Using Weighted Hinge Questions (WHQs) to Assess Students’ Causal Understanding, pp. 2 of 10

Indeed, starting from the late 20th century, the Anglo-American educational research community has emphasized that historical conceptual thinking is the “sine qua non of historical knowledge development” (VanSledright, 2014, p. 6; Seixas, 1996), and that the historical inquiry cycle prizes knowledge as historical conceptual thinking’s “highest aim” (Wineburg, 2018, pp. 92). In this paper, we suggest possible ways to develop students’ conceptual knowledge and understanding of historical causation using specific assessment constructs. We demonstrate how teachers could use multiple-choice weighted hinge questions (WHQs) during the instructional process to translate the SCP’s principles into a concrete assessment practice tailored for the history classroom. Our proposed WHQs combine key insights on formative assessment ideas derived from the works of Dylan Wiliam (2015) and Bruce VanSledright (2014). 

Multiple-choice Weighted Hinge Questions (WHQs) and Progression Models

Multiple-choice WHQs are weighted because, in the teacher’s view, one of the options in such questions represents the most sophisticated historical conceptual understanding while the others represent levels of understanding that vary in sophistication (VanSledright, 2014). Furthermore, WHQs are hinge questions, because they are asked at any point in a lesson during which the teacher cannot proceed confidently until he/she has “elicited and interpreted” evidence of the students’ historical conceptual understanding (Wiliam & Leahy, 2015, p. 88).

Asking students questions during the instructional process is seemingly unremarkable, but WHQs have specific features that distinguish them from other types of questions:

First, when asking WHQs, teachers must get a specific response – and not just a “choral response” – from every student (Wiliam, 2015, p. 41). A popular way to do this is to use Kahoot!, an interactive ICT learning platform that allows teachers to create their own multiple-choice questions for students to answer on their own devices. Yet, as of now, Kahoot! reveals only the percentage of students who selected a particular option, thus preventing teachers from identifying specific students. Alternatively, teachers could simply display the WHQ on a PowerPoint slide, ask students to use their fingers to indicate their response and scan the classroom to check their responses (Wiliam, 2015). Other simultaneous response modes include using mini-whiteboards or response cards labelled A, B, C, D, which some schools have provided for in their student handbooks (Kagan & Kagan, 2009).

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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