Joyful Endings: The Last Few Weeks of School

Photograph by Jeff Woodward.Although we hope that our students’ learning won’t stop just because school does, it’s good to help them reach a sense of closure during the last few weeks of the year. Good endings leave students with feelings of pride in their growth, a strong sense of themselves as capable learners, and excitement about the learning communities they’ll build during the next school year.

Here’s a handful of quick, fun, and easily do-able ways to achieve those good endings.

Reflect on the Year’s Learning

Revisit your morning messages

Because the messages from your daily Morning Meetings record your class’s academic and social journey together, reviewing them can help students see how much they’ve grown. An easy way to do this is to gather the messages into big books by month, one for August messages, one for September messages, and so on. Then try one of these ideas:

Scavenger Hunt
  1. Space the message books around the classroom so children have room to take turns working with them.
  2. Give each student a scavenger hunt form listing a selection of things to look for, such as “Find two times that our families came to school.” Here’s a sample form.
Draw What You Learned
    1. Read a message aloud to the class.
    2. Invite them to draw a picture illustrating what they learned that day or how they felt about that day’s learning
Mine the Messages
  1. Create a list of categories covering the class’s academic and social learning as reflected in your messages (see box for examples).
  2. Divide the class into groups.
  3. Give each group a category.
  4. Have each group mine one month’s message book for items in their category and report out to the class what they discover.

Sample “Mine the Messages” Categories:

  • Three Exciting Science Ideas
  • Four Read-Alouds We Loved
  • Six Things We Learned on Our History Field Trip
  • Five Ways We Cooperated on Group Projects
  • Two Math Challenges We Met by Persevering [or “Not Giving Up”]
  • Two Ways We Practiced Empathy With Our Reading Buddies
  • Three Ways We Took Responsibility for Our Learning

Talk together

Whole-group discussions help students solidify their sense of themselves as a learning community that had fun and met challenges together. Choose some reflection prompts (see box for examples) and then use them:

  • During the sharing portions of several Morning Meetings
  • In the interactive portion of your morning message
  • During closing circles
  • During Academic Choice times (students choose whether to write, draw, or make a PowerPoint or video in response to their choice of several prompts)
Questions to Prompt Rich Reflections
  • “What are three things you’re proud of learning this year? Why?”
  • “What did you learn about how you learn best?”
  • “What were your two favorite specials projects? Why?”
  • “How did we support each other’s learning this year?”
  • “What did you learn about making friends?

Create Simple “I Remember Learning . . .” Presentations

  1. Help students remember their personal learning goals (what some teachers call “hopes and dreams”) from the start of the year or some learning goals from lessons over the course of the year.
  2. Each student creates an “I Remember Learning . . .” book, drawing, PowerPoint, or video showing favorite examples of how they met the year’s learning goals.

Students’ presentations of their year’s learning often become favorites that classmates return to again and again during quiet time or other free periods.

Read together

Look for read-alouds that pull children in with great stories while launching them into remembering their year of learning—both academic and social. (See box below suggested titles; also see Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year, American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children’s Books of the Year, and the International Literacy Association Choices Reading Lists.)

After reading the book aloud, ask a question to build a bridge between the book and children’s memories of their year. For example, after reading Tell Me the Day Backwards, challenge students to share aloud or write about what they can do in math now, what they could do at the middle of the year, and where they were when the year began.

Welcome the Next Class

Sharing information with the incoming class lets students help others while also prompting reflection on their year together.

  • Invite students to write to next year’s class (“Dear New Fourth Graders”) about the learning they can look forward to in various subjects. They can write individual or small-group letters or one whole-class letter.
  • Create a class information book, PowerPoint, or video for the newcomers (“Tips for First Grade,” What’s Great About Third Grade,” or “Things You’ll Learn in Fifth Grade”). Each student can create a page or slide with two or three tips for you to assemble into a single book or presentation. Or students can each make their own small booklet or brief presentation.
  • Invite incoming students for a visit so they can get to know the space and ask questions of this year’s “experts.” Then use one of these simple structures:
    • Guided Tour: Assign each student as host to one younger student. Hosts can answer questions and show their guests classroom highlights such as the library, pet, display of the year’s best work, and science experiment station.
    • Snowball: Circle all the students up and give each guest a snowball form on which to write questions for the experts. They crumple their questions into “snowballs” and throw them into the center of the circle. Older students take turns picking a snowball and answering the question.

Look Ahead to Next Year

Moving up to a higher grade often engenders mixed feelings. Thinking in a positive way about the next school year can ease anxieties while building students’ sense of excitement about what’s ahead.

  • Hold brief meetings at which students can share questions and concerns about next year. (Likely questions: “Who’ll be my next teacher?” “Who’ll be in my class?” “Can I come back to visit you next year?”) Students could also write down their questions; answer two or three at each meeting.
  • Describe the major topics taught in the next grade. Let students discuss what they already know about those topics and what they’d like to learn. (The sharing component of Morning Meeting offers a handy structure for these conversations.)
  • Have each child make an “Oh, the Places I’ll Go!” chart highlighting their hopes, dreams, and learning goals for next year. The Dr. Seuss book by the same title makes a great read-aloud to combine with this activity.
  • Invite students to write letters introducing themselves to their next year’s teacher. They may mention some worries you can address before the year ends. Provide a template to help them along.

Celebrate Your Time Together

  • Create a class museum showcasing important artifacts from the year’s learning (writing samples; photos of projects or science experiments; artwork; spelling tests; computer programs; math worksheets showing challenging problems). Invite the incoming class, families, or other grade-level classes to tour the exhibits.
  • If you’ve taken photos of students working throughout the year, have the class create a photo collage and write captions. Or make a “People of the Year” book, poster, or video showing newsmakers, classroom visitors, historical figures you studied, and important school adults (the custodian, principal, lunch servers, recess teachers, etc.).
  • During each of the last few weeks, sing favorite songs and do favorite energizers.

Keep the Learning Going During the Summer

  • Invite each child to choose a favorite book and try to convince classmates to read it over the summer. Students can design book jackets (for older students, these can be complete with blurbs and inside flap summaries), write reviews, or research any awards their book has won.
  • Share your own reading list.
  • Have each student make a summer learning journal in which to list the books they read, keep a diary of their summer activities, write poems or stories, work math problems, record science wonderings or nature observations, or note things they’d like to learn more about.
  • Send each student home with a list of writing prompts.
  • Stage an early classroom cleaning and gather books that are ready to retire along with any extra crayons, pencils, erasers, blank paper, and other supplies you won’t need next year. Send a book or two and a selection of supplies home with each student.

Stay in Touch

Students are usually eager for summer vacation, yet many have mixed feelings about leaving their friends, the comforting structure of school—and you. Help them exchange contact information and give them a way to contact you, too (giving each student a stamped, self-addressed postcard can work well). In this way, the community the class built together all year will extend beyond the close of school.

Tags: Last Weeks of School, School Breaks, Summer

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