How do students know what they know? (an effective exit slip)

I remember sitting in class a few (plus!) years ago and at times totally following what was going on. It could have been almost any subject but there were times when it seemed to click. 

At least I thought so.

Then I got home and started the homework. Different story. It just wasn't that clear anymore and I realized that I didn't quite get it the way I thought. This was not exclusive to homework as it also happened at times on quizzes and tests. I thought I had studied enough (which, admittedly was what I always thought) but it did not pan out.

I want my students to avoid this problem and the trick is for them to answer the question: "How do I know when I really know it?" But how?

I recently saw a tweet for a webinar run by Ray Jimenez, who is a great webinar presenter by the way, entitled "Learners Don't Know What They Don't Know." Of course, I was excited to get the long-awaited answer to my question in one interesting hour but, ironically enough, I assumed incorrectly because the topic centered on something a little different.

The traditional exit slip asks the generic question, "How well do you understand today's lesson?" The problem is the same, though. Do they really know? The key to the exit slip (or daily quiz in my class) needs to focus on exposing how well they know the material. It should be a question that shows their understanding, not their opinion of that understanding. 

That question will be a lot less generic than the "How well..?" and therefore more difficult to create, but in the long run it will be one that is far more effective.


  1. T,

    One question that I have been trying is the "Friend from another school" question.

    Right now with my seniors I stop with about four minutes to go and pick a student and say, "Friend from another school asks you about what you're doing in English (or asks you about Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et decorum est," or Yeats' poetry, etc)--what do you say? Two minutes."

    So, I have this talk with two students a day. But I'm thinking about adopting a strategy used by a gifted math teacher, Kelly Lama, called "Think, Pair, Share." What I may do is ask students to THINK for 1 minute about the "Friend from another school" question, discuss for 2 minutes with a partner (PAIR), and then I'll call on one pair to share with the class.

    Reading their "Poetry reading diaries" is giving me some sense of how well they know what we are doing.

    Thanks for this posting--it really gets to central issues about the act of teaching.

  2. Dan,

    Both ideas are perfect to use. It shows understanding and gives others a chance to "check" their understanding with the sharer. I'll try them both and see what works best for my class structure and students.

    I wonder, though - do the others write anything down when they hear what is said? That's an entirely different issue and certainly worth a future post - "How do I get students to actually listen to what their classmates say?" You may save any reply for the actual post or we may end up going in a totally different direction!

    As always, thanks for your incredible insight and comments.

  3. I too like both ideas. Asking students to write down what they would say to the student from another school would promote critical writing, but I don't know if they would really use the time to write critically. Fundamental Five (@LYSNation) requires writing critically daily. I just think we need more time than 5 minutes. I'm continually perplexed with time issues with writing. Anxious to hear more comments

    1. Mona,

      Initially, for some of the younger students (and I am talking about even freshmen in high school), 5 minutes may not be used effectively or well. But with guided practice, I think students may start needing (and even asking for?!) more time to complete their thoughts. I think if they begin to need more time because they are writing so much it is a good indication that we are helping them progress. It's the stages along the way, the levels if you will, that I struggle with conveying. I want them to ask themselves the right questions to lead them to writing critically.

      What are the essential questions students should be asking themselves that will lead to write critically

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