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A Favorite Formative Assessment: The Exit Slip

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Editor
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When we think about all the different ways we check for understanding in the classroom, a go-to strategy for many teachers has always been the exit slip or exit ticket. For this strategy, students write at the conclusion of learning, sometimes on a half-sheet of paper with sentence starters provided. It's then collected by the teacher. Why a favorite? Being that they come at the end of a lesson, unit, or segment of study, exit slips give teachers a snapshot of the overall student learning.

Robert Marzano, classroom researcher and education author, recently wrote in depth about this formative assessment. In the article, he shares four uses for exit slips. Students:

  1. Rate their current understanding of new learning.
  2. Analyze and reflect on their efforts around the learning.
  3. Provide feedback to teachers on an instructional strategy.
  4. Provide feedback about the materials and teaching.

An exit slip can also be be a great way to set up the next day's learning. With that in mind, here's a few uses to consider:

Discover Shared Interests

Before introducing a group project that includes student choice, students can respond to a strategic question via an exit slip, sharing their primary topics of interest and their reasons.

Activate Prior Knowledge

Instead of taking time during class to create a concept/topic map, you can provide students with the concept or topic word at the end of class, activating their prior knowledge, and have them write words and phrases related to it on their half sheet of paper. When they come into the classroom the next day, they will see all their ideas displayed around the main word or phrase. This brainstorm also serves as a diagnostic check for the teacher.

The Start of an Essay

The low-stakes nature and end-of-class urgency of the exit slips creates a space for students to write quickly, jotting down all that they know about something. You could ask, for example, "Tell me all that you believe to be (a character's) motivation for ______ in the book________." Students write and write for several minutes. You can hand it back to them the next day, telling them they have a start to their first draft of a character analysis essay.

Surveying Students

Use the exit slip to survey students on a current issue or hot button topic related to them (i.e. curfew, cellphone use at school). The data can be used to launch a lesson on the art of debate, or start a unit on argumentative writing ("75% of the class agrees that...").

The beauty of the exit slip is that it puts the learning in the students' hands. It's also empowering for them when they see what they have shared influence what and how they are taught the next day.

We'd love to hear your ideas. How do you use exit slips in your classroom?

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Susan Weikel Morrison's picture
Susan Weikel Morrison
Science Education Program Developer, Sci-Q Systems

The more I think about it, the more I like this idea! I hadn't really heard about it before. I do space sciences presentations at schools, so asking students to write me letters about what they learned can be very useful - for me to see how they responded and for them when they receive my feedback to their letters.

But a caveat: I have the time to do this. This is not something a teacher with 200 - 300 students can do frequently. Nor can a teacher with a self contained class of 30 students do this with every subject every day.

Elizabeth Lowe's picture

I had a University professor who used exit slips to engage students in classes. He required a certain number over a semester; we chose which classes to write about.

While his lectures were already engaging, this was extra motivation to grab onto the information and make it our own. He also took the time to read them and add comments. I recall at least one of my exit slip topics turned into a paper. His comments helped me sort out my thoughts before choosing a writing topic.

I can see how exit slips could be very effective at the high school level, and find it really intriguing to think about how younger students could benefit from this strategy. Thanks for a thought-provoking article.

Kinbrae Bezdicek's picture
Kinbrae Bezdicek
Future English Teacher

In classes that I am currently taking, I have just been introduced to the idea of an exit slip. I think that it is a good way to get ideas that are floating around in a students mind out and onto the page.

I also think that it could be a useful tool, like the blog says, for students to evaluate how well the students retained the information taught that day. It also allows students to join in a conversation about their learning. Students can honestly assess their learning in light of a lesson, and provide the teacher with valuable feedback. I believe that the more students are involved in their education, the more open they are to learning. Exit slips allow for that connection to develop and strengthen over time.

While some students might not be as receptive to exit slips, I think that if you give students options on how to approach exit slips, they will be more open to the task.

Isaac D. Van Wesep's picture
Isaac D. Van Wesep
I am the co-founder of Design by Educators and the software Quick Key

This is a great post, and I am glad it references other writing showing real evidence of the effectiveness of formative assessment.

My co-founder is a veteran teacher who spent two hours grading 90 exit tickets, each weekday. It was way too much time to spend, even though the resulting data was useful. Unless one is teaching in a successfully-implemented 1:1 school, getting real DATA in your exit tickets requires grading paper assessments. This is a major problem for the 99% of world teachers who do NOT teach in 1:1 environments. I won't plug our company's product here. But am I right that this is road-block to daily formatives?

zep's picture
Education Specialist

Many of my colleagues are no longer interested in formal formative assessments of any form, conversations with kids, who some may label a form of formative assessment is a wondrous practice, though those who I know who make this an on-going practice would absolutely not look at it as assessment of any kind, rather they would consider it the privilege of sharing space with a fellow human being, child or adult, and taking advantage of the opportunity to converse, absolutely no judgments of any kind.

Mark Stribling's picture

This blog has been eye-opening for me. I am a substitute teacher in grades K-12. I have had teachers ask me to give exit tickets. I understand that they are formative assessments. My planning horizon for a class is not the same as a regular classroom teacher. Generally, I am in a given class one day. Exit tickets have not been tools I have tried to use to benefit my teaching.
I am currently a graduate student in education and am presently focusing on formative assessments. The information in this blog and the responses has really opened my eyes. An exit ticket can be whatever I want or need it to be. It is hard to believe that I have all but ignored their potential. Entry tickets never crossed my mind before. I have a couple of long term sub assignments coming up soon. I can't wait to try some of these new ideas.

Garrett Fernquist's picture

In my classroom we use a "Bell Ringer" as an entrance ticket. This thought provoking assessment is intended to measure prior knowledge and also excite the students. At the end of class, students complete an exit slip focusing on the skills previously taught. I was interested to read in other posts about using the exit slip as a reflective piece. I can't wait to try this great idea with my students.

When I first began teaching I looked at the exit slips as one more thing to remember. Once I became comfortable using them, and aware of their usefulness, they became a regular part of all my lessons. My students have accepted them as part of the lesson and look forward to sharing their knowledge with me. I would encourage any teacher to utilize the exit slip strategy with their student and see the results.

Kristen Garavaglia's picture

My colleagues and I have begun to use exit slips occasionally in our high school Algebra 2 classes. With 150 or more students, we have to keep it simple! We usually have the students solve a problem on a sticky note and stick it to the board on their way out. Then, we quickly sort it into three groups of completely correct, mostly correct, or way off. This allows us to see, in general, how the students are doing with that day's material. It also allows us to look for common mistakes and misconceptions. The problem with our method is that it is purely for our own purposes as teachers. Part of effective formative assessment includes providing immediate and individual feedback to students, which would make our process much more time consuming. Does anyone have tips for quick and effective ways to provide feedback to students using exit slips?

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Editor

Hi Kristen Garavaglia,

That is a lot of students-- and certainly a challenge to provide them all with feedback! One suggestion: look for patterns in their errors and then you can provide feedback to that specific group of students the next day. It sounds like you are co-teaching? If so, one of you can take the handful of students aside and address the common error(s) that you observed from "mostly correct" pile from the day before. The ones that were "way off" can be individually addressed, if possible, by the other teacher. Some days, you may have a pretty large stack of "way off" answers (I know I did!) When this is the case, you can look for patterns of errors there and create a re-teaching lesson for the whole class the next day.

The reality is that it's often not possible to address each individual students' needs that we observe from the data found in daily exit slips. Finding patterns of errors to address to small groups and the whole group the next day is a way you can use that data to provide effective feedback.

Hope this helps!


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