Hinge Point Questions - Enquiry Proposal
It is essential within teaching that teachers remain aware of the effects their practice is having on all aspects of the classroom environment from learning to ethos. Thus, it is crucial that professionals are reflective within their practice to ensure that there is continual adaptation to the needs of the learners, the school, and the community. This reflective practice can be supported by professional enquiries in which evidence is gathered to test the influence of certain practices so that teachers are able to justify their actions and reasoning. This paper will both look at the value of practitioner enquiry and contain the outline of a planned practitioner enquiry in response to self-perceived gaps in my own practice regarding formative assessment. There are many forms of formative assessment such as peer assessment, two stars and a wish and thumbs up thumbs down. However, to focus this to something manageable within the time frame of five weeks the enquiry will look specifically at introducing the use of hinge point questions into maths to gauge where learners are in their understanding and to determine the next steps within lesson planning.
Practitioner enquiry (or practitioner research) is an extension of the idea of reflective teaching or ‘the middle ground between reflection and action research’ (Baumfield, Hall, Wall. 2013; 7). Reflective teaching is the practice of continually assessing how effective a lesson or series of lessons were and what could be improved upon next time (Menter et al., 2011). Action research involves ‘a series of linked enquires with teachers formulating questions arising directly from their classroom experiences at each stage in the process’ (Baumfield, Hall & Wall, 2013; 3). Baumfield, Hall and Wall claim that it is the teacher who is ‘adept at making adjustments who is effective in tackling systemic problems and who gains most satisfaction from their work’ (2013; 1). Thus, reflective teaching and the further action of enquiry are necessary for teachers to both justify their actions and to adapt them where necessary to benefit the learners, the school, and the community. Menter et al. points out three elements crucial to research; enquiry, systematic, and sharing of outcomes thus ‘practitioner research in education is systematic enquiry in an educational setting carried out by someone working in that setting, the outcomes of which are shared with other practitioners.’ (2011; 3). Practitioner enquiry is a realistic measure of the success of teaching practices as it takes place in real life contexts. With the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland there is now even greater opportunities for teacher autonomy in deciding curriculum, approaches, and pedagogy than there has been before (Menter et al., 2011). With this freedom though comes a greater need for teachers to be able to justify their actions and to reflect effectively and systematically on their reasons and justifications. It has been demonstrated that through practitioner research there is opportunity to affect systematic and sustainable change in school improvement and development (Menter et al., 2011). Sachs (2003) refers to teaching as ‘a transformative activity’ with practitioner enquiry surely being a crucial element in creating and supporting these transformative changes. There is international research which suggests that the quality of teaching influences pupil performance more than any other in-school factor (Darling-Hammond et al., 2005; Hattie, 2009). Practitioner enquiries are a means of ensuring that teaching practices are effective and communicating the information intended to the learners. Baumfield and Butterworth also found that teachers engaging in research has a positive impact on learners in their classrooms (2005). Without practitioner research it would be easy for teachers to work as they assumed they should or even have been told to when in fact this is not working for their class. Being able to conduct a practitioner enquiry enables teachers to adapt their ways of working to support their learners and provides them with a means of evidencing why they have chosen their approaches to practice. The obvious issue with any research into education and its methods is that, although necessary, it remains possible that is could all be entirely subjective so there is no answer to be found (Biesta, 2009). It seems impossible to make teaching and learning firmly and statically scientific in its processes as each individual learner and teacher is different, communities and societies are different and ever changing, and the expectation of schools is in a constant state of flux as well. However, through practitioner enquiry teachers can depart from the more common-sense understandings of education which may not benefit everyone and adapt their methods to their own context and, in some cases, this could affect a more systematic change in education. Thus, practitioner enquiry is a great defence against the cycle of social inequality that common sense understandings repeat and that practitioners should be consciously aware of in their own practice. Practitioner enquiry also acts as a defence against schools placing too much focus on results and league tables. Ball (2003) claims that teachers and schools spend more and more time trying to prove they are meeting policy targets. Practitioner enquiry is a means of defence against this and a way to put learners back in their rightful place as the central focus of teaching. Teachers need to keep asking ‘what makes good education?’ and focus their pedagogy on this so that they can justify what they are doing to prevent league tables becoming the primary concern; taking focus away from the learners (Biesta, 2009). Although policy can be constraining the Curriculum for Excellence has embedded within it a greater sense and expectation of teacher agency in making their practice their own through informed and professional judgements. In treating the curriculum as a guideline, as it appears to be intended to be used, teachers have a great leeway in finding what works for their class and their learners needs (The Scottish Government, 2008). As Clarke put it:
“Empowering professionals to have the confidence and autonomy to make their own decisions, and to value their own judgements, builds their capacity to raise standards and, most importantly, to instil in their pupils a love of learning and a love of challenge.” (2008; p169).
Thus, the use of practitioner enquiry is an invaluable part of the practice of teaching and enables teachers to act on what works rather than working in traditional, common-sensical ways.
Within my own practice I am aware that I can struggle to use formative assessment throughout lessons, so my enquiry will focus on putting structured plans in place to address this. It is known that learners do not necessarily learn what is intended through teaching, so there is a need to be continually assessing in order to bridge this gap between teaching and learning (Wiliam, 2013). Formative assessment then is the use of strategies that aim to ‘provide student and teacher feedback about the student’s current state, while there are still opportunities for student improvement’ as opposed to summative assessment which is more a measure of achievement after the learning and teaching has taken place (Schoenfed, 2015; 184). “The big idea is that evidence about learning is used to adjust instruction to better meet student need -in other words, teaching is adaptive to the learner’s needs” (Wiliam, 2011; p46). Formative assessment uses evidence regarding student achievement and is interpreted by teachers, learners, or their peers to decide the next steps in teaching and learning in order that these decisions are better informed (Wiliam, 2011). Thus, formative assessment should give explicit advice to help the learners improve (Clarke, 2008). Ofsted (2007) observed that formative assessment has not yet been implemented effectively on a large scale despite teachers knowing the benefits of it. In fact, well designed and implemented formative assessment has been found to be one of the most effective methods of improving learning (Hattie, 2009 &2012; Black and Wiliam, 1998, Wiliam, Lee, Harrison & Black, 2004). Assessment in all its forms is essential but formative assessment should be used far more often than summative so adequate attention needs to be paid to the processes used for it. Ensuring that there is ongoing professional dialogue and practice and that assessment is reliable and valid is crucial in creating high-quality professional development (The Scottish Government, 2011). Teachers need to be consciously aware of the important and necessary role assessment plays in their daily practice and in their planning. With studies such as TIMMS, PIRLS, PISA comparing national education systems on their outcomes being used by the government to raise standards (Biesta, 2009) there is a need to reinforce the importance of formative assessment. Especially as it is more important to pay close attention to what students are getting out of teaching to increase both student engagement and achievement (Wiliam, 2013). According to Mason and Grove-Stephensen (2002) teachers dedicate around 30% of their time to the evaluation of pupils’ work. One of the primary issues with constant formative assessment is that there are so many learners and only one teacher thus ensuring everyone is accounted for is difficult in practical terms. If assessment can be conducted within lessons and involving as many pupils as possible some of this time constraint may be reduced. Feedback on the spot and in mass to the whole class is surely an ideal means of cutting back a small chunk of teachers’ workload. Wiliam et al. (2004) found that student learning increased when formative assessment is integrated into teaching. Wiliam has stated that ‘effective feedback requires asking the right questions…[and] requires a plan of action about what to do with the evidence before it is collected’ (2013-online source). Thus, I propose to use hinge point questions or misconception questions which are multiple choice questions in which the wrong answers are common misconceptions the use of which can allow the teacher to see what problems in understanding there may be in the class. Hinge point questions can be used to deepen classroom understanding and deepen discussion to engage more students as these questions should centre around either universally common misconceptions of the topic or classroom specific misconceptions found in previous work (Wylie and Lyon, 2015). The questions also need to fit with the learning intentions in order to be valid to the learning and teaching taking place. Wiliam claims that ‘there are only two good reasons to ask questions in class: to cause thinking and to provide information for the teacher about what to do next’ (2011; 79). Information from hinge point questions can be used to tailor the future teaching to suit the needs of the class while they may also cause some deep thinking on occasion when being posed as the multiple-choice answers contain common misconceptions. Using Hinge point questions should aid teachers in ascertaining where the learners are and will put the teacher in a much better position to provide feedback and to plan lessons than if the question had never been asked (Wiliam, 2011). Hinge point questions are one of many means of targeting misunderstandings and enabling further input and adjustments in planning to accommodate this. I plan to use hinge point questions specifically within maths lessons due to the misconceptions within maths being a little clearer to gauge than in more subjectively assessed subjects. Formative assessment within maths specifically is also something I struggle with especially due to the ‘right and wrong’ nature of a lot of maths. I fear that I may unintentionally demoralise those struggling with maths when helping them to see the errors in their work or even more so when ‘marking’ the work after the lesson as learners can then see clearly how many they got right and how many they got wrong. I hope that in using hinge point questions I will be able to plan lessons to target any confusions directly to the whole class without having any one feel embarrassed when they misunderstand. Hinge point questions are one of many means of targeting misunderstandings and enabling further input and adjustments in planning to accommodate this, but I feel it is the most appropriate and beneficial for myself and my practice. I also hope that having to be aware of common misconceptions, as I will have to be when designing questions, will help me to understand what thinking is taking place when errors occur.
I propose to evaluate what happens when I use hinge point questions within maths to aid my formative assessment of the class. There are a few possible frameworks to follow for enquiry; the professional enquiry process, spiral of enquiry, lesson study and action research. Spiral of enquiry and lesson study both appear to require a greater understanding of the learners and longer time than I will have available. Action research is a valid option but sources appear to contradict each other as to what it means for example Baumfield, Hall and Wall (2013) consider it to be a step beyond practitioner research and more of a culmination of enquiries. Thus, I will be using the framework of the professional enquiry process which is a step by step guide of what information you are going to need at each stage in the process. Even with this framework though there remains the issue that time is limited, I will not be working collaboratively, I do not know the learners involved and the study can only be directly about myself as a result (separate from the learners generally at the heart of educational change). The measuring of improvement is also very limited as not knowing the learners means that I cannot be sure of improvements in learning or even in my own practice as it will always reflect at least in part the attitudes of the class as a whole and what they are comfortable with and already able to do. Despite the flaws this framework appears to be the most able to adapt to my needs. It also contains within it ‘an enquiry matrix’ which has a sliding scale of involvement in: reading, collaborating, evidencing and sharing. Within this I am sure that most of my own research will sit at the least involvement end of the scale due to the limitations, but the framework does accommodate this. In conducting my enquiry, I aim to use hinge-point questions where applicable within maths lessons. These questions can come at any point in a lesson but I suspect I will most often have them at the end or in the middle and will use supporting techniques such as exit passes and showing different coloured card to generate and gather the answers. I will, especially if asking a hinge-point questions within the lesson, include a plan of action which will be dependant on the resulting answers. The effectiveness of these optional plans and how the answers inform my future planning will be part of the enquiry. I will also be looking at how these questions may make me more aware of problems and misconceptions I might otherwise have been blind. To carry out my enquiry I will aim to collect as many different types of evidence as possible in order to triangulate them as the more supporting evidence there is the more I can rely on the findings (Thomas, 2009). Within educational research it is nearly impossible to draw conclusions with only one or very few forms of evidence; the more sources of evidence that support each other the more valuable the findings. It is not possible within my own enquiry to end with conclusive evidence (if possible with education research at all) but I will aim for the evidence to be as strong as I am able. My sources of evidence will come primarily from my own planning and my own reflections but I will also have the children’s work and their answers. I also plan to involve the children in the research so that they are aware that I am trying to see how hinge point questions work within maths so I will have their feedback on the methods I used to do this and on whether they found it helpful and whether they enjoyed the process or not. I hope by involving the learners it will remove some of the pressure individuals may feel when required to provide answers to the questions I pose. If applicable I will also try to make clear to the class the changes I have made as a result of their answers as this may make the process clearer to them and justify the reason why I am asking them challenging questions; that it is to help not to test. With hinge point questions there is a great risk of putting children on the spot and making their errors in understanding public to the class so I will have to take this into account when planning my methods of collecting answers as I do not know the social context of the class to understand if they are supportive or critical when people get things wrong; I also don’t know how getting something wrong will effect the individuals within the class so I may have to ensure that the answers are not public to the class as a whole.
In conclusion, practitioner enquiry is a very valuable tool for practitioners to use in order to learn what works for them and their class and to enable them to justify their actions by evidencing the results. Teachers in Scotland have been enabled greater freedom by the curriculum for excellence but in order to take full advantage of the benefits of this teachers need to be able to conduct enquiries that are effective and persuasive in their findings. I will be focusing on adopting hinge point questions for formative assessment when teaching maths and I hope this will have multiple benefits in that I will need to be aware of common misconception which should aid my ability to help learners who are struggling, I will be able to diagnose misunderstandings with the whole class at once and I will be able to push myself beyond my comfort zone in terms of formative assessment to try something new and see if it works for me. I hope to be able to reflect on my own practice more clearly as a result of this enquiry and to be able to take on board what I learn from it to conduct more reliable and informative enquiries later in my teaching career.
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