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.
The approach was simple: Draw a picture of a log on the board and a rabbit on a piece of paper and then place the rabbit in different positions in relation to the log. This would draw out the use of prepositions—“the rabbit is on the log” versus “the rabbit is in the log” or “the rabbit is beside the log.” It sounded like a sensible approach.
I went into the class and did 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.
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 started by reviewing what we had done around prepositions the day before, and she saw several confused and puzzled faces among the students.
“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 make sure the students understood what a preposition was.
The following day she said to me, “I think you might need to review prepositions again,” and recounted what had happened.
That experience served as a major aha moment to me as a young teacher—I realized I needed to have some way of assessing what students were learning both as the class was unfolding and at the completion of class. So I started using exit cards—3x5 notecards for students to write down something they had learned.
I used a variety of prompts, such as a word, a question, a phrase, a haiku, a quote, a picture, etc. I gained invaluable daily data through the exit cards and recognized how critical frequent assessment is to ensuring understanding. I used the results to figure out next steps and to revisit a topic that didn’t quite hit the mark.
Digital Media Exit Cards
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 short video posted to MixBit, a video sharing tool
• A tweet that boils down the essence of the class to 140 characters
• A photo illustrating the key learning moment 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 it in an effective, succinct, compelling manner.
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 and mobile devices are perfect resources for breaking down the walls of the classroom, gathering immediate feedback on learning, and sharing learning 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.