Sometimes we are unsure how well a topic has been received or understood by the class. We don’t want to wait until they can’t do their homework, which you don’t find out about until they come into your next lesson, to do something about this. Collecting a quick snapshot from every student about their level of understanding can be really valuable to help preparation for the next lesson. Sometimes I have asked for a ‘thumbs up’ signal to ascertain a student’s feelings. This has its own problems as there will always be the odd student who is overly confident, convinced they understand things that they really don’t, or there will be those that want to please you by telling you everything is fine when it really isn’t. Sometimes there is the occasional student who doesn’t care and just wants to leave the class and is worried that if they admit they don’t understand you will keep them behind. One way around these problems is providing students with an exit card.
The idea behind using exit cards is that each student spends a few minutes completing an exit card that the teacher has provided for them at the end of the lesson. The exit card is then presented to the teacher as the students leave. The exit cards can have a few short, carefully chosen questions to help gauge understanding of the key learning objectives from the lesson. The exit card is completed by each student individually (you hope – keep your eyes peeled!) If you mark the exit cards before the next lesson, this gives you time to identify common misconceptions as well as the level of understanding from each individual. If everyone gets the question(s) on the exit card correct, be happy they have understood the objectives. If everyone gets it wrong, you know that you need to go through it again next time. If some students get it wrong, then intervention can take place at the right time. Some things can happen before your next lesson, e.g. sending relevant students the full solution (if it is just a small error), emailing a video/website link (if they have gaps in their learning that a video/maths website could help with) or suggesting that students chat to a friend who did understand it. You can deal with other things in your next lesson, e.g. preparing some more examples and questions differentiated to deal with the results of the exit cards.
OK, so this is extra marking, which none of us want; however, the payback can be extremely powerful. You have the opportunity for frequent assessment and rapid targeted intervention, and so the result of this can be a faster increase in the number of students with mastery of the topics.
The best exit cards will be specific and have a measureable aim. I suggest two or three short questions which incorporate the main learning objectives from the lesson. Students should be able to answer them in under five minutes (two or three minutes is ideal), and they should not be too onerous or time consuming for you to mark or provide feedback on. They could be printed on paper or card, or they could be questions from the board that students do in the back of their books.
There are times when you may want to use alternative approaches. Other ideas for exit cards are:
- Students list something that they have not understood from that lesson or from recent topics. (Good when preparing for a test.)
- Students write a question and full solution based on something new that they have learned today. (Not as powerful for ascertaining understanding and quite onerous to mark, but this still has a use. Questions can be swapped at the start of another lesson. This can be good when you don’t have an exit card planned and you want to keep students in the good habit of completing an exit card each lesson or week.)
- Students write a sentence to explain their new learning. (This is often too vague to really find out whether they have understood what you want them to understand, but can occasionally serve a purpose).
Debbie Barton is a teacher, examiner and maths consultant with over 20 years’ experience. She’s written a number of books including Complete Mathematics for Cambridge Secondary 1. She also worked as a Gifted and Talented trainer and is passionate about ensuring able students are challenged with exciting stimulus.