Hinge questions in humanities

Multiple-choice questions take a wide variety of forms, and the evidence is that, done properly, they can allow teachers to make solid and useful inferences about students’ learning.  They are a method of assessment that allow us not only to check knowledge but also to uncover misconceptions, and can be used both summatively and formatively in humanities.  If they are to work they need carefully thought and planning, but the investment is likely to pay back in the long run.  One interesting iteration of multiple choice questions are hinge questions.

Hinge questions are a way of checking whether students have properly understood something before moving on to the next chuck of learning. They can be a useful way to avoid injecting undue pace into our teaching and to resist the urge to plough through the content without checking whether students have mastered it. The multi-choice element of hinge questions works through correct answers sitting alongside some that are clearly wrong and some that are more subtly wrong.  When designed correctly the accurate answers are achieved through genuine comprehension of the material, with guesswork highly unlikely to play a significant part across a even a relatively small sample size. Thereby, the hinge question reveals to the teacher whether students can move on with the confidence that students have understood the concepts or not.

Beware, as they are tricky to implement and also, in line with the need to prioritise deep learning over performance, we must be careful not to confuse confidence within the confines of a lesson with long-term learning. Harry Fletcher-Wood has written extensively about how hinge questions can be incorporated into history teaching and the difficulties he has found with this.

Among the reasons for this difficulty are the degree of judgement required in humanities subjects, and the fact that we encounter ideas that are true across multiple topics, both of which mean absolutes are harder to find in humanities than in perhaps science or maths. Fletcher-Wood has shared examples of hinge questions he created to test understanding of the key features of societies his students had studied.  As I’m a history teacher, I followed this approach to create a set to use at the end of a unit on the Cold War at Key Stage 3.

Students select what they think are the correct options from this list:

  1. The USSR was communist.
  2. The USA and the USSR fought directly against each other in armed conflict.
  3. Nuclear weapons were developed by both sides.
  4. Both sides competed over developments in space exploration.
  5. Several smaller wars were fought because of the Cold War.
  6. The Cuban missile crisis was a turning point in the Cold War.
  7. The Berlin Wall was built.
  8. One of the main ideas in capitalism is that all people should be equal.
  9. Communism disappeared after the Cold War.
  10. Roosevelt was an important Cold War leader.

This second list reveals the inaccurate responses:

  1. The USSR was communist.
  2. The USA and the USSR fought directly against each other in armed conflict. 
  3. Nuclear weapons were developed by both sides.
  4. Both sides completed over developments in space exploration.
  5. Several smaller wars were fought because of the Cold War.
  6. The Cuban missile crisis was a turning point in the Cold War.
  7. The Berlin Wall was built.
  8. One of the main ideas in capitalism is that all people should be equal. 
  9. Communism disappeared after the Cold War. 
  10. Roosevelt was an important Cold War leader. 

Students’ responses can be shared using a show of hands, mini-whiteboards or sticky notes, which would then reveal the level of understanding in the class.  This information would then help me understand where students were in terms of their fundamental understanding of the some of the core concepts of the Cold Wart.  That would in turn allow me to direct my teaching to either moving on to new material or re-teaching chunks of knowledge where there was common misconception.

This is of a course a history example, but the principle could be applied in any humanities subject.

Posted by Chris Runeckles

This entry was posted in General Teaching and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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