Reflecting on the End of the School Year
Last weekend was Memorial Day Weekend. To me, this signifies both the start of summer and the end of the school year! There is a lot of writing about the beginning of the school year. For example, The First Days of School by Harry and Rosemary Wong is a classic that has been shared with new and experienced teachers alike since its first publication. But in my experience, the last days of the school year can be just as important as the first days. Upon that realization, I’ve spent the previous weeks reflecting on how to plan for an effective and engaging end of the school year.
I asked myself the following questions:
- “How can you prepare for an engaging and educationally effective end to the school year?”
- “What do you to do prepare your students for the last days of school and to prevent ‘summer slide’?”
- “How do you prepare for an end of school year/summer that will set you up for an effective start to the next school year?”
Let’s start with the students. How do you prepare your students for the end of the school year? When we complete a lesson or activity, the methodology tells us that we need to “close” a class; otherwise, we leave our students as little untied balloons that let all of the knowledge they learned over the last nine months slip away. At the end of a unit of study, semester, or an entire school year, we provide summative assessments to evaluate what our students have learned, but what are we doing to ensure that the knowledge sticks?
In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell answers the question, “What makes a message memorable?” In other words, how do we get information to stick? This starts with engaging lessons and strategies but beyond the lesson, how do we get the skills and content students have worked so hard to acquire all year to “stick” past their June expiration date?
One of my favorite “strategies to encourage stickiness” is to ask the students to write reflections detailing what they think is important to remember. This has two effects: it lets the educator know what the students found meaningful, and it increases the chances that the information will stick with the students. Scholastic suggests younger students write their reflections as “The ABCs of Second Grade,” an ABC-style acrostic of what they’ve learned throughout the year. Edutopia suggests that students create summative projects that showcase what they’ve learned throughout the school year. For example, they can create a commercial that advertises “Mrs. Bickley’s 10th Grade World Cultures Class,” or maybe create a portfolio of the projects from the school year. These are great ideas for the students, but how are you going to prepare for the end of the school year?
In my experience, reflection is the best way to prepare for an effective end of one school year with a smooth transition to the start of the next school year. Confucius tells us, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” I have three ways that I like to reflect on my lessons.
First, I overheard an accomplished entrepreneur share that at the end of every interaction with information (reading, conversation, lecture, etc.), he would spend thirty seconds writing down what was on his mind. He claims that this allowed him to reinforce what was inevitably the most important points of the learning experience. I employ this strategy on a daily basis. I keep a reflection journal parallel to my lesson plans and review them at the end of the school year to help myself prepare for an effective start to the next school year.
Second, at the end of the school year I review my practice using Bloom’s Taxonomy. For example, I ask myself basic questions like, what did I do this year? I slowly progress my way towards more higher order thinking questions like, what is my plan for next year’s curriculum map, or what changes can I make to improve my teaching practice?
Finally, I prepare for a summer of professional development, including many days of professionally developing my ability to sit on a beach! Ross Cooper of Edutopia suggests a summer reading list with five books on Professional Development. His list includes books that are fun, include detailed information about digital leadership, and offer researched-based effective practices. This summer I plan to focus my professional development on updating my personal philosophy of education. I plan to read Eric Jenson’s Teaching with Poverty in Mind and Why Race and Culture Matter In Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap in America’s Classrooms by Tyrone C. Howard. However, my most effective summer professional development has always included socializing and collaborating with colleagues and educators from across various geographic regions, content areas, and grade levels.
“There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge . . . observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination.” —Denis Diderot