Here’s a bold claim: Minute papers are as important a learning tool as rubrics.
Tempted as I am to leave this statement here as perhaps the shortest TECHE post ever (and to argue it out, if necessary, in the comments), here’s my thinking behind the claim that The Minute Paper is a foundational teaching tool, on par with The Rubric, for learning and for student feedback.
A minute paper is a series of short written responses to one or more prompts, that students complete at the end of a lesson, usually in one or two minutes.
Other names for minute papers: exit tickets, muddiest points, exit slips.
Minute papers are easy to implement and don’t require much time to prepare, or complete. With practice, a teacher can run a minute paper in (60) seconds to ask students the most basic yet essential question:
Sample minute paper for a lecture. Source
Now, if rubrics can be thought of as maps designed by teachers to show students the learning destination and the best route to get there, then think of minute papers as compasses that help both teachers and students navigate and adjust their direction along the way. By helping check progress and understanding and identify misdirection and confusion, minute papers help teachers and students check their position; align their expectations and goals; and adjust their teaching and learning wayfinding accordingly.
And yes, in many ways, minute papers are similar to the student evaluation surveys typically conducted at the end of session in that they basically ask students questions about their learning experience.
So why do minute papers when you already conduct Learner Evaluation of Unit or Teaching (LEU / LET) surveys?
Just as you wouldn’t check a patient’s pulse only when they are leaving the hospital, waiting on the end-of-session LEU survey results to run a learning and teaching diagnostic on your current students, doesn’t help you – or your students – identify and address issues that are presenting right now.
So, consider minute papers a pulse-check: a quick check-in for some of the ‘vital signs’ of learning, letting you-the-educator know – and fast – if and where further support and/or intervention is needed.
For such a humble tool, minute papers have multiple and overlapping benefits for students and teachers.
For students, minute papers can help them review and consolidate the main points of a lesson. They help clarify and articulate questions, doubts and misconceptions; provide an(other) opportunity to express opinions and feelings about a topic; reflect on their progress and their challenges; and identify the gaps in their own understanding, knowledge, or skills. Broader benefits include enhancing students’ metacognitive and reflection skills, and potentially, their motivation and interest in a subject.
For teachers, minute papers provide major bang for teaching buck. They are extremely easy to set up and run (you can run a minute paper by typing one question in the chat on Zoom) and they can provide immediate insight into students’ learning achievements and difficulties, their engagement and satisfaction, their misconceptions and confusion, as well as provide a space for their suggestions for improvement – suggestions that might be forgotten by the time the end-of-session LEU rolls around.
Minute papers also help assess comprehension, to identify what may be common difficulties and misunderstandings; and address students’ questions and concerns promptly.
Broader benefits for teachers: Data from minute papers can help them quickly adjust teaching strategies and pace; provide timely and targeted feedback to students; and even with large cohorts and classes, one minute paper can provide insight into – and build rapport and trust with -ALL their students.
Tips for running effective and efficient minute papers:
- Choose open-ended questions (see below) to elicit useful or meaningful responses. Similarly, avoid yes/no or factual questions that can be answered by looking at notes or slides.
- Give clear instructions and expectations to students. Explain the purpose and benefits of minute papers, how long they have to write them, and how you will use their feedback to inform their learning and your teaching.
- Provide enough time for students to write their responses. Depending on the complexity of the questions, you may need to allocate 3 to 5 minutes at the end of the class.
- Collect and review minute papers promptly. Look for patterns and themes in student responses, and note any surprising or insightful comments.
- Follow up on student feedback in the next class. Acknowledge and address student questions and concerns, highlight common errors or misconceptions, and praise student successes and insights.
- Store completed minute papers somewhere safe and secure. If you use, quote from, or report on the data from minute papers in any public forums (including the classroom!), take care to de-identify responses.
You can ask ANYTHING in a minute paper. Here are some sample questions.
- What was the most important / significant / surprising / useful / challenging thing you learned during this class?
- What questions do you (still) have after today’s class?
- What did you learn today that you didn’t know before? That you think will be useful in your career? That made you think differently about something?
- What did you learn today that made you want to learn more about something?
- How can what we discussed in class today be applied to a real-world situation?
- How can what we discussed today be applied to other classes or subjects?
- How does what we discussed today relate to other things we have learned in this class or other classes/subjects?
- How does what we covered in today’s session relate to current events or issues in society or the world at large?
- How does what we talked about in class today relate to your own experiences or background?
- How does what we learned today relate to your own interests or passions?
- How does what we learned today challenge or confirm your beliefs or assumptions about something?
- How does what we learned today connect with other things you have read, watched, or listened to recently?
- How does what we learned today connect with other things going on in your life right now or in the near future (e.g., projects, assignments, exams)?
- If you had to summarise the main aim of today’s lesson, what would it be?
- How do you think you’re tracking so far in this subject / unit / class?
- What questions do you have about this unit / subject / the assessment?
The MOST effective format and mode for minute papers is what works for your teaching context.
You can use paper-based and/or digital tools, such as Microsoft Forms, Google Forms, Mentimeter, Padlet, or Socrative, or a combination. You can ask for different types of responses, such as text, audio, video, or drawings. You can collect minute papers individually or in groups, anonymously or with names. You can also decide whether to share the (de-identified) results with the whole class or keep them private.
The key to using minute papers effectively is to review them regularly and to promptly provide students with feedback on the feedback they have provided in their minute papers.
This will help students appreciate the benefits of minute papers and to see completing them as valuable for their learning.
To help you-as-teacher appreciate the benefits of minute papers and to encourage you to use them regularly, remember that you can also use the data from minute papers to:
- Inform your planning and delivery of subsequent classes;
- Address (anticipate) common issues or misconceptions for future lessons and cohorts;
- Clarify expectations and criteria; praise good work and effort; and encourage further learning and enquiry.
You can also use minute paper data to evaluate your own teaching practice and methods for teaching and identify areas for development and improvement.
I asked everybody’s new colleague ChatGPT about its views on minute papers:
Minute papers are like ballpoint pens. They are simple, cheap and reliable tools that can be used for various purposes and in different contexts. They can help teachers and students to write, reflect, communicate, and learn more effectively and efficiently. Unlike more complex and expensive technologies that may require special skills or equipment, minute papers are easy to implement and accessible to everyone. They can be used in any discipline or topic, and they can provide immediate and useful feedback for both teachers and students. Minute papers are often underrated and underused, but they have great potential to improve the quality and outcomes of teaching and learning in higher education.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about minute papers is that, with minimal time and effort, these endlessly customisable instruments give you immediate, tailored, useful feedback on what your students are thinking, learning, questioning, engaging with, while they’re in your class.
And what educator wouldn’t want to know that?
If you want to learn more about minute papers and other active learning strategies, here are some resources from MQ and beyond:
- PLaCE Teaching Development resources: Active learning
- One_minute_paper_1.pdf (westernsydney.edu.au)
- Minute Paper | Teaching & Learning – UCL – University College London
- Minute Paper | Center for Transformative Teaching
See also: Lightbody, G., & Nicholl, P. (2013). Extending the concept of the one minute paper model.