A class is rarely it’s own organism. As instructors, we must understand the students that comprise the class. Just as scientists decompose molecules into atoms to understand them, we must understand each student to understand the class. Learning zone surveys are the way to do it. I called them Exit Tickets because I would give them out at the end of the day.
Traditional tools used to understand students are ineffective or too cumbersome to help make day-to-day decisions. For example:
Some tools require instructors to input incredibly granular learning objectives that take weeks - time instructors don’t have and aren’t flexible enough.
Other tools are just too disjointed and require a million tabs to understand how a single student is doing.
Finally, the frequency of student assignment submissions doesn't match course pace. A full time course needs lots of assignments to understand where students are.
An exit ticket survey takes a giant leap towards solving these problems with almost no effort.
Why The Exit Ticket Survey is Great and How to Use It
The exit ticket survey requires almost zero prep from teachers, everything is contained within one
spreadsheet, and the survey is fast enough to get instant student feedback. Teachers just ask students to fill out the survey on a regular basis, and use the charts and filters to see which students to focus on. The survey takes two minutes for students to fill out and under ten for teachers to identify who needs support. For years I’ve used this tool to determine which students need help without hours of digging around in assignment tools. It’s built using Google Forms and Sheets to make it easy to integrate into existing workflows.
The Questions Asked
Built off of Lev Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development theory, learning zone gives you insight into a student's mental and emotional state in your class. It’s the best read on how your class is doing. A perfect class is 100% in the learning zone. Obviously this is a blunt instrument but I find it’s just enough information to take action.
Learning zone is broken into three zones: comfort, learning, and panic. Students in the
comfort zone are relaxed and not being challenged, while students in the panic zone are stressed and stretched to the point of failure. Learning zone is the goldilocks area where students are being challenged, but aren’t terrified of the material. Our job is to prioritize support for the students in the panic or comfort zone. In general, I pay attention to the panic zone students more. Fear is a much more destructive force than comfort.
Difficulty and Enjoyment
These questions don’t require a lot of explanation. Difficulty should be noted in coordination with the learning zone. It’s ok for materials to be difficult as long as the student is not in the panic zone. Enjoyment is trickier. On average, students should enjoy the class as that keeps them motivated to come back. But learning something new is hard. It’s fine for a student to not enjoy themselves for a bit, but it needs to be addressed as they can only be miserable for so long before it impacts their learning. This post goes into more depth on how to use difficulty and enjoyment in concert with learning zone.
At the end of the survey, there are three open-ended, optional questions:
“What's one topic we covered in the past few days that you could use some extra time in?”
“What's the BEST thing about class the past few days?”
“Anything else we should know?”
Since they’re optional, students will rarely fill these out and that’s fine. Just like the difficulty and enjoyment questions, these open-ended questions work in concert with the learning zone question. I use the learning zone question to quickly gauge how a student is feeling and then these additional questions to dive deeper into the why.
Now that you have easily identified which students are in the panic or comfort zone, you are ready to help them. Here is a post about my best practices for identifying and supporting learners.
Teachers and students are busy. The key to the learning zone exit ticket is it’s fast for both the student and teacher. Students can provide valuable feedback to teachers in less than two minutes and teachers can analyze their responses in a few minutes. This tool allowed me to spend more time with the right students and less time analyzing my class behind a screen. To give this a try in your class, click on the link below.