3 things I’ve learnt from ‘Running the Room’

During the October school holidays, I read Running the Room: The Teacher’s Guide to Behaviour by Tom Bennett. As indicated in the title, the book is on managing student behaviour in the classroom. I’ve been teaching for nearly 13 years and I don’t think I have nailed classroom management (but I don’t think any teacher can say they have perfected any part of their practice, in any stage of their career). Classroom management is complex and this book offers lots of evidence-informed and practical strategies for all teachers, regardless of their experience and career stage, in a non-preachy way. The key messages I got from the book are

  • Be organised and plan ahead so that it is easy for students to behave and hard for them to misbehave.
  • Create a class culture where it is the norm for students to behave in a way that lets them and others learn.

The book talks a lot about how people’s behaviours can be different when they are by themselves and in different group situations. A classroom and a school are large group situations and teachers need to create and sustain a culture where it is the norm to do the right thing.

The book re-affirmed a lot of things I’m already doing and gave me new ideas to trial as a teacher and a school leader. Here are 3 things I’ve learnt from the book.

1. Routines, routines and routines

I’ve always been a big fan of routines and Running the Room reaffirmed this practice for me. Explicit routines prevent behaviour problems from arising and helps create the class culture and norms. My classes have routines for starting a lesson, ending a lesson, entering different classrooms, how to transition between activities, etc. I have sometimes thought I was going overboard with the routines in terms of their detail and how we actually acted them out. E.g. We would practise how to line up, enter the classroom, etc. We go through these routines and practice them at the start of every term.

After reading the book, I am more confident that these routines support my students’ learning. I’m going to go further this term and trial practising the routines more regularly. So instead of going through them at the start of the term, going through them at least twice a term. The book emphasised that routines need to be taught, practised and re-taught BEFORE a problem occurs. Don’t wait for an issue to arise to re-teach a routine.

I’m also going to trial establishing more explicit routines for students to observe teacher science demonstrations, how to break off into small groups of science practical work, how each group collects and returns equipment, how each group asks for assistance and how homework is collected, distributed and returned.

Below are some of the routines for my Year 7 class, which I have further adjusted after reading the book, such as specifying the number of minutes that students must arrive to class after the bell (so there are no misunderstandings).

Text describing the reasons we need classroom rules, routines and consequences.
Text describing general classroom rules.
Text describing how to enter the classroom
Explanation of using the acronym SLANT for listening to a speaker
Classroom routine for existing a classroom

Of course, consequences are not all negative. Rewards and praise are needed to reinforce positive behaviours. Reading the book reminded me I need to be recognise my students more frequently for positive behaviours and avoid rewarding some students disproportionately. I have decided to trial using Class Dojo again to help keep track of positive behavious and support all students in gaining school merits.

System for recognising positive behaviours

2. Plan your consequences BEFORE you need to use them

Like all teachers, I’ve kept students in for detentions, called parents for misbehaviours and placed students on behaviour contracts. These things are bound to happen. Running the Room recommends planning and scripting how you will do these things BEFORE you have to do them. The purpose is to have a basic scaffold of what you are going to say and how you will respond in these situations. If you are an early career teacher, you can try role playing and practising what you are going to say to students/parents with a more experienced teacher.

In my earlier years of teaching, I had reflection sheets for students to complete when they are in detention to facilitate a conversation to support them to choose more appropriate behaviours in the future. I have no idea why I stopped using these sheets (perhaps because as I became more experienced, the number of detentions I’ve had to give has decreased), but I have now revamped them and them printed and ready to be used. I’ve also decided to let my students know how detentions will be operated so we have a clear understanding before they happen.

Description of detention rules
Behaviour reflection worksheet

3. Have a removal strategy in place before you need it

Before I go any further with this, the book emphasises that removal should not be done on an ad hoc basis and it should be an unusual event in mainstream classrooms. However, sometimes there will be situations where a student needs to be temporarily removed from the class and a removal strategy should be in place before it is needed. This is something I want to work on as a Head Teacher. Do I have an agreed process with the teachers I supervise for the unlikely event that a student needs to be removed from class so that all students, including the student being removed, can continue learning? When such an event occurs, the class teacher should not have to think about who and where the student is to be sent to, what the student should be doing while removed from class, what happens after the removal, etc. It is important that students should know this process before they are removed (which hopefully will be never).

Overall, the book is one of the best books I have read on behaviour management. I love the emphasis on planning ahead and deliberately planning how you will run the room and set the class culture and norms. As emphaised in the book, these strategies are “rising tides – ones that lift all ships.”

5 things I’ve learnt to improve my online live lessons

In NSW, Australia, NSW public schools moved to a ‘learning from home’ model on 24 May 2020, due to increased restrictions to combat COVID-19. Parents were asked to keep their children at home if they could learn from home Overnight, we moved from face to face teaching to online remote teaching and learning. Like many other teachers, I started to experiment with using online meetings. This is what I have found to be useful.

1. Play around with different tools

I tested Adobe Connect, Microsoft Teams and Zoom for online live lessons with my classes. Overall, I prefer to use Zoom with my students for the following reasons:

  • Many of them already use it with family and friends.
  • Many of their parents use it so they know how to help if required.
  • It has breakout rooms that is easy to set up and use (more on this later).
  • It generates a meeting link that you can use over and over. I have this link as the top post on Google Classroom so it is easy to find for students. See here for instructions on how to create a link for recurring meetings.

For staff teams, I prefer Microsoft Teams for online meetings as it offers a more efficient experience. Microsoft Teams is the easiest to run an online meeting when you have everyone you need in your Team. You literally just click a button and voila! I like how Microsoft Teams allows for staff teams to be broken into smaller teams through Channels (Eg. Our Year 7 Middle School team has a main Microsoft Team and then the STEM teachers and Humanities teachers have their own Channels. If you run a science faculty for example, you can have all of your teachers in the main Channel and then break off smaller teams of teachers into their own Channels like a separate Channel for each Year 11/12 subject.) In those channels, teachers can easily run their own online meetings.

You can also collectively take notes while you have an online meeting in Microsoft Teams. We ran an executive meeting on Teams and notes were taken live during the meeting. Everyone can see the minutes being entered.

You can also schedule online meetings in Microsoft Teams, but it’s trickier than Zoom if you work in a NSW public school. The video below shows how to do it. It’s important to let colleagues know who is starting the live meeting. Otherwise you may have enthusiastic teachers going into Teams early and then starting the meeting and end up two different meetings happening simultaneously.

After a few weeks of testing, it’s important to discuss a whole school approach to online meetings and come to a consensus on which online meeting tool to use with students. This is particularly important in high school where a student can have up to 8 different teachers and it will be challenging for them to use a different online meeting tool for each teacher.

2. Keep online live lessons short

I like to keep online live lessons at around 20 to 30 minutes. Our school periods are 50 minutes and that is way too long in an online lesson environment. Think about the purpose of the online live lesson. If it’s to explicitly explain a concept (eg. how to add fractions with different denominators), then it is better to record a video rather than a live meeting. I like to use live meetings for welfare check-in’s, collaborative discussions and feedback; basically things that cannot be done effectively with a recorded video on online posts.

3. Use breakout rooms

I like to use breakout rooms in Zoom for students to have small group discussions (about 3 to 4 students). Breakout rooms are where you can send students into their own online meeting spaces and you as the teacher can ‘drop in’ and monitor each one. It’s the online version of separating students into smaller groups in a classroom and the teacher walking around. Students have more opportunities to actively participate in an online discussion and some are more willing to when they are in smaller groups. You can randomly assign students to breakout rooms or choose your own student groups.

Breakout rooms can also be done in Microsoft Teams.

4. Give students something to do while they are waiting

In a regular face to face classroom, I start every class with a quick quiz. This is for several reasons:

  • Retrieval practice – The questions I set requires them to remember content they have learnt in previous lessons, which helps them to consolidate the information into their long term memory.
  • Classroom management – As soon as students walk in, they have something to do. They have to unpack their equipment and they have to engage with the course work straight away. It allows me to manage students coming into the classroom at different times. Some may be coming from the classroom next door and others are walking from the other end of the school. The quick quiz mean I have a five minute window of ensuring everyone is on task and attentive. It’s a good crowd control strategy. I can also mark the roll.

An online live lesson is very similar to a face to face class. Some students will log on before you do. Others will log on a few seconds after you. And others will log in minutes later. I like to use the Polls feature in Zoom for retrieval practice. I usually do 3 to 5 multiple choice questions for them to do in Polls while I allow students into the meeting from the lobby.

I also like to use the Whiteboard feature to tell them they need to be answering the questions in Polls, list the meeting’s agenda, learning goals, etc.

5. Set and practise routines

An online live class needs to have learning routines and they need to be explicitly taught, just like in a face to face classroom. I like to start my online live classes the same way every time – the quick quiz in Polls and use the Whiteboard to communicate what we are doing in this online class (and tick them off as we go). Students know they have to use the hands up features to ask a question and they know when and why to use the chat. Some teachers like to disable the chat, but I like it. Yes, my students have used it to talk about irrelevant things, but 99% of the time they use the chat to help each other and alert me to technical issues (like the YouTube clip I’m trying to share is glitchy).

Overall, my students really value live online classes. I think they value the connection with each other and with their teachers. As we move into Term 2 where they may be a continuation with remote teaching or some sort, I would like my students to lead the online live lessons more. Have them share their screens and show their work or use breakout rooms where there is a student leader to facilitate the discussions.

Using knowledge organisers to support retrieval practice

Last year I started prototyping with teaching and learning strategies based on cognitive science. I was particularly interested in how to design and structure learning to support students to consolidate knowledge and skills into long term memory. Some of the things I did were:

This year I want to prototype knowledge organisers. A knowledge organiser is an A4 template that succinctly shows the reader (student/parent/teacher) what is essential to know for a particular topic. Knowledge organsers are not new. I’ve seen them on UK EduTwitter for a number of years but I think they are not that widely used in Australia. For a really good post on knowledge organisers, see Joe Kirby’s blog on how knowledge organisers are used at Michaela Community School.

For me I’m trialling knowledge organisers with my Year 7 maths/science class. I’ve made these knowledge organsiers so far for the introduction to high school science topic.

An image of a knowledge organiser for scientific processes
An image of a knowledge organiser for working safetly in the lab
An image of a knowledge organiser for laboratory equipment

This is how I’m going to use them:

  • Students to use the look cover check correct process to learn one section of the knowledge organiser at a time. Students choose one section of a knowledge organiser to focus on, read the information, cover that section, write what they remember, check their retrieved version with the knowledge organiser and then correct it with a different coloured pen. This will first be done in class and then moved to homework tasks. Students will receive a copy of the knowledge organisers in their homework folders so that their parents/carers know what they are learning at a glance and can use them to quiz their children.
  • Use the knowledge organiser to develop low-stakes quizzes. Students can also use the knowledge organiser to quiz each other.
  • Once students have practised using knowledge organisers in a range of ways and have these routines automated, retrieval practice using knowledge organisers can become the class work students do when the regular teacher is absent.

I make the knowledge organisers in PowerPoint. Click on this link to download the PowerPoint files and make a copy if you’d like to edit the knowledge organisers to suit your needs and the needs of your students.

3 drama games that all teachers can use

In NSW, Australia, teachers, children and young people are getting ready for another year of school. Like many teachers, I like to kick off the year with some ice breaker and team building games. I like to think of my classes as learning communities and for my students to learn how to effectively work with each other, they need to know each other (I’m a science and STEM teacher so many activities involve group work and group projects).

A few years ago, I did team teaching with a drama and dance teacher and was amazed at how well her classes worked together, in a level I have not experienced my science classroom. In these drama and dance classes, students worked productively together. They weren’t afraid to make mistakes in front of each other. They knew how to support each other. They were attuned to each other. I initially thought maybe these classes were just composed of students who were already good friends which is why the group dynamics were so good. But the drama/dance teacher assured me A LOT of work goes into building group dynamics. So I’ve been looking into drama games that would work well in non-drama classes as ALL classes would benefit from developing from students who work well with each other, who empathise with each other, who trust each other and respect each other.

Catch my name – This game helps the class learn each other’s names. Students sit in a circle and a soft object like a small bean bag is thrown to students. The thrower says their name and throws it to another student who says their name when they catch it and throw it to the next student. In subsequent rounds students will need to say their own name and the student’s name they throw the object to. I found this game on Drama Toolkit, where a more detailed description of the game can be found.

Group walks – These are activities that build students’ physical awareness. While such drama games are targeted at developing actors’ awareness of each other’s physical presence on stage, it can also be beneficial for non-drama classes. Being taught to be physically aware of each other’s presence can help students work and learn effectively in large spaces like science labs or open learning spaces. A simple version of this game is to have students walk around in a large space slowly doing various movements like hopping and they need to make sure they don’t bump into each other. Variations and progressions of this game can be found in this blog post.

Count to 20 – I really like this game. As a class, students have to start counting from 1 to 20. Only one student can speak at a time. Any student can start counting and any student can continue the following numbers. However, there is no verbal coordination of who speaks first or next. If two or more students end up saying a number then the class starts from 1 again. See here for a detailed description of the game.

I really like how these games intentionally teach students to work productively as a team. Almost all teachers and all subjects require students to work effectively as a class. These games can be one way of deliberately teaching these skills.

Using Ozobots in the science classroom

I’ve been interested in using Ozobots in my science lessons ever since I saw this tweet of Ozobots being used to model different types of eclipses.

I really liked how the Ozobots were being used to create a moving model of eclipses, which is quite difficult to do without coded robots that automatically move (I have never found children holding basketballs and moving around another child holding a torch work well).

This term our school got hold of some Ozobots through the STEMShare initiative and I was able to test out how Ozobots can be used to enhance students’ understanding of the nitrogen cycle. Matter cycles through ecosystems, particularly the nitrogen cycle, can be quite difficult to conceptualise. Common activities include showing students diagrams of the nitrogen cycle, videos and getting students to physically model the cycle by pretending to be nitrogen particles themselves. However, just like eclipses, Ozobots provide an opportunity for students to create an annotated moving model to better visualise the processes.

So last Friday, my Year 9s used Ozobots to create a narrated video explanation of the nitrogen cycle with the Ozobot acting as a nitrogen particle. Here’s one of the videos.

The videos were created in an 80 minute lesson. What I really liked about using the  Ozobots was that it gave students the opportunity to work in teams and talk to each other about the nitrogen cycle. They worked in teams of 2 to 3 students draw the map, negotiate the narration and film the video. The activity gave them an opportunity to test and clarify their understanding of the nitrogen cycle with each other. The activity allowed students to determine if they really understand the nitrogen cycle. Prior to this, we had already done many other activities of the nitrogen cycle (worksheets, question and answer sessions, quizzes) and many students were confident they understood the nitrogen cycle. However, when it came to creating the narrated video with the Ozobots, many found that they didn’t know the nitrogen cycle as well as they thought they did.

Next time, I would also ask students to create a map so that the Ozobot wouldn’t be travelling in a nice unidirectional cycle but back-and-forth through different components of the ecosystem.

Routines to kick off a lesson

I’m big on learning routines. I’m a strong believer that predictable lessons that follow a similar structure every time allows students to learn more effectively. I started at a new school last term and learning routines have been particularly important in establishing my expectations with my students.

I always start the lesson in the same way. Every lesson kicks off with a “Quick Quiz”. For most of my classes, the Quick Quiz involves me writing three to four sentences on the board with missing words (key vocabulary or concepts for the topic). These sentences are based on the concepts of the previous lessons or topics. The Quick Quiz is always on the board before students enter the classroom. As soon as they enter the room, they have to copy and complete the quiz. The quiz takes about 5 minutes to complete. I’ve been doing the Quick Quiz in 3 different schools now and have found it to be effective. I really like the Quick Quiz routine because:

  • Students are regularly revising the key concepts.
  • It’s a great settling routine. It encourages students to take out their equipment immediately as they enter the classroom.
  • It gives me sufficient time to do administrative tasks like mark the roll, check uniforms, lend pens to students who need them and settle students who need additional assistance.
  • It’s accessible to all students. If they don’t know the missing words, they can still copy the sentences. I also encourage them look back in their books to search for the answer if they don’t know.
  • It’s a form of formative assessment. I end the Quick Quiz by randomly selecting students to provide their answers (I have a no hands up rule for answering questions and use the Randomly app to select students to answer). It lets me gauge how well they have remembered the key concepts from previous lessons.
  • I have had to adjust the Quick Quiz routine at my new school for my Year 9 class who told me they found the filling in missing words too easy. The limitations of using a cloze passage style quiz is that it mainly allows revision of key terms and concepts based on recall. So I’ve changed the Quick Quiz for Year 9 to be on a worksheet with a combination of multiple choice questions, cloze passages and open ended questions. I place the worksheets near the door so as the enter the classroom, they take a worksheet and complete it. I still use the Randomly app to randomly select students to give the answer to each question. So far the Year 9s have said they prefer the worksheet version of the Quick Quiz.
  • This version of the Quick Quiz requires more effort and preparation from me and I don’t think I’d be able to do this for all of my classes on a long term basis. But so far it has worked really well for Year 9s.
  • How do you start your lessons? Do you have lesson starter routines that you find particularly effective?
  • Using exams as formative assessment

    Exams are often seen as summative assessment. From my experience, students often seen exams as high stakes and only want to know their grade. The most common question students ask me when they get their exams back is “Did I pass?”. Most of them don’t seem to be interested in using exams as a way to know where they are at and how they can improve. So I wanted to do something different to encourage my students to see exams as one way of them knowing how they are progressing and a window into what they should do to improve. I also wanted them to use exams as an opportunity to reflect on their revision strategies.

    I stumbled across exam wrappers and decided to implement it with my Year 9s. My Year 9s just finished their half yearly exams. When I returned their papers, I also got them to use an exam wrapper and a Dedicated Reflection and Improvement Time process to facilitate the processing of feedback and self reflection. Overall, this strategy was very well received by students. Many of them were able to identify the syllabus components they need to focus on and revision strategies to try next time. It also gave me, as their teacher, an insight into how they studied and how I can explicit teach revision strategies to them.

    Here’s what my exam wrapper and DIRT feedback looked like with links to editable versions of both documents.

    exam wrapper

    DIRT feedback

    Links to editable file

    Another chapter in my teaching

    Tomorrow I will be starting another chapter in my teaching journey. I will be starting a new role as Head Teacher Secondary Studies at Concord High School. It is the first school I will be moving to where I’m not an early career teacher but as an experienced teacher and leader. However, all job changes come with challenges regardless of experience. I will have new relationships to establish with students, colleagues, parents and the community. There are new administration processes to get use to like roll marking, printing, new timetable times to remember, etc. These are some of the more specific teaching challenges for me at my new school.

    Moving to a bigger school

    My previous school was at just the size where all the science teachers had their own classrooms. Many of my learning routines and teaching strategies has been developed with the assumption of having my own learning space. My new school has a much larger student population so learning spaces are shared and I will be in multiple spaces each day. Things like scaffolds and project timelines on the wall will need to be adapted. I’ve already created new sets of formative assessment cards that are smaller and easier to carry around the school. At my previous schools, I used traffic light cups and A4 sized multiple choice cards that stayed in the classroom.

    Teaching a new subject

    At my new school I will be teaching Year 11 and 12 chemistry. I’m approved to teach chemistry but did not teach it at my previous schools where I mainly taught physics and senior science. I’m really looking forward to this as I love learning new content.

    I am really looking forward to this change but also a bit nervous. What are your tips on starting at a new school?

    I have an idea … instructional leadership in secondary education

    In 2015, I was fortunate enough to have an instructional leadership role for technology as part of my school’s BYOD program.  I worked with every faculty in the school across Year 7-12 to build the capacity of teachers to use technology to transform learning. A Twitter conversation led me to revisit a more formalised instructional leadership strategy, Early Action for Success (EAfS). EAfS involves instructional leaders working in schools to build capacities of teachers in teaching literacy and numeracy. A look at their online resources revealed some interesting ideas to me, particularly the progressions of how children learn early numeracy skills like place value, mental calculations and using symbols. I also really liked the idea of instructional leaders building collaborative cultures of inquiry and supporting teachers in collecting, evaluating and using data to inform their practice.

    So I started thinking about how a similar strategy of instructional leadership would look like in a secondary school context. Instead of literacy and numeracy, what would subject-based instructional leadership look like in secondary schools, particularly in Year 11 and 12?

    Some of the challenges facing secondary schools include low numbers of students choosing to study Year 11 and 12 physics and higher levels of mathematics, lower numbers of girls studying Year 11 and 12 science and high level mathematics and implementation of integrated learning. How can we further improve curriculum instruction in these subjects to better meet the needs of students in local school contexts? What does quality physics instruction look like? Can instructional leaders play a role in this?

    I tweeted this and it led to a very rich and diverse conversation about instructional leadership in secondary schools (click on the embedded tweet below to see the thread of conversation).

    What if there were instructional leaders who work alongside head teachers, deputy principals and principals to support the school (or community of schools) for a specific need in time (eg. curriculum instruction in mathematics extension, science extension or integrated STEM)? These instructional leaders are selected by schools. They want to work with, and grow with the school. They aren’t experts parachuted in.

    These instructional leaders work with school teams to build collaborative cultures of inquiry where teachers work together to use data and evidence to improve their practice. These instructional leaders are school-based and will continue teaching themselves (at a reduced load, say, 1 class).

    How is this different to existing systems? How is this different to the role of existing head teachers, deputy principals and principals? These additional instructional leaders are for areas where the school may not have existing expertise. For example, a school implementing marine studies for the first time may not have anyone with expertise in that subject except for the classroom teacher of that class. An instructional leader for a community of schools requiring instructional expertise in marine studies can work with those teachers (and their head teachers) to build their capacities,

    Like my tweet said, it is just an idea that came to me at 5am. And I like documenting and sharing crazy ideas.

    What are your thoughts? Do you have instructional leaders at your school that are in addition to heads of department and are specific to a subject or area (eg gifted and talented; integrated learning)?

    Asking the right questions

    effective questioning sketchnote

    I presented at the 2017 NSW Secondary Deputy Principals Association Conference this week on embedding effective questioning into assessment for learning. According to research, teachers ask 400 questions a day, wait under 1 second for a reply from students and most of these questions are lower order questions that require students to recall facts. The research also shows that increasing the number of higher order questions leads to increases in on-task behaviour, better responses from students and more speculative thinking from students.

    There are other reasons why teachers ask question, like asking a question to wake up the student daydreaming at the back of the class, or asking students to repeat instructions to an activity to make sure they know what to do. These are fine, as long as teachers know the reasons for those questions (and these types of questions do not dominate the majority of class time).

    tenor

    Strategic questioning is key to assessment for learning. While questioning is essential for students in all grade levels, teachers can take the opportunity of new syllabuses and school based assessment requirements for the HSC to re-think how they design and implement assessment for learning in Stage 6. However, questioning is often viewed as an intuitive skill, something that teachers “just do”. At a time when many teachers are creating new units of work and resources for the new Stage 6 syllabuses, it may be a good opportunity to look at strategic questioning and embed some quality questions and questioning techniques.

    What do good questions look like?

    For assessment for learning, there are two main reasons why teachers ask questions:

    1. To gather evidence for learning to inform the next step in teaching
    2. To make students think

    For these questions to be effective, it depends on how the question itself is designed, how the question is asked, and how response collected and analysed, to inform the next step in teaching and learning. Here are some strategies:

    Hinge questions

    Hinge questions are often multiple choice questions (they don’t have to be). They are asked by the teacher to the class towards the middle of the lesson for the teacher to decide whether the class has understood the critical concepts of the lesson to move on. Hinge questions have four essential components:

    1. The question is based on a critical concept for that lesson that students must understand.
    2. Every student must respond to the question.
    3. The teacher is able to collect every student’s response and interpret the responses in under 30 seconds. (This is why many hinge questions are multiple choice).
    4. Prior to the lesson, the teacher must have decided what the teaching and learning that follows for:
      • the students who have answered correctly
      • the students who have answered incorrectly

    Here is an example of a hinge question:

    hinge question example

    The question assesses students’ understanding of validity, reliability and accuracy in scientific investigations. Many students confuse the 3 concepts. This hinge question can be used for a lesson on investigation design where validity, reliability and accuracy have been explained. Towards the end of this explanation (typically around the middle of the lesson), this question can be asked to all students. Then the teacher can decide on the next steps for students who “get it” and those who don’t. For this question, the correct answer (key) is B. Note that the wrong answers (distractors) in a hinge question must be plausible so students do not answer correctly with the wrong thinking. A really, really good hinge question would have distractors where each distractor reveals a misconception.

    Here is another example of a hinge question from Education Scotland.

    hinge question maths example

    For this question, the key is B. The annotated blue boxes show the wrong thinking behind each distractor.

    So how do you implement hinge questions? How do you ask them so that every student responds and you can collect and interpret their responses, and decide the next step in under 30 seconds?

    No hands up

    The first thing to do is to create a class culture of “No Hands Up”. Students can only put up their hands to ask questions, not to answer questions. Either everyone answers or the teacher selects who answers. When the teacher selects who answers, it must be done in a random way so that everyone is accountable to answering the question. This ensures that it is not just the “Lisa Simpsons” or the daydreaming student who answers the questions. For this to happen, teachers can use mini whiteboards and a randomisation method.

    Mini whiteboards can be purchased or cheaply made by laminating pieces of white paper. For hinge questions, students write down their response (A, B, C, D, etc) and holds up their whiteboard for the teacher to see when the teacher says so. This allows the teacher to scan every board (so every student’s response) to see approximately how many students have understood the critical concept. The teacher can then decide what activities they can do while intervening for those students who do not understand. The key to hinge questions is to intervene during the lesson.

    As Dylan Wiliam says,

    It means that you can find out what’s going wrong with students’ learning … If you don’t have this opportunity, then you’ll have to wait until you grade their work. And then, long after the students have left the classroom.

    Alternatively, you can use digital tools like Plickers, Kahoot and Mentimeter. I personally find mini whiteboards the easiest to implement.

    While hinge questions require everyone to respond, other questions are more suited to randomly selecting a student to respond. Teachers can use these strategies:

    • Digital random name generator from tools like Classtools and Class Dojo.
    • Writing each student’s name on paddle pop sticks and selecting a stick out of a cup

    paddle pop sticks

    Higher order questions

    Selecting a student at random to answer is more suited to higher order questions. the key is to create and pre-plan higher order questions to take to class to avoid asking too many lower order questions. To plan a sequence of low order to higher order questions, there are numerous strategies. There are heaps of resources for using Bloom’s question stems (just Google it). The strategy I find less popular, but more accessible to students, is the Wiederhold question matrix.

    question matrix

    Questions are created by combining a column heading with a row heading. Eg. What is …. , Where did … , How might ….

    Teachers can put a stimulus in the middle of the table for students to create their own question, like this source I found via Kate Littlejohn for Stage 6 Modern History.

    question matrix history

    Some sample questions include:

    • What is an ally? What is an opponent?
    • Who decides who is an ally and who is an opponent?
    • What is WWI? Where did it happen?
    • Why did WWI happen?
    • How would you decide who paid the highest price in WWI? What criteria would you use?
    • How might the numbers in each category compare if a world war happened today?

    Both hinge questions and creating a sequence of questions are not easy. It is worthwhile for teachers to look at building a bank of hinge questions and higher order questions as they collaboratively create units of work and resources.

    You can find more information and resources on questioning in assessment for learning here.

    Wait, wait and wait

    Lastly, regardless of what questions you are asking (hinge, higher order questions, questions to wake up students), remind yourself to wait. Wait at least 3 seconds for lower order questions and more than 3 seconds for higher order questions; the longer the better.

    Potential of hinge questions in flipped learning

    As an interesting note, I think hinge questions can be very useful in flipped learning. The hinge questions can be asked at the start of the lesson to assess who has understood the concept from the instructional videos and who hasn’t so the teacher can decide on how the rest of the lesson should run. Hinge questions can also be incorporated into the instructional video at key points so that the video continues in a certain way if students answer correctly and in another way if students answer incorrectly.