Setting Expectations

I'm not that good at promoting consistency in my classroom. Sure, I talk a good game, but if I try something and it doesn't work I usually move on and forget about it.

I've never used warm-ups on a regular basis in class. I've never done exit slips before. I heard/saw a lot of people talking about both and was envious but had a hard time envisioning how to use them on a daily basis. Why would the kids work on problems that weren't graded?  How could I expect them to work on something that I didn't grade?

Despite these questions I decided this summer (amidst #TMC12 and the decision to adopt interactive notebooks) to give them both a shot.  And so far I'm proud of how I've used both warm ups and exit slips in class.  I'm not as good in precalc at putting up a warm-up question (I need to do something on a daily basis) but I definitely do it a lot more than I used to. And we've had some interesting conversations/explorations when I do give them a warm up. I haven't done any exit slips but I'd like to incorporate them when we start to cover new material (which honestly hasn't happened yet).

In my two Algebra 1 classes (honors and integrated/general) I've done some sort of warm up every day.  A couple of days I've given them a quote and asked their thoughts on it. Yesterday's was a quote from Walt Disney about pursuing dreams; it really sparked some interesting conversations about what dreams they have! (Found out that a student I helped out last year is a competitive ping pong player and has even traveled to China to play!)  I'd like to do something like that weekly; I found a website yesterday that had a lot of good ones on it.

In my integrated class the warm-up has taken on a life of its own; sometimes I feel like we spend more time on it than going over homework problems (which I'm definitely ok with!).  Today I asked them to write down examples of three problems:  one in which you would divide before multiply, one in which you would subtract before add, and one in which you would add before doing an exponent (can you tell that we talked about Order of Operations yesterday?).  Then I let several students write their answers on my tablet pc so I could project them and we could discuss what all of the answers had in common.   I know some of the kids tune out, but questions like that really get the kids thinking and remembering exactly what it was that we were talking about.  I also use an exit slip with these guys; it's a great way to see what they've "gotten" from the daily lesson and if I need to spend more time on it (or with individuals). After yesterday's Order of Ops exit slip I noticed that one boy just wrote down nonsense answers (and put it in the red bin, which means he knew he was having trouble).  I was able to check more often with him today in class to make sure he understood how to do problems and how I wanted him to show his work (even though I told him he could use his calculator for the actual calculations).

Although I sometimes give the students points for the exit slip (2), I often don't. Yet the students still do them without prompting and often ask where the exit slip is if I haven't passed it out yet.

I'm really happy with how things are going so far this year! Hopefully it'll stay this way... and I know that setting consistent expectations is truly the key.


  1. I agree with you that consistency is key. Students thrive in consistent environments. Look how quickly in the year they're already asking you for the exit slips!

    A few things I've learned about both warm ups and exit slips:

    * Keep them short. If the task is too large then students will need a lot of class time to complete them. At the beginning of class this could mean preventing you from getting to the lesson, and at the end of class it might mean getting lots of incomplete exit slips.

    * Don't feel pressured to make them amazing everyday. It sounds like you're doing a great job with them, but if you find you didn't have time to prepare a really clever warm up one day, just throw up a problem or two based on the work from the previous day. The important thing is to have them up consistently so students will know to expect them. It's also probably good for you because once you're in the habit of doing them, you probably won't know how to stop!

    Thanks for sharing these observations and your honesty in admitting your own issues with consistency. I appreciate having the chance to read about it.

  2. Taking risks, learning from your mistakes and striving to improve are the hallmarks of the outstandibg teacher! Your honesty and the time you take to share your experiences are providing a wonderful resource for those who are fortunate to have found your blog and follow your daily tweets.

    One of the greatest challenges for all math teachers
    will be to make time for richer deeper problems that require understanding of and application of key concepts. This is an essential part of CCSSM and requires decreasing emphasis on some traditional topics.

    All this edu-rhetoric may sound like I know what I'm talking about but we all know that the experts who are advocating these changes would be hard pressed to implement them in real classrooms. At least you know, that I will continue to create new warmups and investigations for you!

  3. Since warm-ups (aka bell work) are mandatory at my school, every period starts with it. The consistency is nice, but sometimes I feel like kids are just going through the motions. When I look through their (mandated) bell work notebooks, I often see very little written down. I don't quiz on bell work notebooks in math, but I do in science, and I see the same thing. I do notice that in science we have less discussion about the bell work and more, "wait until I get that copied down!" so they can do well on the quizzes. At least in math I get some good discussions going.

    Our periods are short, and I always feel like putting in an exit slip would make it hard for me to get through my lesson. Also, we've just been ordered to only use paper for essentials. Exit slips would not fall into that category. I may try them on a weekly basis because I need a little more info on how everyone is thinking.


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