How can the school year finish strong? Ideas for how educators can help students reflect on what they have accomplished and together finish strong.
Anyone in the education field can say without a doubt how many days are left in the school year — 54 days left, but who’s really counting? The end of the school year can be frantic and terrifying, especially for the seniors who are about to embark on “real life.” For many of our students, the last day of school will be the last time they hear the bell ring letting them know it’s time to move on to the next class, recess, lunch or the next phase of their life.
As the school year comes to a close, educators can intentionally make time to help their students reflect on what has been accomplished throughout the year. So often it is a quick race to the end, hurrying up to get this one last project or unit completed. Students, however, need time to reflect and genuinely think about what the year has given to them. Year Mapping is an effective way to do this by creating an end of the year project centered around mapping out what the students have learned throughout the year.
Along with reflection comes feedback. Having students complete a needs assessment of your class can help you plan for next year. This is also a good way for your students to honestly give themselves feedback on various aspects of your class and what they have learned. A school-wide survey or needs assessment can also be helpful for eliciting student perspectives on how the school year went, what went well, what needs improvement. Share these results with your school improvement or school climate committee to prepare for the coming year. At the end of the school year, our school conducts Senior Exit Interviews during which community members, faculty, and staff interview seniors on their past four years at the school. Each student has an opportunity to interview with a panel of three adults. Students are asked various questions and are encouraged to bring portfolios, samples of writing, or artwork. Each student is evaluated on a rubric and is then given feedback. On occasion, there have even been job offers!
Students love to give advice to younger students. Have seniors write letters to the freshmen, giving them advice about what to do with their time over the next three years. This can be replicated for any grade level that is leaving your building. Students can also create PSA’s or movie trailers for next year’s class. What better group to share with new students what to expect at the beginning of the upcoming school year, than your current students. The benefits of this activity are twofold — it gives students valuable time to reflect on what they have learned and achieved in the course of the school year and, perhaps even more impactful, it gives students an empowered voice when they give advice to others.
Expressing gratitude is another way to end the school year in a meaningful way. Write each student’s name on a colored piece of paper and then ask each student to write down what they learned or have come to appreciate from everyone else in the class. Try this activity with staff and teachers at the end-of-year professional development meeting or gathering. Ending the school year with your students writing thank you notes to staff members who encouraged them, believed in them, or helped them during the school year is another way to incorporate gratitude and reflection and to reinforce a powerful lifelong practice.
For most of us, the end of the school year is also synonymous with testing. You and your students may be overwhelmed with the sheer volume of tests to be coordinated, administered, prepared for and taken in April and May. Mindfulness and guided meditation can be beneficial to you and your students. The app, Calm, is a great resource and one I recommend to colleagues. For some quick and easy guided meditation, head over to YouTube where you can find videos to share with your students at the beginning of each class.
However you choose to end the school year, remember to take care of yourself first. Be intentional about how you conclude; sometimes less is more. And help your students to reflect on this awesome journey from autumn to spring because all of you have come a long way!