Looking Back, Looking Forward

Question:

The end of the school year offers a unique opportunity for students and teachers to reflect on their year of learning together. It’s a time to recognize efforts, celebrate achievements, acknowledge challenges, and look forward to the year ahead. We asked several teachers, from kindergarten to eighth grade, to talk about ways of bringing closure to the school year. Here are their ideas.

A: The first three activities below are ones I use at the end of every year; the final two are ones I use to bring closure to a group’s second year together. Strong bonds develop when a class spends two years together, often making it difficult for children to say good-bye. These activities help prepare them.

  • We review our list of hopes and dreams for the year. We talk about the goals we’ve met and make a list of all the things we’ve learned during the year.
  • Students re-read the journals they’ve kept all year and take turns sharing favorite or interesting entries. Students enjoy reading entries from earlier in the year and it’s a great way to reminisce about their time together.
  • We create a bulletin board titled “It’s Been a Great Year!” displaying many of the photographs I take throughout the year. Students write the captions and attach the photos to the bulletin board.
  • At the end of second grade, we put on a talent show. Students sing, dance, recite poetry, lip-sync, perform gymnastics or karate routines, or even fold paper airplanes! Students who are not comfortable on stage become part of the stage crew. We invite parents and the rest of the school to share in this celebration of our talents and skills.
  • Finally, the second graders write letters to the incoming first graders to let them know what to expect They write about what they’ll be learning, what their teacher is like, and how the classroom operates. This activity helps the outgoing class to reflect on their time together and helps the incoming class to feel more at ease.

Cindy Rissmiller is a first/second grade looping teacher at Rockland Elementary School in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania. She has been teaching for 14 years.

A: My favorite activity for bringing closure to the school year with kindergartners was to create a yearbook with the students. I used old wallpaper books which home decorating stores are happy to give away.

All year long, I took snapshots celebrating both ordinary moments and special events. Starting in early May, the children and I organized the photos, month-by-month, beginning with September. Next, we stripped the wallpaper book of unnecessary pages (picture displays, fabric, etc.), covered the book with contact paper, and pasted construction paper over pages where the wallpaper was too busy to serve as a good backdrop for our photos. We then spent hours working in small groups to mount and caption the photos, reminiscing all the while about our year together.

In addition to the month-by-month photo album, there were four pages reserved for each child. These pages featured two close-up photographs (one from September and one from May), an interview with the child detailing interests and history, a self-portrait, a hand print, and the child’s drawing of a special memory from the year (see illustration).

Once the yearbook was complete, each child took it home for an evening to share with his or her family. The yearbook was then kept in the school library until the class graduated from sixth grade. At that point I took the yearbook apart and gave children their individual pages, along with a personal note wishing them well in their next school experience.

Eileen Mariani has over 25 years of experience as a kindergarten and early childhood educator. She currently works as a consulting teacher for Northeast Foundation for Children.

A: As the end of the school year approaches, I ask students to reflect on their academic and personal growth in several ways. During the final month of school, students share their favorite and not-so-favorite moments of the year as part of our daily Morning Meeting. In writing, they reflect on their proudest moments of the year, on the friendships they’ve made, and on their hopes and dreams for the coming year.

During the last week of school, students bring to class an object which represents their greatest accomplishment of the year. These objects can range from writing pieces to science fair projects to soccer trophies, and are not limited to school accomplishments. Students take turns sharing their accomplishments with classmates, who ask questions and offer positive comments.

Finally, we celebrate our successes on the last day of school with a party. During our last hour together, we write special good-bye notes to one another. These activities, as a whole, bring closure to the school year and leave us all with a positive feeling about our time together.

Jen Knake teaches fifth grade at Maddux Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio. She has been teaching for 8 years.

A: Every day at B.F. Brown begins with a 45-minute homeroom period. Students gather in small groups to build a sense of community, plan community service projects, and offer academic and social support to one another. In recent years, I’ve incorporated the following activities into homeroom period to bring closure to the school year. My goal is to help students focus on their academic achievements and personal growth.

  • Students reflect in writing on a variety of topics including their most significant learning experience, the funniest moments of the year, their biggest challenges of the year, and something they’ve learned in each subject. During the last weeks of school, students share these reflections with the group.
  • Students write one positive trait about each of their classmates. This gives each student the chance to gather 25 compliments.
  • I write a personal letter to each student thanking him or her for taking risks and making our community stronger. I also thank students for the opportunity to get to know and learn from them. Students put this letter in a spiral binder along with the goals that the student and family set during the first weeks of school, the student’s end-of-the-year written reflections, and a few photographs. It’s a great scrapbook for students to keep!

Lourdes Mercado teaches eighth grade Spanish at B.F. Brown Arts Vision School in Fitchburg, MA. She is in the process of becoming a certified trainer in The Responsive Classroom approach.

Tags: Last Weeks of School

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