Why I Switched to Exit Tickets
I posted a bit ago about a day in my classroom, which can be summarized very briefly as: bellwork, lesson, exit ticket. Part of this structure is a reaction to how I did homework last semester, as well as addressing my needs as a teacher for a balance between formative and evaluative assessment. I firmly believe that any conversation about homework is really a conversation about assessment, whether you’re aware of it or not. Formative assessments have very specific connotations in the education community – they are consistent, low-risk, informational, feedback-worthy, used to inform teaching. Evaluative assessments are medium-risk and meant to be done correctly the first time through with minimal stretching by the student. I should say that this term, evaluative assessment, is something that a colleague threw around one day during a Professional Development seminar at my school one day and I latched onto it because it perfectly described one of the problems in my classroom from last semester – I had too many formative assessments and not enough evaluative assessments. Also note that this means that if you throw around the term ‘evaluative assessment’ and expect people to know what you mean, you may find yourself facing blank looks.
The reason I’ve stopped assigning homework every night is because I’ve turned it into an evaluative assessment rather than a formative assessment. I still assign it, but when I do, I want to make sure that every problem is (1) doable the day it’s assigned, and (2) meaningful- none of these problems where, if a student were to review their homework to study for a test, I’d have to say ‘oh – don’t worry about that one, we just did those because they were in that section’.
Last semester, students started class with bellwork which I checked and, at times, added problems to until I was sure students would be able to understand today’s lesson. Or, if I knew we needed a lot more practice, the lesson would be entirely guided practice. Also, I tend to teach with a lot of practice problems intermixed in the lesson – one of the way I chunk out lessons – I usually mix them in with a structured notetaker of some kind: “fill in this definition, let’s do this problem together, now you do these 3 on your own”. I also tended to have mini exit-tickets throughout the lesson which I called ‘objective checks’ – a practice problem at the end of the lesson that I felt all students should be able to do. But, with all this practice and in-class working… I never found time to talk about the homework. Plus, I found that most of the misconceptions from the homework had been cleared up when we went over the bellwork. Well, actually, sometimes it was worse than this – some students would go home and do the homework but do all of it incorrectly, then need to be untaught the incorrect method as I went over the bellwork. This is mostly my fault with the way I would design homework assignments (I made every one from scratch – I haven’t used a textbook all year). I also hated to be the teacher who went over a homework assignment that only 5 or 6 students completed. Homework wasn’t worth very much in my grading scale and wasn’t collected until the day of the unit test, so I never felt right about spending 5-10 minutes talking about problems when the majority of the class didn’t have a reason to listen. It also meant that it wasn’t a very effective formative assessment if the majority of the class wasn’t doing it.
I don’t know. I was doing a lot wrong with homework last year. I honestly started to resent it – it didn’t tell me anything about my students, my students usually did it incorrectly but we fixed it during the bellwork the next day, and it took up class time that I would have rather used for other things. I hated the feeling of sending my students off with a homework assignment knowing they wouldn’t be able to do most of it, and I hated knowing that I would have to spend class time tomorrow talking about it – what was the point of calling it homework if I was going to make them do it in class tomorrow anyway? (This, by the way, is not a horrible thing – I just think it undermines the idea of me calling it ‘homework’ – students will learn they don’t need to do it at home because they’ll get time in class the next day to do it anyway). It was nice to have the problem sets made because if a student came in for tutoring, we could do the homework together – but otherwise, most students tended to get everything they needed from my in-class activities (which, as said above, sometimes meant just doing the homework in class and me hating myself for reinforcing that they didn’t need to do it at home). Part of this homework frustration comes from the low skills of my students – it took me a while to realize just how little algebra my students knew or how bad their integer operation intuition was. I didn’t feel comfortable sending them home with any assignments because I started to fear they would do it incorrectly purely because they were trying to master so many skills at once – geometry, algebra, and arithmetic.
Anyway anyway – the bottom line is: it didn’t really have a place in my classroom. The only place it could have fit was as a formative assessment, but I already spent so much time on bellwork that I couldn’t find time to fit homework in too. One of the few ways homework served a purpose was when I ran out of time at the end of the class and gave it to the students to start before they left, which meant I could answer questions on the first few problems (this, by the way, was partly a classroom management/lesson planning crutch – ‘crap! Lesson didn’t fill the entire period! Good thing I have homework…’). However, since it was homework, half the students would just put it away and say they’d work on it at home, knowing full well I wouldn’t check it tomorrow and wouldn’t care about it until the unit test. Over the break, I realized that these few homework problems were really the only thing I valued about the day-to-day implementation of homework in my classroom – so why wasn’t I doing it every day and why was I letting it be optional? This was one of my motivations for switching to exit tickets – take those first few problems from a homework assignment, make it an exit ticket, and make every student do it in class in front of me. Then, if students struggle with it, put problems like this on the bellwork tomorrow. Either way, I’m forcing every student to try these problems and learn how to do them.
I realized that my assessment cycle was heavy on formative assessments and light on any other kind of assessment. I had bellwork, class activities, and homework. I didn’t usually give quizzes, which means the first time students got a chance to really show me what they could do independently was on a test – which, sometimes, was a disaster. I also really hated the message I was sending my students re: independent work and homework. I was saying to my students that homework isn’t important by (1) not checking it, (2) not collecting it until the unit test, (3) weighing it very low in my grading scale, and (4) not making a connection between homework success and test-score success. To my students credit, they also realized that I sometimes assigned homework that they weren’t completely prepared for, which is definitely my fault and definitely not good for creating a positive perception of homework. I’ve always wanted homework to be doable and meaningful for my students. So, after I decided I wanted to use exit tickets instead of homework every day, I realized I could be much more careful about my homework assignments and make them much more meaningful than before. I decided to assign homework once or twice a unit and have it include problems that I felt every student should be able to do by this point in time – for example, after a 4-day introduction to a unit with bellwork and exit tickets every day, assign homework with several similar problems for them to complete independently. They would need very minimal guidance except on a few stretch problems. It should contain at least 10-15 problems – something meaningful and worth their time. I decided to make the due-dates a few days long and, if possible, include a weekend.
I’ve done 4 homework assignments like this so far this semester and I like it better than before. Students are taking it seriously. They have time to work on it. They are meaningful problems and they care about getting every single one correct (partly because I grade it for correctness). I also feel more comfortable going over the assignment with the class – since I’m not assigning homework as often, I’m okay giving up that class time once a week or so and it reinforces the idea that ‘this must be important since we’re talking about it in class’. They also serve the same function that a low-stakes quiz might serve – I get a better picture of what students know by looking at their independent work. I didn’t have anything like this last semester and it’s been helpful this year.
The one thing I don’t like about the switch from homework to exit ticket (that I did not expect) is that an exit ticket has a time limit – you have 5 minutes to complete it before the bell rings. For some students, this is too short – or, on some days, I’ve planned the exit ticket poorly such that it would take longer to complete than I anticipated. Or, in the rush to finish in the time limit, they make rushed mistakes, which is one of the major areas I’m trying to fix with my students (No! Watch your negative signs! Stop making rushed mistakes!) On days like this, I wish students could take it home and finish it – but, again, I don’t really want to devote time to checking it the next day and I can’t guarantee every student will do it. Instead, I just throw it on the bellwork the next day.
However, what I do like is: I can assign more ‘explain… describe… justify…’ questions as they leave, which I really really like, and leave the ‘solve… define…’ questions for bellwork. I like that my homework now feels like home work – an independent assessment that my students are responsible for without it becoming a crutch for my class. I (as a teacher) will never have a day that is ruined by my students not doing their homework, but they (as students) will have days that are benefited by them doing their homework.
Anyway. I think that’s it. What I want to write about next: a day in the classroom of two teachers I work with who, in my opinion, use homework incredibly effectively and compare their assessment cycle to my assessment cycle.
Update: If you found this post while looking for ideas re: exit slips, might I suggest the following two resources as well:
Jason Buell’s Exit Slip Without the Exit: http://alwaysformative.blogspot.com/2012/03/exit-tickets-without-exit.html
Tiered Exit Slips: https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/daily-assessment-with-tiered-exit-cards (This link is also at the bottom of the post above because I stole it from Jason)