In my first year of teaching English, I had to teach prepositions to sixth graders. I fumbled around for an entry point and reached out to a more seasoned colleague, who suggested that I employ the analogy of the rabbit and the log.
He said the approach was simple: draw a picture of a log and a rabbit on the board, and place the rabbit at different positions in relation to the log. This would draw out the use of prepositions. For example, "The rabbit is on the log." It sounded like a sensible approach.
The Rabbit-and-Log Syndrome
I went into the class and did as exactly as he had explained. The engagement of the students was off the charts. Kids were jumping out of their seats to place the rabbit in relation to the log. They seemed to be really getting it and understanding prepositions. I couldn't believe how easy this was.
I finished the class feeling rather good about myself and reported back to my colleague, who was equally pleased.
The next day, I had to leave early to coach a soccer game, so I asked my department chair if she could cover my class. She was happy to do so. She started by reviewing what we had done around prepositions the day before, and began by reminding the class of the topic of prepositions. She saw several confused and puzzled faces among the students. She too grew confused. "What's wrong?" she asked. One of the students replied, "We didn't learn anything about prepositions yesterday. We learned about rabbits and logs."
She chuckled and then moved into the lesson to drill down on prepositions to make sure the students understood what a preposition meant.
She approached me in a kind and gentle manner the following day and said, "I think you might need to review prepositions again," as she recounted what had happened in the class she taught.
That experience served as a major "aha" moment to me as a young teacher. I realized that I needed to have some way of assessing what students were learning both as the class was unfolding and at the completion of class.
This is the moment when I started using exit cards, a 3x5 notecard for students to write down something they had learned.
I used a variety of prompts, such as one word, a question, a phrase, a haiku, a quote, a picture, etc. I gained so much invaluable daily data through the exit card and recognized how critical frequent assessment is to ensuring understanding.
I pooled the data from the exit cards to figure out next steps and to revisit a topic that didn't quite hit the mark.
The Digital Media Exit Card
Today, with the explosion of digital media, teachers have so many tools at their disposal for this kind of assessment. What would a digital media exit card look like? Here are some possibilities that utilize mobile devices:
- A six-second Vine video to capture the most critical six seconds of class
- A 16-second video to post to MixBit, YouTube's new video sharing tool
- A tweet that boils down the essence of the class to 140 characters
- A photo illustrating the key learning moment that can then be posted on a class Instagram account
- A question posted to a class Edmodo account inviting a continuation of the learning outside of class
The key 21st century skill in all of these approaches is synthesis, the ability to cut to the essence of an idea or concept and communicate in an effective, succinct, compelling manner.
In a recent NPR piece, Daniel Hajek writes, "Try telling a story in six seconds. With the social media app Vine, owned by Twitter, users are doing just that. They're creating everything from artistic pieces to random comedy sketches in six-second videos that loop endlessly."
The goal of this mini-storytelling is "to get people talking," as Ron Faris from Virgin Mobile shares in the same NPR story.
For teachers, the key is how to get the learning to spill out of the classroom and continue the conversation. As the school year starts, digital tools via mobile devices are a perfect resource for breaking down the walls of the classroom, gathering immediate feedback on learning, and sharing in social media communities.
And digital exit cards can help teachers take the pulse of what kids are learning, avoiding the rabbit-and-log syndrome of kids missing the mark on a lesson.
What are some ways that you can use "digital media exit cards" to keep the learning conversation going this year?