As this year winds down, I encourage teachers to take the final weeks of the school year to create closure, collect feedback, and help students look forward. Needless to say, the 2020-2021 school year has been intense. Teachers and students alike are eagerly anticipating the summer. As tough as this year has been, there has been tremendous growth (even if it is hard to appreciate right now). Teachers have been challenged to develop their skill sets and toolsets this year. Even though many felt unprepared for and uncomfortable with many of the changes, they also honed new skills and learned how to leverage new tools.
Before you head out to enjoy some much-deserved rest, consider using one or more of the following activities to connect with your students and try to understand what worked, what didn’t work, and what might need to be modified or adjusted before the next school year. You have an opportunity to help your students reflect on the year and what they learned. You can also gather some feedback about instructional strategies, class routines, the curriculum, projects, and technology tools. You might be surprised by their answers.
Below are 5 fun end-of-the-year activities.
1. High/Low of the Year
I love a high/low structure for encouraging a quick reflective practice that provides insight into the student experience. The simplicity of the prompt leads to honest and thoughtful responses. Teachers can copy and use the slide deck below to create a single shared digital space for students to reflect on their high and low of the year. I encourage teachers to provide meaningful choices when it comes to how students express themselves. It will be a more meaningful exercise if students enjoy agency in terms of their expression. Do they want to compose a written response, draw, or record a video?
Alternatively, teachers can use this high/low prompt to engage pairs, small groups, or the whole group in a verbal share out in class.
2. “Still I Rise…” Poem (Inspired by NPR)
This morning I heard NPR’s resident poet Kwame Alexander introducing a new crowdsourced poetry project. He read several lines of Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.” I got goosebumps, as I usually do when hearing Angelou’s poetry. I loved his idea of creating a community crowdsourced poem about how the pandemic and this last year have changed us. I thought this would be a powerful exercise to do with students.
Encourage your students to think about what they have learned this year and how the pandemic has changed their lives. How did they “rise” through it all? What do they hope life beyond the pandemic will be like? Ask them to write a poem (structure and style their choice) and begin with the phrase “Still I rise…”
You can have students publish their poems or read them aloud. You can even pull a line from each student’s poem to create a crowdsourced poem like Alexander plans to do with the poems that listeners submit to NPR.
3. End-of-the-year Exit Ticket or Feedback Form
Students have likely seen their fair share of digital exit tickets this year. Hopefully, they can stomach one more! An end-of-the-year exit ticket or feedback form is a quick way to encourage students to reflect on the year and provide valuable feedback. Given how tumultuous this year was, it is critical to check in with kids to see how the strategies, routines, and technology worked from their perspective. You can ask about specific likes and dislikes, request recommendations for improvement, and find out what they thought of specific units, texts, or projects.
My advice is to wait to read their responses until you’ve had some time to rest and relax this summer. This year has been draining, and the last thing you need is to be inundated with student feedback when you are spread thin and feeling exhausted by the demands placed on you this year. Give yourself some time to enjoy the summer! Your students’ responses will be waiting when you have more energy to process their feedback and use it to begin thinking about the next school year.
4. Drive Reflection with a Powerful Thinking Routine
Earlier this year, I shared a collection of thinking routines developed by Project Zero out of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. As I was coaching a teacher last week, it occurred to me that these thinking routines could be used to encourage students to consider what they learned this year and how it has impacted them (e.g., their identity, their understanding of key concepts or issues). For example, a teacher could present students with the connect, extend, challenge thinking routine and ask them to use it to reflect on what they learned in a particular class.
5. Capture This Crazy Year in a Time Capsule
Ask students to create a time capsule (format or form their choice) to capture this moment in time. The pandemic of 2020 will likely be something our students tell their children and grandchildren about. What artifacts from the last year can they collect to include in their time capsule? Is there music that saw them through this tough year (e.g., specific songs, artists, playlists)? Can they include lyrics or favorite lines? Did they find comfort in a favorite food, movie, or family game?
Encourage them to collect little mementos or take photos to capture these special reminders of the last year and write themselves a letter to include in their time capsule. Tell them to imagine they are trying to describe their lives during the pandemic to their future selves. What was lost? What was gained? How did the pandemic impact their routines, school, sports, family, or life? The more specific they are, the more meaningful this time capsule will be in the future!
If you have fun and creative ways to provide closure, collect feedback, and get students thinking about the future, please post a comment and share your ideas!