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“Exit Tickets”: A Simple Strategy that Improves Learning
Cory Scott, Upper School English Teacher

Research tells us and experience bears out that the last five minutes of any class can be a challenging time to maintain our students’ attention. Feet shuffle, eyes drift toward the clock, textbooks start sliding into backpacks… and you’ve lost ‘em. Ouch!

Those minutes add up, though, so can we really afford twenty-five minutes of marginalized—if not lost—teaching time a week? Not on your life. Glenn Whitman, co-author of Neuroteach, refers to this loss of instructional time as “a learning travesty” in his chapter entitled “My Best (Research-Informed) Class Ever.”

Enter the exit ticket.

In gearing up to write this article I explained the concept of an exit ticket to my 83-year-old father-in-law: “It’s a quick activity I do at the tail end of a class to get the kids to think back on what and how they learned. The idea is to move the information from their short-term memory to their long-term memory. The activity can be as simple as getting them to pose a question or identify something from the class they found surprising or interesting.”

Then, I dropped the educational M-bomb.

“It’s called metacognition, Bubba.”

I think I lost him there. What I didn’t share with Bubba is that exit tickets are also excellent ways to inform my own teaching and to see what may or may not have worked in any given lesson.

My most recent exit ticket scaffolded on the day’s lesson. After reading The Odyssey’s Invocation of the Muse, students were asked to write their own short entreaty describing a person or character by way of his or her exploits and attributes. Students read their invocations aloud, and anyone who could guess the subject earned a ticket out the door and a spot at the front of the lunch line.

Clearly, exit tickets take many shapes and sizes and vary from discipline to discipline.

Blair Richards, Upper School World Languages Teacher, has two favorite, non-verbal, non-written exit tickets.

The first is her Up/Down assessment: “Students close their eyes and I say a few true or false statements about content or what happened in class that day and if a student thinks that a statement is true they give a thumbs up or false a thumbs down.”

Richards calls her second ticket Scale of 1-5: "On a scale of 1-5 show me with your eyes closed and hands up how you well you feel like you understood today/how well class went for you today/how engaged you were with today's lesson, etc.”

Mark Dewart, Upper School Science Chair, raises a valid and practical point when he relates that sometimes, if there’s a good discussion taking place, you might want to allow it to go to the bell even though his other sections might have completed exit tickets. In that case, he draws on his years of experience in the classroom and adjusts his exit ticket turning it into an entry ticket for the next day’s class meeting.

At Park Tudor, our teachers continue to innovate and bring novel ways to end their classes, which helps encapsulate and solidify the learning for the day. Teaching to the bell, of course, happens, but research reminds us that we need to be more intentional about the ways we finish class, else we risk, like Glenn Whitman says above, wasting a prime time for learning.