Using Weighted Hinge Questions (WHQs) to Assess Students’ Causal Understanding, pp. 7 of 10

Example 2
We now turn to a topic-based WHQ that would enable teachers to differentiate their instruction to help students improve their historical understanding of causation after introducing the content of a particular topic. Consider this WHQ:

Based on what we have discussed in class, which of the following responses offers the best reasoning that explains why the outbreak of war in Asia-Pacific happened?

  1. The war in Asia-Pacific broke out because President Roosevelt declared war on Japan after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941.
  2. The war in Asia-Pacific broke out because Japan pursued an aggressive and expansionist policy to conquer territories and gather more resources.
  3. Japan’s ambition to establish itself in world politics contributed to the crisis in the 1930s which drove the Japanese expansionist foreign policy, triggering Japan’s response to world developments that ignited the outbreak of war in Asia-Pacific.
  4. The weaknesses of the League of Nations made it possible for war in Asia-Pacific to break out as it failed to restrain countries’ aggression towards others. Japanese expansionist policy, however, was more important as it forced the outbreak of war.  
  5. While the Japanese expansionist policy had increased tensions in Asia-Pacific, Japan’s responses to world developments in the 1930s were the clearest cause of the outbreak of war because they led directly to war.

When to use: Topic-based WHQs are best confined to a “contextually bounded space” – in this case, limited to the classroom discussion based on factors presented in the textbook – to prevent students from relying extensively on other sources of information to choose an option (VanSledright, 2014, p. 61). In so doing, the alignment of each response with its corresponding level of understanding remains valid. Besides informing students that there is no single correct response, the teacher could also remind students to focus on the quality of reasoning presented in the options, rather than their personal opinions about the factors’ relative importance.

Students could be grouped based on their responses and then be assigned differentiated tasks to expand on the explanation they have chosen. The complexity of these tasks should match students’ readiness and current level of understanding (Tomlinson, 2017). The following table shows how the WHQ’s options correspond to the respective levels of understanding and summarizes our suggestions.

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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