By Teachers, For Teachers
When your students leave your classroom, what do they leave with? While they strap their backpacks to their backs and embrace their books in their hands, what are they carrying with them in their minds? We have to ultimately ask ourselves, “How do we really know what students get out of our time together?” We do have classroom management techniques like tests, quizzes, homework, and other formative assessments to measure their learning, but one of the easiest classroom management methods to determine what students know is to simply ask. And one of the most convenient ways to ask is to take advantage of the classroom management device known as Exit Slips.
An exit slip can take many forms, but ultimately it is a tool students use to briefly report on their learning that day. This feedback is the last thing students do before they exit each day. Teachers receive this feedback from their students and have timely, formative data on their students’ learning.
Like all formative data, exit slips can then be utilized by teachers to gain insight into student understanding and plan accordingly for upcoming instruction. Exit slips help teachers answer that ultimate question: “What did students learn today?” It also helps teachers identify areas of strength or weakness in student understanding.
Imagine going through a math lesson one day. At the end of the day, students pack up their bags and leave your classroom, thanking you for another wonderful day of instruction. But how do you know if they’ve understood the math steps you discussed? If you don’t have any form of formative feedback available, then all you really have are hunches or feelings indicating what your students got out of your time together. If, however, you implement a simple form of formative feedback – such as exit slips – then you’ve got a much stronger indication of how well students grasped today’s math concept and are ready for the next one.
Another important point to add about exit slips is that they don’t just help the teacher: They help the students just as much. Exit slips provide an opportunity for students to reflect on their own learning. Maybe some students thought they understood the concept better than they really did; maybe others didn’t put that much thought into the learning at all. Regardless, their reflection will help reveal to them if they understood what they were supposed to or if further steps might be necessary for them to proactively grasp the content.
There are two important steps teachers always need to consider when working with data, such as the data they can glean from exit slips. First, they have to make sure their data is accurate. Second, they have to make sure they have a plan for what to do with the data once they collect it.
Exit slips and formative assessments are essentially the same thing; an exit slip is a type of formative assessment. However, words like “Assessment” or “Quiz” are daunting words for kids and automatically increase the stress associated with the task. A term like “Exit slip” helps kids keep it informal and lets them know it’s OK to honestly demonstrate where they’re at. Exit slips are normally not counted towards a student’s grade.
Designing effective exit slips doesn’t have to be daunting – keep it simple! Teachers should take time to think through exactly what they want to know about student learning and devise a simple way for students to demonstrate the extent of their learning before they leave. Perhaps ask yourself, “What are the three most important things students should come away with today?” or “How can students demonstrate they understand what we worked on today?”
My favorite way of collecting information from students is using Google Forms, mostly because Google has features that help synthesize the data collected. I can look at overall classroom trends or student-by-student information, all automatically organized by the form. Another way I’ve enjoyed having students respond is by asking them to share a series of discussion forum posts talking about their learning. Or instead of using a digital tool, it might be just as simple to use an actual slip of paper where students can answer brief questions related to the day’s lesson.
For a math lesson, for example, an exit slip might feature a problem or two related to what we covered in class. Students would complete the problems before they leave, and the teacher would immediately see to what extent students understood what was covered. In a reading class, an exit slip might take the form of a more reflective question, asking students about what they gleaned from the reading, what literacy skill they sharpened, or even just asking comprehension questions.
When using exit slips, it’s helpful to connect them to the original purpose you began class with. If you discuss at the beginning of class what the overall objective of that day’s lesson is, then you should be able to design an exit slip that connects directly to that stated purpose. You could also begin class by having students state their initial assumptions or prior knowledge related to a topic, and then design the exit slip to ask them to come back to that initial starting place and reflect on what they thought they knew.
One of the best uses of the feedback from exit slips, though, is how you use the data you gather to make informed decisions about your next steps. Perhaps you’ll realize that there were gaps in your instruction that need to be revisited tomorrow. Or perhaps you now have exactly the information you need to differentiate interventions for students; students who scored well may need to do only a small amount of work before tomorrow, while students who struggle with the exit slip task may be asked to complete more work in preparation for the next class. You might also use the information in the exit slips to divide students into groups based on their understanding, and have each group complete a task specific to what they understood from the previous day. Or going further, your exit slips might help you pair students who understood a great deal with students who didn’t understand quite as much, helping them help one another.
Overall, build exit slips into your routine as a time of reflection. Reflection for you on how well you conducted instructional time, and reflection for students on how well they understood the objectives of today’s lesson. The typical school day can feel very much like a business-as-usual routine where we go through the motions of education … but are students actually learning?
There are many ways to assess student learning and growth, but exit slips are one easy step towards thinking through if we’ve actually made the most of our time together.
Do you use exit slips as a classroom management device in your class? How do they work? Let us know in the comment section!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.