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Measuring Mastery

Thanks to race to the top in Tennessee, there is a new evaluation system for teachers. This has caused tremendous amounts of stress among my coworkers and myself. Thirty-five percent of our yearly evaluation is linked to our students’ test scores. Fifty percent tie to professional evaluations. Fortunately, there is a rubric that explains the expectations for the evaluations. A teacher must post the daily objective and state standard. While I never posted the verbatim state standard, posting a daily objective was not new. The new part for me came with the requirement that I measure mastery at the conclusion of every lesson. I used to finish class with, “Here is your homework. Get busy on it.” the students would normally fake interest in the assignment and end up spending the last ten minutes of class talking. This was wasted class time.

Now that my job depends on this new evaluation system, I decided I needed to rethink the end of my classes. (Tenure is also out the window in TN. Two years of consecutive low ratings and you can be let go.) I always heard about Tickets out the Door and other such items and didn’t put much stock in them. I’m a believer now.

Here are some brief activities I have gathered that meet the requirement to measure mastery daily, without requiring too much preparation or time.

1. Ticket out the Door: This is a classic closure activity, but I don’t pre make mine. I have a stack of scrap paper cut into small squares and I hand them out and have students work a final problem in the last five minutes. Sometimes I have students grade them in class or sometimes I collect and grade. I never take an actual grade on them and so far, the students don’t seem to mind. It is amazing the effort they will put into this when you tell them, “Show me what you learned!”

2. Show me your sign: I taught my students sign language for the letters A, B, C, and D. At the end of class, I put a multiple choice question on the board. I give the students time to work the question. When time is up I say, “Show me your sign!” The students show the correct hand signal for the answer they got. This gives me a quick way to scan the room and see if the majority of students mastered the objective for the day or if we need to review it in the starter for the next day.

3. Find my Mistake: I have students work a given problem and make an intentional mistake. Students then trade papers to try and find each others hidden errors. I collect these at the end of the block. The students really get into this one, trying to make the mistake subtle and difficult to find.

4. Tweet It: Students are asked to use their cell phones (our school allows this) or are provided with a notecard. I ask the students to tweet one thing they learned in class today that is related to the daily objective. If they use their cell phones, they are required to hashtag our class so we can go back and read them later. This requires creativity since the students are limited on characters.

5. Write my Starter: I ask students to create a problem with a solution for our starter for the following day. I collect these and then type one up for the next day. I give credit to the student. They love to see their name on the projector and are proud when their problem is chosen.

When this new evaluation system started, I was overwhelmed and frustrated with the feelings of having to jump through hoops, but I can honestly say it has made me a better teacher. I now think about everything I do in class and if it measures learning and relates to the objective. I find I waste less time, but I’m still working on my transitions of activities. Overall, I never leave a class anymore without knowing if my students got it. Sometimes they do, and that is a great feeling, and sometimes I leave knowing I have to back up and punt tomorrow. Either way, I know and that’s progress.

By the way, I’m always on the hunt for closing activities that measure learning, so post away in the comments. Thanks!

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,
  1. September 10, 2011 at 10:37 am


    These are great activities! Like you, I rarely used an Exit Ticket kind of assessment when I was in the classroom, but I really like the idea of the immediate feedback it brings. One that I’ve been talking a lot about is creating a Poll Question in Edmodo and having kids answer the question as a multiple choice option. Because it is a poll it is anonymous, but it gives you an overall sense of how your class is doing as a whole. There is a smartphone and iPod app for kids to use it right in your classroom. Another way to let them use their phones (as with your Twitter idea) is to use a website like PollEverywhere. You can put the problem on the screen and let them text in the answer. The beauty of these options is that there are no slips of paper to go through at home at night!

    I’m loving your blog. Keep writing!

  2. September 11, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    I really enjoyed your ideas especially the one about the students creating the next day warm-up. I have used the poll everywhere and it really works well. You just need to find out if every student has free texting service and those without a cell phone can use the computer. (I have 3 student computers in my classroom). Another idea of measuring (developing) mastery is using student mini whiteboards. We have a number of them in our teacher workroom and I decided to use them this year. I would call out a problem and the student would raise thier whiteboard and I would give them thumbs up or down as to if they had the right answer. The students like writing on whiteboards. In the future, I would love to write a grant for “clickers”. They work the same as whiteboards but the technology makes it work better because you can track student responses. I see my suggestions as learning activities to “develop mastery” rather than a tool to “measure mastery”.

  3. October 7, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Amber if you have access to clickers, as said earlier problem solved, also have them write a letter to a friend who missed class teaching them what you learnt that day.

  4. December 25, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Students draw random Scrabble tiles and have to write a summary of the lesson that starts with the letter they drew.

    Students have to write NONSTOP for one minute everything they remember from the lesson.

    Students have to write (pertaining to the lesson) three things they learned, two things they already knew, and one question they still have.

    Students turn to an neighbor and explain a process.

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