Jay Altman describes a lesson taught by the maths teacher in Boston whose students achieved the best value-added scores in the state. Students entered, listened, practised, wrote exit tickets and left. Surprised, Altman asked what the teacher was doing differently: the teacher responded that he examined the exit tickets and helped any student who had struggled to master the lessons’s content. That afternoon.
Imitating a feedback loop achieved in a Boston charter proved challenging in a British comprehensive. But the fundamental idea – frequent assessment of student understanding and rapid action – is incredibly powerful. Moreover, introducing exit seems to have a transformative effect on teachers, modifying their sense of students’ understanding and hence of the best actions they can take. After attending to careful setting of objectives, introducing exit tickets may be the most powerful change a teacher can make.
In discussing mastery learning (a relatively well-evidenced approach promoted by the EEF Toolkit), the authors mention it entails breaking:
“learning content into units with clearly specified objectives which are pursued until they are achieved”.
This approach requires some frequent measure of exit tickets, like exit tickets. Key features needed are:
“setting clear objectives and providing feedback… a high level of success, at least 80%, should be required before pupils move on”.
As to the transformative nature of exit tickets, in discussing feedback, one of its two highest-rated strategies, the EEF mentions that:
Feedback redirects or refocuses either the teacher’s or the learner’s actions to achieve a goal, by aligning effort and activity with an outcome.
More fundamentally, exit tickets provide a straight answer to a simple question we should be desperate to answer each lesson: what did students learn?
Having discussed, recommended and trained new teachers to use exit tickets, I felt it was time to write about them. Most recently, having worked on a professional development course with some great English teachers adopting and refining exit tickets, I wanted to summarise the training I provided, share example exit tickets from various subjects, and share some of what we learned.
Simple, simple planning
At simplest, a lesson could be planned by creating:
- Lesson objectives
- An exit ticket
- Teaching to get between 1 and 2.
The strength of this approach is that we are pushed to plan from objectives, rather than from activities. We shift from asking:
- “What will I have students do this lesson?”
- “What do I want students to know by the end of this lesson?”
Instead of thinking ‘I’ll hold a debate’, ‘students will make posters’, or ‘we’ll write an essay’, our choices derive from what we want to achieve and how we will measure it. (This, in turn, rests on having a carefully planned curriculum and scheme of work).
Creating objectives and exit tickets is more important than the body of the lesson: the exit ticket will allow you to check if your approach worked. As Doug Lemov puts it in Teach Like a Champion 2.0:
You’ll know how effective your lesson was, as measured by how well they learned it, not how well you thought you taught it.”
Understanding these ideas was my way of finally acting upon something I’d heard many times from teacher trainers: ‘Give teachers a piece of paper to plan a lesson from. The effective ones will start writing at the bottom.’
A prerequisite for good exit tickets: good objectives
A good exit ticket is tightly aligned to the objectives of the lesson and the curriculum. So a necessary prerequisite is a well-framed lesson objective, which:
- Focuses on the curriculum
- Uses economy of language
- Has a specific, measurable aim
This also forces us to confront the vagueness of our goals. Take the line below from the Swedish national curriculum, which expects pupils to be familiar with ‘Numbers in fraction and decimal form, and their use in everyday situations’. In reality, it is a little more complicated:
Carefully choosing objectives therefore includes clearly setting out what level of understanding we expect students to reach.
In training teachers, I advocate a simple set of objectives, based on bronze, silver and gold. You can take your pick how you choose to formulate them though, as long as they are clear and specific. This also entails artificially narrowing fascinating topics into chunks which can be taught in a lesson. For example:
Some teachers protest at this point that a single lesson incorporates many different goals and ideas, and that these can’t possibly be reduced to one objective: ‘Students will be learning Act I Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet, debating themes of the play and writing a letter summarising their thoughts’. The implication of this range of aims is that no one assessment can possibly capture everything students are learning in one lesson.
I’d contend that if we want students to get better at any of these three objectives, we should prioritise one. Muddling through – spending ten minutes each on three different aspects of the lesson – and failing to check students’ success on any objective limits what students can learn and leaves us ignorant of what they have learned. Better to let students concentrate on understanding the scene this lesson, and focus on the conventions of letter-writing next lesson. Better to maintain simplicity and check our success.
Many teachers I’ve worked with on this have noted that focusing on exit tickets actually led them to spend much more time formulating lesson objectives – this is one reason why I think focusing on exit tickets can be transformative for teachers.
Designing good exit tickets
With a clear objective – or with the goal of refining objectives over time – we can design exit tickets. An exit ticket will make a simple, 3-5 minute task for the end of the lesson, which will tell us whether students have understood the lesson’s objectives. A good exit ticket must:
- Include all aspects of the lesson
- Differentiate accurately between levels of understanding
- Be swift to answer
- Be swift to mark
In this light, I try to avoid exit tickets like ‘Write 3 things you’ve learned, 2 things you already knew, 1 thing you’d like to find out’. The looseness of the first question makes it unlikely that you’ll find out whether students understood the key aspects of the lesson.
In discussion, our group of English teachers repeatedly debated the extent to which structure is helpful in exit tickets. I think there’s merit in offering hints as to the kind of response you expect: ‘Include three points from the text in your response’. On the other hand, in my own work using exit tickets in history I’ve tended to use open questions like ‘How did the Tudor kings increase their power?’ to help students learn how to approach history questions. So perhaps the answer is to gradually remove structure over time.
Teachers were unanimous that limiting space for writing helped students respond in a focused way – and would encourage other teachers to use them. In the same spirit, formulating a single question incorporating the whole lesson, or two or three sums or grammar points, makes exit tickets manageable and markable.
Whether an exit ticket is a separate slip of paper, a paragraph or set of answers in an exercise book is a matter of taste and convenience: it certainly shouldn’t add more work to the lesson. So a teacher may choose one paragraph of a piece of extended writing, or a particular question students have answered, and treat it as an exit ticket.
Examples of exit tickets
Below are example exit tickets I’ve used in training in maths, biology, physics, English language and literature. Some of them are in subjects I’ve never taught, but I found so few examples online, I thought they might prove useful. If you can point me towards better collections, please do. All seek to exemplify the simplicity of an exit ticket and the clear links to objectives.
How best to respond to exit tickets?
In training teachers, I have moved towards fewer techniques, more focus on implementation and more practice. Carefully-designed exit tickets just leave you with 100 or 150 slips of paper. Kate Allam described coming to see exit tickets more as aids to planning the next lesson than assessments of the previous one; Rowan Pearson analogised exit tickets to tuning forks, not the end of one lesson, or the beginning of the next, exit tickets pinch the two together.
So how to pinch the two lessons together. On looking through exit tickets, it may be that:
a) All students got the answer right: recycle the exit tickets – students have ‘got it’, you can move on, the exit tickets are no longer needed.
b) All students got the answer wrong: recycle the exit tickets – students haven’t ‘got it’, you will need to reteach.
c) Some students got it right, some got it wrong (the most likely outcome): you could
- Briefly revise key points in a starter.
- Share a model student answer and discuss what makes it good.
- Share a partial student answer and improve it together.
- RAG mark the exit tickets and have students revise or extend their work accordingly.
- Sit down with those students who’ve struggled at an appropriate part of the lesson.
- Group students according to the task which is the most suitable next step.
- Pair students with answers at different levels and ask them to compare the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Whatever you choose to do, it shouldn’t take very long. Of the options above, number 6, grouping students by task, is likely to prove onerous, and I’d be unlikely to do it.
Whatever your preferences, it seems important to be:
- Utilitarian – seeking the greatest good for the greatest number
- Opportunist – picking up ideas and misconceptions as you find them
- Efficient – keeping things simple and brief
- Mastery-oriented – seeking to get every student to a key level of understanding
If you choose to RAG mark the exit tickets, you can also use this to track how well students are doing over time – either with a particular aspect of learning, or over time. As Kate Allam noted with enthusiasm, it sounds like extra work, but you’re likely to reap the rewards.
The other aspect which I emphasise in training is the importance of being upbeat and positive when returning to the last lesson’s content – even if students really struggled. Going back to the previous lesson is not a punishment, for you or for students – it is a chance to improve and to understand fully.
The link with hinge questions
I’m baffled now, belatedly, as to why I started improving my teaching using hinge questions, not exit tickets. Hinge questions are amazing, but they are spectacularly hard to use: you have to respond to what you have learned about student understanding on the spot. Exit tickets give you 24 hours breathing space to work out what students have understood and plan accordingly. I’ve come to see hinge questions as identical to exit tickets, just pulled earlier in the learning process and shaped even more narrowly around specific misconceptions. I now see exit tickets are ‘entry level’ assessment and hinge tickets as the next step once exit tickets are working well.
Against exit tickets…
There are two obvious complaints about exit tickets I’d like to head off here:
This can be a lot of marking (although as the options above suggest, it need not be). I was struck by Jo Facer’s recent, superb post described loving marking and her learning to stop entirely. It’s a compelling approach, but I’d argue that the essence of what Jo is doing is aligned to what I’m trying to describe here: she reads students’ books once or twice a week:
As I read, I make notes: spellings lots are getting wrong, things they’re all doing well at, and the main issues they need to improve. I note down anyone whose paragraph is amazing to reward with merits or show the class; I note down anyone whose work is messy to give a demerit to.”
Examining exit tickets is just the same as what Jo is advocating – the important thing is that, for limited time costs, the teacher know what students are understanding and where they’re struggling. I like exit tickets, and I suspect they are more palatable in schools than not marking, but the key thing is the engagement with student work as an aid to planning.
David Didau has repeatedly contended that all forms of Assessment for Learning are invalid, since we can never really know how much students understand. It’s quite true that knowing something at the end of a lesson does not mean we will know it for all time: we forget what we learn rapidly, and we must plan for this, as I’ve discussed here. Far better, however, to know what students understood in the lesson – however fleeting that may be – than not to check at all.
The last word on exit tickets…
Rowan Pearson described half a term working on exit tickets as having converted him, from seeing them as “gimmicky add-ons”, “quite faddy and an accountability measure”, to something “central to the lesson” that you can “use in your week-to-week planning”.