Traffic Light

Traffic Light

I’ve seen and read about many “traffic light” strategies used in the classroom. In most instances, its a label we use for a strategy thats helps us gauge student understanding or receive feedback. Here’s another twist on it.

I’m using it as a formative assessment strategy that I fittingly call Traffic Light. (Very creative, I know.) I’ve laminated red, yellow, and green pieces of paper and slid them into another laminated piece of paper that I half-taped to the top of each desk.

During any given lesson, I mention “Traffic Light!” and my students hold up a color corresponding to their level of understanding at that moment. Sometimes I see a sea of green, sometimes a mix, and sometimes I see so much red that I myself turn red. Either way, I have found the cards to be an indispensable tool to keep a pulse on how things are going and, if need be, change things up on the fly. There are plenty of instances where I needed to re-explain something, regroup students, or change the approach to a concept. And, without this in-the-moment feedback from the kids, I probably would not have been aware that a change was necessary.

I must put out a disclaimer. When I first started using the cards, I found that some of the quieter students would hold up a green to avoid me eyeing their yellow or red card – essentially making them “stick out” to me. I had a talk with my classes about how their learning is dependent on their integrity. We also discussed honesty as it relates to their understanding and how this is a driving force of everything we do. I did find that all this helped encourage the kids to provide more accurate responses.

Besides the obvious benefit for me, their teacher, the students actually enjoy using Traffic Light. At the end of the first semester, I asked each student to provide me with one thing they thought went well and one thing they felt needed improvement in our class. I was surprised by this, but several students actually mentioned the Traffic Light cards.

Feedback Traffic Light

(“the new grading system for exams” refers to my shift to standards-based grading)

It could be the interactivity. Students get to, essentially, voice their opinion…and teens love to do that. It could also the message it sends: that I’m willing adjust any lesson based on how they’re learning – and then to actually adjust it. Who knows. I’m just glad they’ve taken to it.


Exit here

Exit Sign

Things have slowed down for me this semester. Not teaching four preps helps (now I only have three). Because of this, I have been able to dig in and get a firmer grip on my classes.

Improving how I assess my students has been a goal of mine for a while. I have finally gotten around to using exit slips on a consistent basis. I have always given a formative assessment at the beginning of class, but not usually at the end. For a long time, exit slips were papers that would pile up on my desk. Subconsciously, I didn’t see the value in assessing my students’ understanding at the end of the class. Somewhere, deep down, I knew they were beneficial, I just didn’t embrace it. I wonder which planet I was teaching on.

Now, I must formatively assess at the end of my class. Not because an administrator told me so or that it’s a district-wide policy, but because I need to know what my students learned (or didn’t learn) each day. I must mention John Scammell and his awesome presentation on formative assessment during TMC14. He caused me to reflect on my assessment practices in a deep way. I’ve now fully realized that exit slips immediately affect my approach the following day and every other day. In other words, I now see value in exit slips.

Well. I say all that to share how I now use exit slips. Like most teachers, they usually only take a few minutes for students to complete. After class, I sit at my desk and go through the slips, categorizing students’ work – sorting them into various piles. I don’t actually use them for a grade so I’m not worried about recording scores. My only focus is student understanding.

After I identify common mistakes or other trends that need to be addressed, I must communicate these to my students. Telling them is one thing, showing them is another. But how to do this in a quick, efficient way? I simply use my laptop’s webcam to snap photos of a few exit slips and insert them into a few slides that precedes my lesson. It literally takes a few minutes to prep. Take photo. Paste. That’s it. A couple examples:

Exit Slip 1

Exit Slip 2


Upon showing the work to the class, great discussion usually follows. I ask which error(s) they see and how we can fix them. Its incredibly useful and never runs more than a couple minutes before the lesson. The idea is to show them their mistakes. The whole scene is similar to using Math Mistakes in that we’re examining real student work – but its just their work. (Of course, I remove names so no one is singled out.)

The kids are pretty receptive to seeing their mistakes. And by using the exit slips to direct their learning and analyze their work, my students have never complained about doing the exit slips. They just do them now because they are worthwhile. Sounds like me.