Posted in Exit tickets, Student engagement

Chapter 40: Vandalism

A few years ago, “exit tickets” were all the rage. Not a workshop, conference, or mandatory professional development session went by without a consultant breaking out forms, sticky notes, or giant Post-It pads and demanding that attendees write down something they’d learned before they were allowed to leave.

These well-intentioned assignments were largely useless, because the consultants invariably waited until the last minute to announce that they would be required. If I’m attending a mandatory activity that is scheduled to end at noon, there’s likely to be a long line for lunch, and you wait until 11:59 a.m. to tell me I have to fill out an exit ticket before I can leave, I’m probably not going to give your last-minute assignment a whole lot of thought.

Unfortunately, exit tickets were so popular at conferences and training sessions that administrators picked up on them and began demanding that teachers use them.

The first time I did this, it worked exactly as well as you’d expect. Kids, as it turns out, have even less patience with last-minute busywork than professional educators do, and they were even less inclined to make any real effort to complete the assignment, so I added exit tickets to the list of party tricks I’d ignore most of the time but break out on days when the brass was visiting and I needed to put on a good dog-and-pony show.

Still, when the brass did visit, I needed the kids to give the illusion that they were all in for exit tickets. One of the fastest ways to get students on board with an activity is to let them think they’re being terribly subversive by doing it — so instead of handing out sticky notes or preprinted forms, I handed out dry-erase markers and told the kids to write their exit tickets directly on their smooth-topped desks.

We were doing an assignment over connotation and denotation, so five minutes before the end of class, I asked the kids to clear their desks and write a definition for the word “connotation” in their own words.

They were all in. Why?

First, I was asking them to do the assignment on my time, not theirs.  Second, and more importantly: Writing on paper is work. Writing on a desk is vandalism. How often do you get carte blanche to vandalize school property?

Bonus: If you teach multiple sections of the same subject, this hour’s exit ticket can serve as next hour’s anticipatory set.