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By Morgan Stipe posted 05-28-2019 09:26


I would imagine it’s pretty difficult to plan a lesson without a goal in mind. Is it even possible? As educators, we’re constantly thinking about goals. What is the goal of this unit, lesson, activity? Did my students meet their goal? What do I do if they don’t meet today’s goal? What do I do if they show mastery?

I believe in the power of backward planning, planning with the end goal in mind. When planning lessons in a unit, it’s useful to keep a copy of the summative assessment nearby. The lessons are the journey to get to the ultimate goal: mastery on the final assessment. Keeping that end goal in mind keeps me on track and moves the students in the direction toward mastery. This kind of backward planning works in the short-term too!

At the beginning of each lesson I share the lesson goals with my students in their terminology, as long as it doesn’t give away too much information. So, I might share with my students about writing expressions with fewer terms; I would avoid sharing a goal about specific rules with multiplying and dividing integers if it’s our first day of investigation and discovery. To conclude a lesson, after synthesizing and before a formative assessment, we’ll revisit those goals. I might ask them to write and reflect on one of the goals. Or sometimes they describe their level of understanding with their thumbs—thumb-up if they’re confident, thumb-sideways if they’re on the way to understanding, thumb-down when confused. This gives me a quick picture of what we accomplished in a class period. On the first day of learning a new concept, I am comfortable with a larger number of sideways thumbs… Progress and processing are okay!

If you give your learners a formative assessment, such as an exit ticket, at the end of almost every class like I do, the task should, most times, represent the level of mastery—the goal—to keep in mind in teaching and planning.

I invite my students into the evaluation process of formative assessments. I ask them to reflect on their learning and mastery. After completing an exit ticket, I ask the mathematicians to think about their level of understanding. They place the half-sheet of paper in one of four labeled baskets:

  1. Even with help, I still don’t understand.
  2. I’m starting to get it, but I need some help.
  3. I‘ve got this! I can show that I understand.
  4. I am confident in my understanding. Ask me anything!

Some teachers have used this idea with colored folders on the wall. Others have asked students to reflect and evaluate their understanding on the back of the exit ticket form. Do what works best for your learners and your classroom! Please use my labels or posters linked here… Don’t reinvent the wheel. Alternatively, if you’ve gone to a more digital approach, a linear scale with labels on either end would do the trick!

This quick and simple routine tells quite a story of my students’ learning before I have even considered their mathematical work and thinking. If I have a large number of exit tickets in the second basket, my students most likely did not achieve mastery for the lesson goals, or maybe they don’t feel very confident in their understanding. A couple of times this school year I’ve had all papers from a section of my math class in the fourth basket! That doesn’t mean that every student had submitted a perfect formative assessment, but they were definitely on the right track. A big goal for myself as an educator of young, squirrely middle school mathematicians is to move them along the path toward becoming more confident learners that take risks in their learning. What a message these formative assessment baskets send me about the confidence levels of these young mathematicians!

Handing back daily exit tickets has been helpful for my students. Sometimes I am able to provide some pretty awesome feedback. Quality feedback can move students ahead a big step toward mastery of a skill, or it can at least move them in the right direction. At the 2018 Iowa Math Conference, I attended a session with Sharon Rendon about feedback. She spoke about how “feedback should ‘feed forward’ student learning,” for students of all levels of understanding. How can you leave feedback that moves all learners forward in their thinking and mathematical understanding? What a profound and deep idea to consider! This is something I’m still mulling over and trying to develop in myself and in my teaching craft. “Great work!” or a star drawn at the top doesn’t always cut it. Keep extending the thinking of all learners when given the opportunity!

Sometimes, I don’t have time to give the feedback like I would prefer. Or, maybe I notice that a majority of my students made the same mistake. It could also be that one of my students showed exemplary work that could spark something in other learners in their math journey. In these cases I throw in another activity, like My Favorite No, My Favorite Rough Draft, or My Favorite Whoa, featuring the anonymous work from the previous day’s formative. Students are given the chance to reflect on the displayed work, and they also have the opportunity to revise and refine their own thinking.

Planning with the end goal in mind is a game-changer. Involving students in the evaluating process promotes metacognition and paints a picture of the levels of mastery and confidence of the learners. More often than not, students are correct in their reflections and thinking! Use those self-evaluations and formative assessments to reflect and drive your instruction. What a difference it will make!

#formativeassessments #mathchat #mtbos #iteachmath




02-19-2020 15:28

Thank you for sharing! I am a huge fan of "exit tickets" and I love the way that you have organized the tickets it is very unique! I am so excited to apply this strategy in my future classroom.

10-23-2019 10:39

Thank you for sharing such a descriptive example of the use of your exit tickets.  I am currently student teaching in a seventh grade classroom and my mentor teacher uses exit tickets roughly 2-3 times a week. Her exit tickets are 3-5 questions and the students solve some problems on their iPads of a review that we just did in class.  I think her exit tickets are great but I will be honest when I have my own classroom I might do my exit tickets like yours.  I really like the idea that you create 4 different baskets where students can number their understanding of the lesson you have just taught and explain why.  I think that creates honesty in the students and helps them feel comfortable in expressing their understanding.  Sometimes I feel students say they understand because they are shy or are uncomfortable with their teacher in asking for help.   From your description, it sounds like you have a comfortable teaching classroom which very much helps the growth of your students!

08-22-2019 16:30

Thank you for sharing your work and reflections in this blog post! Formative assessment is definitely a huge influence in student growth. And thank you for sharing your work in the link! I am finding that having a space online to give student feedback also helps with the specific and timely factors that are so important to feedback. I know you mentioned attending some professional learning sessions about formative assessments; have any print resources informed your work?

08-18-2019 21:44

Just starting exit tickets this year. Thanks for the good idea on sorting the tickets!