Teachers find out what students learn by asking them. Usually, in the last 5 minutes of a class period or lesson, students answer 1-3 questions to record their knowledge and analyze how they learn. The questions are crafted to match the I-Can statement or goal shared at the outset.
Reading exit slips is my favorite part of the day. Students write the darnedest things. If time is short, I ask one question like, “What is the main idea of this lesson?” Students write their answers on index cards, half sheets of paper, or, if I’m not going to collect them, reader’s notebooks. They hand exit sheets to me as they walk out of the room (hence the name “exit”). In elementary school, I collect the cards or papers at the end of the lesson.
Often, I write questions on the board or SmartBoard or display them under the DocCam. Sometimes I photocopy questions onto half sheets of paper. That way sheets are handed back after I read them. Students glue the papers into their reading notebooks as a record of their learning.
If we have more time, I ask questions in sets of 3. I order the questions to move students into thinking about applications outside of class. When I provide easier reflection questions first, students usually warm up to the exercise and provide better results. In essence, I ask:
- A literal question - assessing students’ understanding of a vocabulary word or a process or seeking to find out what students remember about the lesson or what they think is the main idea. This question matches the goal or the I-Can statement of the day.
- A metacognitive question - asking students to explain the steps of their process, to provide proof that they’re getting better at the skill, or to share a question about something they don’t understand.
- An application question - asking students how they will apply this information, how the information is important to them, or how they will remember what they learned. I also ask them to assess their learning.
For example, start with a simple question like, “Tell me one idea you inferred.” Progress to, “What details made you come to that conclusion?” Finish with, “How does learning about inferring help you in other areas of your life?” For more examples, download Question Sets. That’s the download at the bottom.
I don’t ask students to write an exit sheet for every lesson or every day. When I do request an exit sheet, I scan all of the papers very quickly. I comment on some with a word or two. I write more extensively on a couple papers. Others have no comment from me at all, since the papers are designed to help students remember what they’re learning.
Exit slips help with review, too, since I usually start the next day's lesson by highlighting what we learned the previous day. Rather than me recapping the day, I ask students to read their exit sheets so they are more likely to pick up where they left off.
However, I have discovered that when I first ask students to share what they wrote, most are unwilling. That discovery prompted me to write, “Please read!” on comments I wanted all to consider. In that way I have encouraged more reluctant students to share. I often choose main points or particularly poignant insights I want the students to hear in their classmates’ own words, since that carries more weight than my own. This request, though simple, does make more students willing to participate.
Reading the exit slips helps me know where to start my lesson the next day. I sort exit sheets into piles by who needs reteaching or extension. I help students straighten out their misconceptions as quickly as I can. Often, I meet them at the door the next day to see if I can clarify a concept or if the student just didn't know how to express his learning.
Sometimes I discover that most students have misunderstood the gist of my lesson. In that case, I reteach. Sometimes the cards show that I need to instruct to different levels. I might need to reteach half of the class while others work on assignments where they can apply the concept.
Lessons come from the students
Focus lessons grow out of the students’ responses. For example, when teaching a historical-fiction unit, my fourth-grade students wrote about what makes a good story on their exit sheets. Although they didn’t know the words, I named the literary elements for them the next day during minilesson time. I told them that authors have words for the techniques students discovered.
On their own, they noticed foreshadowing, characterization, descriptive words, and similes. They realized that authors build interest, so we paid attention to where authors do that and how. We talked about boring beginnings, liking or not liking characters, and other similar books we’ve read or experiences we’ve had. Because students wrote exit slips, my teaching could target both their needs and the required curriculum.
Some insights from my students
I love watching brains at work. Here are some great examples (with their original spelling) and my response:
Question: What is your opinion about the book so far?
Anthony: I think this book is a bore so far but the author sounds like she’s puting good words in the book like apologize and deliberately she expresses there amotion, looks and feelings well. She made Andy talk like he’s not educated by puting the words eddicated and learnin also she make Andy say sentences that do not make sence. She also uses similes.
Me: You are reading like an author!
Answer by Reginald to the same question: I think Andy is like me. He is like me by killing a turkey. Andy also has a slingshot. I think still boring because they don’t talk about why the cabin faced west. But if they did talk why the cabin faced west in the first chapter is wouldn’t be any good.
Question 2: What have you learned about writing from reading?
Reginald: There is a book that I read in the 4th grade called The Gamage Cup. In the first 5 or 6 chapters they really didn’t talk about anything. But in the 6 chapter, they atrted geting down to business.
Question 3: If you were able to talk to the author, what would you say?
Reginald: If I were the author I would put a little excitment in the first few chapters. Then I would put the real action in the book and make it so interesting they would want to read more.
Me: We need to remember your feelings when we write. I hope you will share what you have discovered with the class.
Kids DO say the darnedest things!
My favorite one made me laugh out loud. When asked what she learned today, a student wrote, “No matter how mean and ugly we are, we’re all good writers.” You can see why exit sheets are my favorite part of the day.