The Power of the Exit Ticket

2011 Symposium2

Exit tickets are a helpful and efficient tool for assessing student learning. While you (should) have communicated your objective and expectations for students at the beginning of the lesson, and while students may have completed all work that you assigned for them to do during the lesson, none of this gives is a reliable indicator of what students take with them in terms of learning from your class. For example, you might rehearse a piece and find that by the end of the lesson, the class can perform it up to your expectations. But you don’t necessarily know what they learned from doing so. Did they sing or play from rote? Did they acquire any understanding of the structure or expressiveness of the music? Even more interesting, what did they learn from what they did in your class that you did not plan for them to learn, and and aren’t even aware that they did learn? If you have never explored the unplanned learning that takes place in your classroom, I urge you to do so. It can be surprising and helpful to know what they are really learning in your class.

Here is an example of what the exit ticket can tell you. Exit tickets are just a slip of paper on which students write a summarizing statement of their learning for the day. It can be as simple as “what did you learn about rhythm today?” Students take five minutes or less to answer the question, and then leave it in a tray or designated spot near the exit as they leave your room. If you travel to a classroom to teach, have the students pass them in just before you leave. For a recent seventh grade lesson that was centered around a bucket drumming activity, I used the question I just mentioned for the exit slip: “what did you learn about rhythm today?” Below I have listed the responses I received from one of the classes.

  • Rhythm has to beat a certain way.
  • I learned how to use rhythm on a drum in beats
  • I learned that rhythm can be used with different notes
  • I learned different kinds of rhythms and how to follow more directions
  • When you see a squiggle you pause because it is a rest
  • Music notes can represent different rhythms
  • I learned how to read notes and play the rhythm
  • I learned rhythm can be the whole song by itself
  • I learned that there are many ways to write rhythm notes.
  • Rhythm can be in many forms
  • Rhythm makes a great beat
  • Rhythms are unique and with each specific beat comes with a catchy rhythm.
  • Rhythm can be fun
  • Rhythm is in every note
  • When it comes to multiple people they must work together to sound better.
  • Rhythm can be expressed with many feelings
  • Rhythm has to be practiced
  • I learned about the dot next to one of the notes
  • Rhythm is like a pattern
  • I learned that every beat has a certain type of order

Only a few of these are what I set out to teach that day, but all of them are terrific. My lesson consisted of presenting rhythm patterns on flash cards, explaining the notation where necessary, and having the class clap each card, repeating the ones they had trouble with after I had given them feedback. I then had them learn five rhythm patterns that I quotescover-PNG-35had posted on by bulletin board at the back of the room, and choreography for two of them. The choreography involved moving to the next bucket in the circle, or sliding the bucket to the next person, both done during rests. A student leader decided when they would switch to the next rhythm by dropping a large card with a number 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 on it, indicating which pattern was to be performed. That is all I taught them. It was intended to be primarily a rhythm reading lesson. But look at all the other things they learned. Following directions, rhythm without pitch can be a song, every note has rhythm, the importance of practice, rhythm is orderly. These are great things for students to learn, and even great things for students to apply to other areas of their school work and their lives. Practice, order, and following directions will get you far no matter what you are doing.

There’s another benefit to seeing students’ list of what they learned in a lesson. There are  ideas for other lessons embedded. For example, I can use “rhythm can be expressed with many feelings” to teach expressive intent, which is an anchor standard in the new core arts standards. I want to explore with this student what feelings she found expressed in the rhythms we did, and then let the class create other rhythms that are similar and express the same emotion. I also want to emphasize that structure and organization is what brings order to every beat, and to teach the students how to work with musical structure to organize their composed music. Once they have composed their rhythm music, I want them to realize that unlike a piece of finished visual art, which is ready to present to an audience when the creating is finished, music must be performed after it is created, or else it does not reach an audience. In order for a musical work to be ready to present to an audience, it must be practiced, and when a group of people are performing the work together, it takes a special kind of practice that includes following directions of the composer, the conductor if there is one, and of collaborating with each other to arrive at an interpretation, and at technical proficiency. I can also teach how musicians know when a musical work is ready to present to an audience, which is again from the core arts standards.

You see how these statements left by students on their exit tickets are valuable to future lesson planning, and in getting a clearer picture of where my students are, what approach to learning they are taking, and how I connect with more precision my own teaching to where they are in the learning process. Having students write down what they learned also helps them leave your class realizing that they actually did learn something, and that there was a purpose to all the fun they had. With that kind of effective closure, students are apt to approach music class more seriously, and with higher expectations of both the importance of what they will be doing, and that they will in fact learn something substantive, beyond just singing songs or playing instruments. They will know what they are learning and what they are able to do as a result of being in your class. While the teacher should know this and plan for this, it is at least just as important for students to be clear on this too.


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