It’s 3:23 and my class has just finished a science experiment. I look at the clock and realize we have seven minutes to clean up from science and do everything else we need to do to walk out the door at 3:30 to go home. “Okay class, we have seven minutes until the bell rings. You need to stop what you’re doing, clean up, and get yourself ready to go home. We’ll talk about what you discovered from your science experiment tomorrow. Let’s hurry, we now only have six minutes. Go!”
They’re off! Twenty-eight children are moving in all directions. They scurry around the room putting the science equipment back on the science table, cleaning up their workspaces, washing their hands at the sink, and throwing away trash in the wastebasket.
At the same time, I’m collecting everyone’s science observation journals while being the constant watcher of the clock. “We have three minutes! You should be starting to pack up your things to go home. Hurry! Hurry!”
The children shift gears and begin collecting book bags, coats, and lunchboxes. Meanwhile, several children are mindful that they have class jobs to complete before they go home. They begin passing out papers that need to go home, washing the boards, and feeding the class rabbit. I’m trying to figure out who’s supposed to stay after school for a Girl Scout meeting, reminding John not to ride the bus because his mom is picking him up for a doctor’s appointment, making sure everyone has their chapter book to read at home, while directing children to stack their chairs and line up.
In the midst of all the chaos, the P.A. system is blaring with the afternoon announcements that no one can hear. The bell rings and the children exit feeling rushed and unsettled. I feel exhausted.
We needed a change
This was how most days ended during my early teaching years until one year, I decided that something had to change. I was taking so much care every day to plan and facilitate a morning meeting to build community and set a positive tone for the day to come. I realized that it was just as important to take the same care in creating a good ending to our day.
I talked to my class one afternoon. They agreed that the way school ended was frustrating and chaotic. We were all tired of feeling rushed. I wanted time for reflection, dialogue, and fun at the end of each day for both the students and me. Thus began the development of our daily closing meeting.
I knew that if I wanted students to reflect, I had to teach them how to be reflective. Our children are growing up constantly rushed from one activity to the next. They are in motion from the time they climb out of bed in the morning until the time they climb back into bed at night. They have no time to sit back, take a deep breath, and reflect.
I also knew that if reflection were to become an integral part of class life, not just a “tack-on,” I needed to teach students how to be reflective throughout the day. I began building five minutes into each activity or lesson just for reflection. After we finished—or even when we were in the middle of—math activities, recess games, academic choice times, class meetings, or class projects, we’d stop and talk about what worked well, what didn’t, what was fun, what wasn’t, and why.
The end-of-the-day closing meeting became a natural outgrowth of this work together. I stopped the last academic class earlier than before: between 3:00 and 3:05. Next, to make for a calmer ending, we took care of the “business” type things—classroom jobs, packing up belongings to go home and such—before our closing meeting. Then at 3:15, with all that activity done, we met in a circle on the carpet to close our day.
Reflecting on the day
I often began by telling the children to take a couple of deep breaths and a few quiet moments so we could all be ready to participate fully in the meeting. After this quiet time, we would celebrate the hard work we had done that day in both the academic and social arenas. I would ask, “What went well as a class today?” or “What did we really work hard on today as a class?” I’d take just a couple of ideas. A child might say that he noticed how hard everyone was working on their autobiography during writing time. Another child might say that she noticed people were remembering to raise their hand to speak instead of calling out.
Next, I’d ask what the class noticed that we might need to work on. Again, one or two children would share their ideas. This part of the meeting also told me about things I needed to reteach, model, and practice with the children, or possibly things that needed to go on our agenda for a problem-solving class meeting.
In the next part of the meeting, the children would focus on themselves as individuals. I usually offered a question or thought that would focus the children’s thinking. Here are some examples:
Rate your day on a scale of 1–10, and give one reason for your rating.
What was your favorite part of the day?
What was something helpful or friendly that you did today?
- Give one word to describe your learning today.
- Give a gesture to describe your feelings today.
- Name one thing you were grateful for today.
- What was one new thing you learned today?
- What was one thing you were proud of today.
- What was one thing that was hard today.
After I gave the focus question and a minute or two of silent reflection time, one child would volunteer to start. We decided to use a Koosh ball as the talking piece. The child holding the Koosh ball could talk if he or she wanted to. When that child was done talking, he or she would pass the ball to the next person in the circle. The ball would travel all the way around, giving anyone who wanted to talk an opportunity to do so without having to raise his or her hand.
Of course, because of time, we decided to limit each child to saying up to three sentences. (Giving a specific and focused question also helped limit how much each person said.) The children also had the option to pass when the Koosh ball came to them. Giving the ball to the next person without saying anything signified a pass.
After everyone who wanted to share (including me) had spoken, I would ask a few children to summarize, make connections, and share observations about the class’s reflections.
Finally, our meeting would often close with something fun, like singing a couple of verses of a favorite song. I would then dismiss a few children at a time to pick up their book bags and coats from their desks, stack their chairs, and line up.
Variations on the format
Depending on how the day had gone, I would vary the format on the closing meeting. Some days we’d feel exhausted and overwhelmed. We’d then decide as a class to skip the reflection and dialogue, going straight to doing something to energize ourselves and make us laugh together. Usually we’d get up and sing a silly song or do “Aroostasha,” and we’d all leave feeling relaxed and exhilarated.
Other days, the children would be so interested in the current read-aloud book that we’d decide to finish it during our closing meeting.
Sometimes the class would have so much to say that we’d bring our journals to the carpet and spend part of our closing meeting doing some writing about our day before talking about it.
There are lots of ways to bring closure to a day of hard work. The important thing is to read your class and decide what will best meet everyone’s needs on that particular afternoon.
After the closing meeting was up and running in our classroom, life at the end of the day looked dramatically different: Twenty-eight children and me sitting calmly in a circle with all the day’s business behind us, a Koosh ball being passed around the circle, children commenting reflectively about the day. The meeting comes to an end as the class sings “Dreamer,” on of their favorites. The bell rings and the children and teacher exit feeling a sense of closure and peace, humming a few bars of “Dreamer.”
Now that’s what I call a good ending!
How to play Aroostasha
- Have students stand in a circle with their hands clasped in front of them (fingers interlaced).
- Chant “aroostasha, aroostasha, aroostasha-sha,” while moving your clasped hands from the right side of your body to the left, and pulsing your hands up and down to the beat. Then do the chant while moving your hands back tot he right side of your body, pulsing to the beat as you go. Have your class repeat the chang and body movements after you.
- Call out “thumbs up.” Repeat step 2, with both hands clasped and thumbs up.
- Call out “thumbs up, wrists together.” Do step 2 again, with hands clasped, thumbs up, and wrists together.
- Call out “thumbs up, wrists together, elbows in.” Do step 2 with hands clasped, thumbs up, wrists together, and elbows in. By now your class should be able to do the movements as soon as you call out the instruction without first having to see you demonstrate.
Keep going in this manner, adding one body position at a time. For example, you can add: Knees together, Toes in, Bottom out, Tongue out (Ever try to say “Aroostasha” with your tongue out? Kids will really get a laugh out of this!).
Carol Davis is now the associate director of professional services at Northeast Foundation for Children. Before joining the NEFC staff, she was a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher and also an elementary school teacher and counselor. She’s the co-author of Parents and Teachers Working Together.Tags: Closing Circles