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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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