Chapter 4, Hinge Questions

“…the success of a lesson actually hinges on responses to such questions as an indication of whether students understand enough to move on. “ The Formative 5, page 85

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Our palette of formative assessment strategies is really taking shape as we’re down to the last two chapters in our book study of The Formative 5: Everyday Assessment Techniques for Every Math Classroom by Skip Fennell, Beth Kobett, and Jonathan Wray. Have you had a chance to check out the hashtag #Formative5BookStudy? So much good conversation! If you have not tried Twitter for professional development, this might be a great time to jump in. If you can do Facebook, you can do Twitter.

Reading schedule


  1. Follow the reading guide posted above. Each Monday listed on the schedule, I will publish a post with my thoughts. I’m planning to use the format suggested in the book study guide included at the back of the book (Sharing, Aha!, and Let’s Try!).
  2. Participate by adding a comment to this post or by replying to the comments of others. Your comment will be displayed once approved.
  3. Use the hashtag #Formative5BookStudy to participate in a slow Twitter chat. Search on the hashtag anytime during the week to follow the conversation. I will be posting questions throughout the week, and you can add your thoughts using the same hashtag, as well as the hashtag #Formative5, or just read what others are saying. If you haven’t used Twitter for professional development, this is a great way to start.


I have always been fascinated by using questioning as part of math instruction. Some might use the word obsessed. So this chapter was music to my ears. Again, as with the other chapters, the emphasis is on planning and intentionality. I’m actually reading the book the authors reference on page 84, 5 Practices for Orchestrating Math Discussions, and the idea of anticipating solution strategies and intentionally choosing and sequencing the strategies you will have students share is one that has the potential to elevate our classroom discussions in a big way.

I was at first skeptical about using multiple choice items as hinge questions (page 88), but planning purposeful wrong answers that uncover student misconceptions and using a quick student response technique, such as  having students raise cards with the letters A, B, C, and D, is an effective way to quickly collect data and let you know which students you need to follow-up with. I also liked the different version of a multiple choice hinge question on pages 93 and 94. The bottom line is that we should be using a variety of types of questions for hinge questions. There’s a lot of flexibility.


I absolutely loved Angelina’s work on page 98. I’ve seen lots of strategies for decomposing numbers to add and subtract, but this was a new one for me. Angelina’s teacher, Hannah, effectively used a quick hinge question to make sure the composition of her groups for small group instruction was on track. The fact that she was surprised by some of the students’ responses, and probably made some adjustments to her groups, is an excellent reminder of how important it is to use formative assessments every day.

Another book I’m reading right now, Taking Action: Implementing Effective Teaching Practices in K-Grade 5, talks about the difference between performance goals and learning goals. Performance goals sound more like “students will solve subtraction word problems” while learning goals are phrased as understandings–“students will understand subtraction as either take away or comparison and be able to distinguish between the two structures.” Developing learning goals seems like an important first step for writing hinge questions.

Let’s Try!

My list of technology tools to try is growing as a result of this book! In this chapter the one that really piqued my interest is Formative. I thought maybe it was designed for older students, since the example in the book was a 7th grade example, but I checked out the website and there were testimonials from a variety of grade levels. Formative hosts a twitter chat on Monday nights, so I might just drop in one night! It’s great to have a built-in learning community when you’re trying new things.

Your Turn

Share your thoughts and/or observations either below or on Twitter using the hashtags #Formative5BookStudy and #Formative5. Look for the last post in this study on Monday, July 30th.

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  1. I like the idea of using intentionality to plan for all of the formative assessments we have read about so far. Hinge questions are no different, but there is also flexibility to change them if you observe your students making particular errors. I am especially intrigued by the idea of sequencing student responses. Finally, I have used Plickers to see student responses even though I am a second grade teacher. The variety of hinge questions assures me that I can continue to use them strategically for some of the questions. I think that a variety of types of questions and responses can give a more thorough insight into student thinking.

  2. The hardest thing for me in my teaching is to be a good questioner. I have struggled with this from the beginning…coming from old school concrete math. I have been working hard to get to where I think I should be, but am a work in progress. I find that if I am super intentional I can pose the good questions.
    I continue to find that my struggle is my administration requiring all that teach the same subject to be on the same page at the same time. This curtails time for digging deeper and for more of the differentiation that I think is necessary for mastery learning.
    I have given each chapter in this book a great deal of thought and there are so many things I want to try and change in my teaching.
    My Aha is using the hinge questions even if only a couple a day could change the learning in my classroom.
    I continue to be anxious to try so much of this…I need to reign myself in and start small. LOL

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