If there’s anything that music standards have done to help me improve my teaching over the years, it is to get me beyond singing songs and playing instruments to teaching musical concepts, skills, and processes through singing songs and playing instruments. In other words, standards have taught me that the song is not the objective, it is the means through which the objective will be taught and learned. Part of seeing that students meet the objectives I have set for them is to have a way of knowing what they have remembered and learned as a result of each class, and what they intend to do with what they have learned. If all students leave my class with is a good time, then they will not value music learning the way I want them to. If I find that students are not growing in musicianship, including all of the processes in the new core arts standards for music, then I must revisit how I am planning and teaching my lessons. Just because students are enjoying themselves in class does not mean that they are learning what I hope they are learning. Yet because much of what I do with them in class is not written, and takes place in ways that are not easily observable, I need a way of finding out what is going on “inside” my students emotionally, attitudinally, and intellectually. Though not unfailingly reliable, because not all of this learning can be observed or even accurately described by the students in words, I find that the exit ticket is a useful tool in assessing both my students’ learning and the effectiveness of my teaching.
An exit ticket is a quick, expedient way of assessing learning at the end of a lesson. It creates closure for the student, provides data for the teacher, and even helps focus lesson planning when I consider that there must be something concise, relevant, and apparent that students have learned and will know they have learned at the end of the class. Because this is a quick check and not a formal quiz or test, I keep my exit ticket short and focused. It includes three questions: What did you do in music class today? What music things did you learn form doing what you did in music class today? What is the next step you will take with the music things you did and learned in music class today? It is readily apparent that the questions build on each other. First, I’m asking the student to think back over what they did. “I named the notes in the first phrase of the melody of “Trepak,” I found those notes on a piano keyboard, and I practiced playing the melody.” So far there is no indication of what the student learned, only of what s/he did, but I want the student to connect what they did with the benefit that came from it, so calling to mind what they did first is important.
Next, the student tells me what they learned from doing what s/he did. “I learned that the keyboard notes are alphabetical from left to right, and to look for notes that are the same so I don’t have to keep figuring out what they are.” I’d be happy with that answer, but not with this one: “I learned to play a song on the piano.” While it’s good this student can now play a song he or she couldn’t before the class, there’s no indication that s/he met the objective, which was to play the melody at a steady beat. There was no indication of this in the first answer either, but there were other things that are valuable mentioned that the student did learn, and which I can use to advance the student closer to being able to play the song with a steady beat.
The last question is critical, yet easy to overlook. I want my students to plan on using what they have learned in my class. The answer to this question doesn’t have to be what I hope for them, although it could be. If a student wants to learn another song they didn’t think they could ever play before today, but now think they can, that’s a great next step. If the student wants to teach a sibling how to play the melody on the piano, that’s also a great next step. This question leads students into finding a connection, a relevance, and most of all a value in their learning. Without this, what I teach my students won’t have a lasting impact on them; and while they may think their education is only for the present, I strongly believe that their education is also for their future success and happiness. Using an exit ticket is a relatively new strategy for me, so if you have one you’ve been using and found success with, let me know.