I am positive many of you experience similar dinner conversations:
Parent: Johnny, tell us what you learned in school today.
Parent: Surely your eminent English teacher enlightened you about some luminescent literary concept.
Johnny: Stop calling me Shirley! And why can’t you speak English?
Parent: Johnny, I did not call you Shirley. I said surely. Oh, never mind. What did you learn in English class today?
Johnny: He only talked about some dumb jokes called buns. But, they weren’t funny. Speaking of buns, can I have another hamburger?
Johnny: No, I want a bun for my hamburger. Wow, parents are stupid.
The latest initiative in education is to have students give feedback on what they learned from the day’s lesson. We are calling it Exit Tickets. In the 20th century I called them quizzes and writing assignments. Alas, some entertaining Elizabethan bard said it best: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet” (Romeo and Juliet 2.2.1-2).
Don’t get me wrong. Finding out if students are mastering a concept is important. I have been given many new resources and ideas to help me be a better teacher. My umbrage comes from the excitement and enthusiasm from curriculum and administration leaders who seem to think this “new” idea is better than sliced bread.
Last week I had students completing vocabulary exercises in small groups of their own choosing. The exercises were using context clues to complete sentences, figuring out synonyms and antonyms, and analogies. My exit ticket questions were:
- How did working in small groups help you learn and understand the vocabulary words?
- How confident do you feel for the vocabulary quiz on Monday?
- How long do you plan to study for the quiz?
- How will you study?
Here are some of the responses to the first question:
- Working in groups helped me to expand ideas and see a different point of view. (Looks like a future politician’s response, doesn’t it?)
- The group helped explain to me my answers. (Future one-party voter.)
- It helped me because I got to see what other people thought the answer was and sometimes they were right. (Not quite husband material. Once married, he will realize the other person is always right.)
- Two brains are better than one. When you work with others, you can think up answers easier. (Does this mean the other person thinks of the correct answer?)
- Is it really working together if you do the work and everyone copies from you? (No, but the lazy kids all wrote that they liked working in a group.)
- I don’t think this was helpful. I felt that we got off task too easily, and one person would just shout out the answer before we got to do it first. (Interesting, the rest of his group liked the competitiveness of yelling out the answer first.)
- It was more fun to work with a group. (What? Fun in school?)
- It helped me hear how other people think of the words and how they remember the words. (Excellent – the sharing of mnemonic devices.)
- I prefer not to work in groups because I feel it holds me back from doing my best. (Didn’t Thomas Jefferson take a five-person committee’s outline and write the first draft of the Declaration of Independencepretty much on his own?)
- If I am working with friends, I don’t accomplish much; however, if I am working with non-friends I accomplish the work.
- I do not think this was helpful because I like to be able to think for myself. (Guess who will love Animal Farm when we read it?)
Most responses to the actual studying for the quiz were the same: review the words and definitions with a parent or friend on Sunday evening for 30 minutes or an hour. However, a few were honest: look the words over during lunch. My favorite response was from the young lady who said she would use a hand puppet to study the words.
To be honest, I knew most of these answers prior to the exit ticket. I walked around the room and observed the students. I saw the kids who preferred to work alone. I saw the kids who were having a blast, yet were off task. I confiscated the Algebra homework being copied. I noticed the group of boys competing to figure out the correct answer. I saw the group relying on one kid to do all of the work. I heard the two girls creating songs to remember the words.
Don’t get me wrong. The exit ticket can be helpful. After all, I would have never learned about the puppets without it. However, observation is just as important.
What did I learn? The next time, I am going to assign groups. A special education teacher I work closely with shared an idea how to create study buddies. I love working with special-education teachers. They are way smarter than I am. I guess that is why they are “Special.” I am only a teacher: nothing special here. Perhaps one day I can get a cool adjective added to my title like “Super Sweet Teacher” or “Puntastic Teacher.”