How a More Thoughtful Approach to Exit Slips Improved my Teaching. By Anjali Deshpande, Ph.D.

Like so many teachers, I wrap up a lesson and with a few minutes left in the period, I hand out my exit slips.  My students work quickly and quietly to jot down their solutions.  As students finish up, I move around the room and pick up their slips, meanwhile the students pack up.  Class ends, students leave.  It’s now my prep period, so I sit down and scan and sort my exit slips and I track the results.  I have just the right information I need about student learning and I make a quick adjustment to tomorrow’s lesson plan.  Using exit slips seems simple enough, right?  Not quite.  There is much more to the theory and practice behind using exit slips to inform high quality instruction.

Exit Tickets For Both Formative and Summative Assessment

A critical component of lesson planning is assessment, and most of us know that assessments generally fall into two categories, formative and summative.  Formative assessments are those that take place along the way, inform instruction, and are typically low-stakes (e.g. agree/disagree talk moves, listening in on students during Turn and Talk, observing and conferring with students as they work etc.).  Summative assessments provide summary information, or evaluative data at the end of something like a unit or semester of study.  Common summative assessments are exams and final projects; they are typically hands-off style evaluations that are used to inform student grades.  This article focuses on one type of assessment, the exit slip, that I have used as both formative and summative depending on my assessment goals.

Robert Marzano, a leader in the field of assessment, focuses on using exit slips to provide feedback on a teacher’s instructional practice in four ways using; prompts that provide formative feedback (How much of today’s lesson did you understand?), prompts that stimulate student self-analysis (What could you have done differently today?), prompts that focus on instructional strategies (How did group-work help you understand the content today?), and prompts that are open communication to the teacher (What’s something I can be doing to improve your understanding of the content?).  In addition to these reflective prompts, it is important to use low-stakes opportunities for quick feedback to gauge how well students have understood new content, especially in math and science, where content builds in hierarchical ways.  For example, knowing how to find equivalent fractions is foundational to thinking about fraction operations, and being able to use the powers of ten really aids in student understanding the laws of exponents.  In the following, I list the different types of exit slips and when it’s best to use each one.

Three Types of Exit Slips

In my practice, I use three types of exit slips.  The language I use may vary depending on the age group and literacy needs of the students I’m working with.  While this article is about exit slips in the math classroom, they can be used in different subject areas as well.  Each type of exit slip is useful in different situations.

  1. Open ended reflection:  Open ended exit slips are generally a list of two or three questions designed to have students reflect on what they learned and what they may have questions about.  Some of Marzano’s exit slip types fall into this category.  I like to use the open-ended reflection exit slip on days when I’ve covered a lot of new information, or when we are in the middle of working on a project, or if I’m not sure how much of the lesson my students grasped.  One important note: If possible, I recommend leaving visual displays of learning available to students during this reflection, because this one is not about informational or procedural recall. Rather, it’s about getting students’ feedback on my lesson.  They may want to refer to something specific if they aren’t sure what the learning experience was about.
  1. Individual Effort and Participation: Social emotional learning and self-regulation are critical 21st Century skills.  We as teachers can do a lot to reinforce key ideas and skills by embedding social-emotional learning opportunities in our lesson plans.  For this type of exit slip, I like to use something like a participation check-in (see Image 1 for an example).  Students rank themselves for the day and include a sentence or two about why they scored themselves the way they did.  I track this data and will often write back to students especially if I see an opportunity to provide specific and actionable feedback.  By asking students to rank themselves, I can hold students accountable to being active and present during class.  This practice also brings student voice into the process of evaluating participation.

Image 1:  Participation Points Slide

  1. Content: Have you ever ended a lesson and thought, “I nailed it!”?  One way to confirm you hit a specific learning target (see Susan Brookhart’s work for more on learning targets) is to use a content exit slip.  I typically use one or two questions and pre-print these on half sheets or quarter sheets of paper (though posting the questions using a Powerpoint or something like it is fine too).  Content exit slip questions can be something like, “Write four equivalent fractions for ⅔ and show your thinking” or “Use the distributive property to solve 72 x 5.”

Purpose and Equity

Many high school classrooms have short 45-minute periods for math class, and sometimes teachers have 120 students or more to work with, so grading daily assignments can become impossible.  An exit slip is quick!  Using an exit slip can help teachers remain focused on the topic and unit of study, and it helps to get feedback from the students as you go along.  Unlike the state exams, exit slips can be given back to students and used as a teaching tool or an “assessment for learning” (Black et al., 2004).  This is particularly important in places like New York City, where too often we are teaching in classrooms with students who have not had the same access to opportunities to learn, and we are still asked to measure their learning using high stakes tests.  Exit slips are less intimidating and time-consuming and actually serve the purpose of giving teachers important information about what students know, what confuses them, and where we should go next in our teaching in a very timely manner.

Exit slips also add a layer of democratic participation to my classroom.  It is not uncommon for teachers to feel so committed to pacing guides and curriculum maps that we teach through student confusion for the sake of completing the plan.  Students voices are drowned out as teachers rush through the lessons.  Exit slips are a way to slow down, refocus at important points in the learning journey, and take in important information from our students about what they need to learn next.  Ilana Horn (2012, pp. 56-57) identifies four ways that assessment for learning supports the type of equitable mathematics teaching that incorporates student feedback.  Assessments for equitable teaching (1) emphasize learning over achievement, (2) provide information that informs instruction by design, (3) are non-punitive (i.e. not a missed opportunity to learn), and (4) allow student voice to impact what comes next.  Using data  gathered from exit slips helps me show the students how deeply I care about their learning and well-being.  Exit slips are powerful tools, and when used the right way, they can help develop trust and safe learning spaces for students.

How to Use Exit Slips

A key feature of exit slips in the math classroom is that they cannot be graded or included in grade calculations.  Instead, I use a simple roster with students names and exit slip topics to track data and observe patterns.  I recommend that you scan your data over time to see which students are grasping new content, how students’ self-reported participation scores ebb and flow, or whether the students are more receptive and engaged with certain lessons than others.   Sometimes data can be overwhelming, using a roster or another tool to track student outcomes need not be a burden.  The point is to study the trends — the act of making yourself aware of trends in data will inform your practice in subtle and important ways.

Sharing marked content exit slips with students is great when done properly.  You will find that several students will want to revise and resubmit their exit slips for various reasons.  It may be the case that students made a silly mistake and want you to see how they knew what they were doing.  It may be that something clicked after class ended, this is ideal because it suggests that students continued working and thinking.   In fact, the quick feedback and opportunity to revise may go a long way to improving retention of new information. I recommend holding back on returning content exit slips if you did not have enough time to provide feedback that helps students think about the next step in learning a topic.

We have all worked with students who can’t bear the thought of losing points, and for these performance driven students, the exit slip will take longer to get used to because it doesn’t involve grading in any way.  It is worth sustaining a dialogue with these students to help them think about the importance of productive struggle and adopting a growth mindset.   I recommend that you review the exit slip protocol (see example below) a few times with your students, because exit slips are similar to tests in terms of working independently and quietly, but they are completely different in their purpose, and this takes time to get used to.

Exit Slip Protocol

Do’s

  • When launching exit slips, you might say something like, Now we’re going to switch gears to our exit slip protocol.  Remember, exit slips do not affect your grades (if applicable, say “and you will get them back tomorrow”).  I use exit slips for a few reasons, sometimes I like to see what you’ll do with a new problem and sometimes I want to find out about your successes and challenges.  I am interested in learning about how you think mathematically!  Exit slips help me improve my teaching.  If you get stuck, that’s okay, you can write to me about what you understand and what questions you still have.
  • Keep the exit slip free of distractions and prepare the students ahead of time with a discussion about the purpose of the exit slip.  Include student voice by taking the time to explain how exit slips work to improve teaching and learning, and encourage your students to make sense of the process with one another.
  • Exit slips are short.  If they get too long, then they are not exit slips, they are something else.  A rule of thumb that I share with teachers I coach is that an exit slip should take two to four minutes to complete.  The benefit of a short exit slip is that you can count on student engagement and effort for a short burst more confidently than say, for a longer quiz or test.  The point of the exit slip is to be transitional, a brief moment-in-time assessment.
  • Exit slips need not be fancy, since some of the time, you’ll throw exit slips away after recording the data.  You can even ask students to write their thinking on a piece of lined paper and put the exit question(s) on a slide.

Don’ts

  • Don’t use an exit slip as a quiz grade.  Be very clear about what the exit slip is for, and it’s many benefits.
  • Don’t take away an exit slip if you notice a student looking at another student’s paper. Instead, you may want to have a follow-up conversation with the student about what prompted the behavior. It’s important to encourage students to be silent and work independently.   After all, students are under tremendous pressure to succeed and want to get things right the first time!  It takes time to develop a culture centered on assessment for learning and not performance.
  • Don’t give an exit slip as a punishment.  It will taint the process and jeopardize the trust you have built with your students, especially if you have clearly stated that exit slips are about the learning process.

Conclusions

Exit slips can improve how you make sense of what your students need next.  In my practice, I use three different types of exit slips; reflections, effort and participation, and content.  Exit slips are critical reflections of my practice and by analyzing patterns in student responses, I’ve been able to revise my teaching strategies for the better.  I choose the type of exit slip based on my assessment goals for the lesson, and then I study patterns in the resulting data to help me change my course of action when needed.  Most importantly, I appreciate the opportunity to learn from and reflect upon valuable student input.

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