question quiz coupled with the speed at which Quick Key can analyse the results, provided me with very useful formative data. The hinge question quiz had diagnosed learning misconceptions and Quick Key allowed me to gather data and make a well informed and immediate adjustment to my instruction that very lesson. The geek in me found this very cool!

In the next post I’ll outline some of the student’s opinions relating to hinge questions.


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Developing hinge questions in geography

Developing hinge questions in geography

Over the last few months I’ve been experimenting with the use of hinge questions in geography. So far I have found they have acted as an exceptionally useful and quick diagnostic tool which identifies student misconceptions so I can make timely interventions before we move onto another task or phase within our learning sequence.

I thought it might be helpful if I shared some of the hinge questions I have been deploying and, to provide some context, what the learning intentions were behind each question.

Context – Year 8  – Why is Svalbard so cold?

Learning intention – Why does air temperature vary across the world?

In this phase of lessons on Fantastic Places, inspired by Noel Jenkins, students carry out an investigation into the physical and human characteristics that make Svalbard a unique and fantastic place. Our phase of lessons starts with a quick detour into interpreting climate graphs and also addressing why air temperature varies across the world.

Some of the geographical data we ask students to examine includes,

Atlases to locate Leicester and Svalbard,

Climate graphs of each location, Svalbard + Leicester

Diagrams of global air temperature difference across a year,



This diagram from an Interactions textbook,

interactions image

Students complete a range of learning activities in relation to these resources and are guided to extract some meaning from the data. Before we reflect on what has been learned and its wider significance, the deployment of a hinge question at this point in the learning is a useful diagnostic tool.

Essentially, at this point I need to know if students can appreciate that the shape of the Earth, the fact that it is a sphere, helps explain why it is that places by the Equator are warmer than places near the Poles. In my experience, while Y8 students usually know that locations near the Equator are warm and Polar regions are colder, they are often not able to, or have many misconceptions about why this is the case. Hence the learning intention behind the key enquiry question for this lesson.

The Hinge Question…

I ask students to use their mini whiteboard to respond to the following question.

The main reason air temperature varies across the globe is because…

A- The Earth orbits the sun

B- The Earth orbits the sun at an angle

C- The Earth is a sphere

D – The Earth has a hot core

This question was developed because the distracters A, B and D have all been offered as explanations as to why air temperature varies across the world in the past by students. As a result, the distracters in this question really require all students to think carefully about which response is the most appropriate answer to the question posed. If I get a class of C responses I can be reasonably confident that the students can appreciate that the shape of the Earth has a significant impact on differences in air temperature across the globe.

In the reflection stage, to develop student thinking, we discuss some of the air temperature anomalies which exist on the air temperature map and briefly explore what the reasons for these might be. Although this provides an additional degree of challenge in their thinking, we don’t get too caught up in these anomalies at this point as the units of work we complete in Y9 offer opportunities to extend their understanding to explore the interactions between global climate, the atmosphere, ice and oceans.

I’ll post up a few more hinge questions we have used over the next week.

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What are hinge questions?

To move on, briefly recap, or completely reteach? The most important decision a teacher makes on a regular basis. Would you agree?


How about these two ideas…

“If we spend time generating high quality questions we can potentially administer, assess and take remedial action regarding a whole class in a matter of minutes, without generating a pile of marking.”

“Sharing high quality questions across different schools, authorities, cultures, even languages may be the most significant thing we can do to improve the quality of student learning.”

When I read these two passages in Dylan Wiliam’s recent book, Embedded Formative Assessment I thought this was an interesting idea but from a practical point of view, almost impossible. Then he outlined the rationale behind hinge questions and I was hooked.

What are hinge questions?

On his reflective blog, history teacher Harry Fletcher-Wood describes a hinge question as a technique which allows the teacher to check for understanding at a ‘hinge-point’ in a learning sequence, because of two inter-linked meanings:

1) It is the point where you move from one key idea/activity/point on to another.
2) Understanding the content before the hinge is a prerequisite for the next phase of learning.

The core concept behind posing hinge questions is that they allow you to gather information on what all students are thinking so you can then make adjustments or timely interventions which offer an opportunity to address learners inevitable unintended misconceptions.

I find hinge questions quite challenging to create before I teach a particular part of a learning sequence. Despite my best pre-emptive efforts, I’m often surprised by the misconceptions some students experience. However, designing an effective hinge question requires you to have a clear understanding of both your learning intention(s) and the potential misconceptions that students might experience.

How do you create an effective hinge question?

(1)    Focus on the critical aspects of learning intentions as opposed to ideas that are not essential for further progression.

(2)    It is preferable to be able to obtain the information from all students immediately. Ideally students should respond within one minute and teachers be able to view and interpret responses within thirty seconds. It is a quick check on understanding, rather than a new piece of work.

(3)    There should be ample time for you to respond to the information presented to you. This could be at the start of the lesson, with specific tasks to follow. Or in the middle of the lesson to modify or clarify an emerging understanding or at the end of a lesson, to help inform you of what to do in the next lesson.

(4)     Ideally, it must be impossible to reach correct answers using an incorrect thought process (that is MUCH easier said, than done!)

In the next post I’ll share some of the hinge questions we have generated to date and the learning intentions that sit beneath them.


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Introducing experiments with Hinge Questions and the Quick Key App

I had been wondering for a while… Is it possible to develop better systems of assessment, which offer more opportunities for teachers to make learning interventions and save teachers marking time?

Over the next few months I’ll be blogging about a project I have secured some funding for which I hope will help our geography department achieve that elusive goal! Better assessment items, less time marking, more time addressing misconceptions.

The project is really about synthesizing AfL techniques and technology. In simple terms the project has two main threads…

(1) Working collaboratively as a geography department to develop high quality assessment items primarily through the use of hinge questions.

(2) Making use of the Quick Key app to mark, store and analyze student responses.

To get the technology aspect up and running, I have managed to secure some funding for 7 iPads for my geography team through a DigiLit project fund. If you have not come across it before, the DigiLit project aims to support teachers to make the best use of technology across Leicester schools and is headed up by the digital learning visionary Joise Fraser. I’m very grateful to her and her team for their support! You can download the bid I submitted here.

Incidentally, they have produced an excellent framework for digital literacy development for school staff. Well worth a look.

In the next post I’ll share some of our current thinking around hinge questions and their use in the geography classroom.

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Plans for the 2014 Geography National Curriculum


Soar Valley College is an 11-16 inner city comprehensive serving approx 1250 pupils from a wide range of social, ethnic cultural and religious backgrounds. In 2012 the geography department was nominated as an area of excellence by the school which was validated by the Challenge Partnership Quality Assurance Review. Students receive two hours of geography education per week at KS3 and geography is one of the most popular option choices for KS4. At GCSE level, students receive five hours of geography education over two weeks.  As a maintained school the department will be updating our programme of study in light of the 2014 revisions to the National Curriculum.

The geography department spent considerable time in 2007 planning a concept driven KS3 curriculum which has been exceptionally well received by students. Our 2007 KS3 programme was heavily influenced by a range of factors including…

The role and purpose of a geography education

Geographical concepts and progression in geography

Enquiry based learning

Developing a curriculum which explicitly fosters a synoptic/holistic capacity in students

Valuing the range of experiences and cultural backgrounds of students.

Values education as an essential component of geographical education.

As a consequence this long term plan for KS3 geography has been developed and continually refined since 2007 within our department.

What will the curriculum look like for 2014?

Our 2014 curriculum will continue to be informed by the approaches to curriculum design and delivery outlined above. Whenever curriculum changes take place, we feel these provide a useful baseline for selecting, organising and communicating geographical content. However, some subtle shifts and modifications will take place to meet the requirements of the 2014 curriculum and the proposed changes to GCSE subject criteria. Some of the ideas below we have kept at the fore when considering our 2014 curriculum.

Ensuring progression from KS3 – KS4

Whatever range and variety of specifications exam boards develop for GCSE, after reviewing the 2014 KS3 National Curriculum and the proposed GCSE subject criteria it seems the following are likely to act as organising themes for progression in geography across KS1-4.

(1)    Locational Knowledge

(2)    Place Knowledge

(3)    Physical and human processes

(4)    Fieldwork and geographical skills

Although at the time of writing there is a large void around how assessment at KS3 should be operated. These themes are not unfamiliar to our geography department and could act as a useful component for our discussions around progression and assessment at KS3.


We hope to be able to use the new National Curriculum as leverage for enabling a greater number of opportunities for fieldwork and learning outside the classroom for all students at KS3. While we have made use of the school grounds for a range of “doorstep fieldwork”, presently, whole cohort fieldwork at KS3 beyond the college has been somewhat limited at Soar Valley. We plan to run at least three one day, whole cohort fieldtrips at KS3 within our revised 2014 programme of study.

Numeracy and literacy

Geography has always been an excellent vehicle for developing literacy and numeracy skills. Soar Valley College has a significantly high percentage of students for whom English is an additional language. Our MIDYIS tests reveal that upon entry at the college, vocabulary range and inference skills reveal areas for college wide intervention. With geography having the potential for vocabulary overload, ensuring suitable opportunities for literacy and language development will continue to feature heavily in our programme of study. While many activities and resources for developing literacy are already expertly deployed within the department, one area for further development may well be providing increased opportunities for extended writing in geography at KS3.

Soar Valley has a particularly strong Maths department and for many years the college had a Maths and Computing specialism. Our MIDYIS results also reveal that upon entry, Y7 students consistently arrive with well developed numeracy skills. As a result, our new KS3 geography programme of study should aim to include further opportunities for making sense of numerical data and analysis within a geographical context. To help further challenge our students, one suggestion was to introduce students to basic statistical methods at KS3 following their primary/secondary data collection. We hope this will provide an excellent foundation for future KS4 fieldwork enquiries.

OS map skills

In the KS3 programme of study prior to the 2007 curriculum, our first Y7 unit involved a fairly traditional introduction to geography and map skills. This unit aimed to develop students’ capacity in reading and using OS maps. When planning our 2007 curriculum we decided a more engaging introduction to geography would be desirable. As a result, we replaced this with a student led enquiry into the local area which featured some map use, but focused on supporting students to develop their own geographical enquiry. The intention was that OS map skills would be built into the various learning sequences across KS3. On reflection, this approach was not successful in securing the foundation for a suitably transferable base of OS map skills at KS3. With this in mind, it is highly likely that our new 2014 programme of study will have an enquiry into landuse in Leicester where OS map skills are more explicitly developed. We hope this will lay a more solid foundation for OS map skills but the intention will still remain for a variety of map skills to be featured at every available opportunity in geography lessons. A subscription to Digimap is going to greatly assist in this regard!

Place knowledge

Our 2007 programme of study was based on an issues approach to organising geographical content. In some instances, we felt this sometimes came at the expense of developing a deep understanding of place. The thrust of the 2014 curriculum places far greater emphasis on place as an organising concept for geographical content. It seems likely that in the first instance we will use the places prescribed in the 2014 curriculum as the context through which we will continue to explore issues of geographical significance.



Possible geographical themes

Can India’s urban environments cope?


Population and urbanisation

Why is China seen as an emerging global superpower in 2014?


Economic activity / NICs

What is the likely future for the Earth’s polar environments?

Russia as a polar environment

Glaciation and weather and climate change

To what extent Is oil a blessing or a curse?

Middle East

Resource use

Can the risk of desertification and famine in Africa be reduced?

Africa and hot desert environments

Weathering and soils

Why are there a growing number of connections between Asia and Africa today?

Asia and Africa comparison


International development


How have volcanoes shaped the entire planet and the life on it?


Geological time rocks and plate tectonics, rift valleys

Are humans using the  Himalaya sustainably?


Plate tectonics, glaciation, hydrology and climate change.

Although we will go well beyond what is listed here, and that sequencing and progression have not been considered, the table above aims to illustrate how we hope an issues-based approach can be maintained while at the same time develop a deeper knowledge of the specified places (and themes) featured in the 2014 National Curriculum.

How will changes be implemented?

Once we have made our content selections and sequencing, over the 2013/14 academic year our intention is to implement our new curriculum year by year from September 2014 onwards.

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Outstanding Teacher Programme

I forgot I had this blog. This simply wont do, so I thought I’d resurrect it initially as a space for personal reflection on an interesting course, sorry… “programme” I am currently completing, the Outstanding Teacher Programme.

This programme is being facilitated by actual teachers at the school next door to us which has been designated as a Teaching School.

However, my invitation to complete the course is set against much wider series of changes to the educational landscape in England. Relating to the role of Teaching Schools, the future of Initial Teacher Training, The Challenge Partnership and CPD within and beyond my school. All of the above are worthy of further blog posts which I’ll endeavor to complete as I reflect on the course.

To date I have completed one half day session and one full day session on the course.  The main learning points for me have been…

(1) Nobody can “tell” you what an outstanding lesson actually is. They come in too many different shapes and forms and frankly, I consider this reassuring. I resent the idea of a one-size-fits-all approach to pedagogy. Diversity is important in any ecosystem. Actually, I’ve reached the conclusion that the OFSTED criteria for lesson observations is of very limited use when genuinely developing practice.

(2) This is largely, due to the fact that there are many “ingredients” which go in the mix to help create outstanding teaching and learning experiences for students. To attempt to get them all into a lesson, as the criteria might seem to suggest is bonkers.

However, a series of key themes have been floated about on the programme. I suspect these will not go away and have been presented in the mildly irritating acronym, DR ICE.

Deepening Thinking
Role Modelling
Impact on Learning
Challenging expectations
Engagement in Learning

Interestingly these have never been clearly defined on the programme yet, but have been used to frame discussions around pedeagogy. This evening, following a spot of internet research, I came across this website.

Looks like this Outstanding Teacher Programme will be about more than just pedegogy a combination of teaching, leading and coaching. At this point, the way forward for me will be to approach each session with a good dollop of skepticism.


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