Mistake #670: Missing the Landing

[NOTE: This post was inspired by a post on Closure via Exit Tickets by @druinok, who has motivated me to join MTBoS Blaugust2016, a blogging challenge for those of us new to the MTBoS.]

At the beginning of every year, I make a list of goals for myself. For many years in a row, one of those goals has been improving my lesson closure. This is concerning because it belies a much bigger concern: that I’m more content-centered than student-centered. This larger fear stems from the middle years of my career (years 4-9ish), but closure is still an issue for me. First, though, let me explain how the mistakes eventually led to some closure structures that now feel successful.

The name I’ve given to my closure is the Big Idea of the Day (BIotD). At the end of each class, with 3-5 minutes remaining, I ask students to write on a notecard what they feel is the biggest idea from the day’s class. When I look at these BIotD cards, if students are unable to clearly articulate the big idea, it means that I haven’t given them enough opportunity to clarify their thinking on the subject. Maybe they need more time to discuss in their groups or they need a better-worded question to lead their discussion. If they think some ancillary topic was the BIotD, that means I’ve drifted too far (which happens a lot with my tangential way of facilitation) and I haven’t effectively helped them to understand why that day’s topic is more important than other ideas (for some lessons, though, the big idea might not be clear until we get to a later lesson–for example, with Sine of a Sum).

One of the first reasons I’ve struggled with closure is the expense of exit slips (as a teacher, when I use the word “expense” or when I say something is “expensive”, I am always referring to the expense of time–the precious resource I never have enough of). Exit slips are expensive to me because I don’t have time to read 30+ sheets of paper when the bell rings. I usually don’t have time to even read 10 slips of paper because, after every class, I am mobbed either by students from the previous class or the next class who have absent work to show me, a question to ask about an assignment, or something that takes all/most of the available time between classes (this is a problem for a later post). I don’t like saving all the slips until the end of the day because a) I don’t want to read a hundred exit slips when school gets out and, more importantly, b) if I made a mistake in Block 1, I’d like to be able to fix it in Block 2.

I solved both problems by drawing a card at the end of class and only taking those BIotD cards. That is, if I draw the 9 of spades, since spades = spies, all of the Spies–not just the Spy from table 9–turn in their BIotD cards.

I immediately liked this system for many reasons. Firstly, it doesn’t take long to read 7-10 notecards. Additionally, I found that having less cards allowed me to read each one more carefully than I was when I was rushing through to try and finish them all. The depth that I gained from each card allowed me to implement changes for–and share insight with–students in the very next block. It was cheap for the kids and it was cheap for me. [Side question: Maybe it’s not good, though, to want it to be cheap for the students… maybe they need to spend longer at the end of each class reflecting?]

I started doing the BIotD about 7 or 8 years ago, but by some time in October or November each year the routine usually disappears. In some years, the students have helped me maintain the system by requesting the BIotD because they find the process helpful for studying. But in most years, the routine falls away as I feel the stress of falling even further behind in the curriculum.

This past year, however, I kept the BIotD going through the end of the year (with hiccups here and there). The reason for the change was twofold. Firstly, I had a student teacher again and at the beginning of the year I showed her my past goals and how I had failed with the BIotD for a number of years in the past. I wanted to model to her that veteran teachers have struggles but that making goals is a way to focus on solving those struggles. Secondly, to solve this problem, I incorporated the precise wording of the BIotD into my planning. I’m sure better teachers than me plan their closure every day, but I had not previously done so and on many days during the year, what I came up with off the top of my head was not optimally worded. Although it increased planning time, I felt like the students really benefited from having something more tangible to hold on to before starting the next lesson.

By no means is the problem solved, but I do hope to continue the lesson closure improvements I made this year during the 2016-17 school year.