How to Make the End of the School Year Meaningful!
If August is one long Sunday night for teachers preparing to head back into the classroom, I guess May is the Thursday night of the school year. It’s aaaaalmost the weekend but not quite. You can almost taste summer coming (and so can your students!) and there is a strong temptation to begin to coast or transition over to autopilot, sometimes as early as Spring Break.
Obviously this is not ideal as there are usually 9+ weeks of school to go at this point, and, zooming out, this is a quarter or more of the entire school year. If you think back to the beginning of the school year and all your kids accomplished in the first quarter, there is no reason that learning should slow or worse, stop, just because your time together is coming to a close.
Have students become the teacher
It’s May. You’re exhausted (and rightfully so). You’re tired of talking and frankly, the kids are tired of listening to you! So try reversing roles having students become the teacher! When I taught high school, the last two weeks of the school year, leading up to final exams, I took all of the major topics / grammar points from the year and divvied them up. This resulted in about 10–12 Final Review Projects. I then either let kids pick or put them into pairs or groups of 3 and told them it was their job to 1) review the topic thoroughly (and accurately!) and 2) come up with a fun and creative way to practice the concept. Their time up in front of the class would be 18–20 minutes long and their mini-lesson would be graded on accuracy of content and engagement of their peers. It never failed that this review project was a great break for me, a huge realization for the students as to how much work it is to prepare engaging and clear lessons and materials, and a useful yet engaging way to review important information for finals. While most kids repeated games and activities I had introduced throughout the year, there were often a couple of really creative standouts that gave me new teaching ideas for the following year, as well!
Dive into a service learning project
As students are checking out, try to re-engage them by getting them to focus on a need outside of their own immediate experience. This year, my middle school Spanish students have been following the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico all year. Doing so has provided a real-world tie-in, and a means for teaching media literacy, research skills, and highlighting other content areas (e.g. science through environmental studies and social studies through investigation of what it means to be a US Territory and what rights that affords citizens of Puerto Rico). It has also led to countless opportunities to incorporate authentic resources in Spanish and current events to watch videos of weather and infrastructure updates, read current events in the news about the progress and setbacks on the island, and to follow and highlight famous Latinos who are working on relief efforts (among them Lin Manuel Miranda, Daddy Yankee, Mark Anthony, and Jennifer Lopez), which in turn has led to discussion of their music and art! As a bonus, we were even able to connect with a school that lost power and most of their materials and furniture, conduct a school supply drive for them (which tied in perfectly with learning about schools around the world and school supply vocabulary), raise money to send the supplies, and write pen pal letters to the students at the school to tie in an authentic audience for presentational and interpersonal writing practice in the target language! My students were pretty amazed by what they accomplished in the last quarter of the school year and, I hope, made a real connection to native speakers of Spanish that will continue to motivate their future language study.
Get Creative + Reflective
Wrap up in a way that will leave you with all the feels and good vibes, as well as useful feedback for your practice! I love to spend the last couple of days revisiting students’ favorite songs, games, videos, and activities from the previous year. It reminds us all of how far we’ve come when we remember a silly alphabet song or Zumba together to a favorite song. I also always create a simple survey to gather feedback on what students got out of my class. This survey includes very broad questions that will give me some insight into how they felt in my classroom. I never read it right away — I save it til at least August and then as the school year is about to ramp back up I take some time to go and read that feedback as I reflect on the changes I want to incorporate as I start another year. Reflection is key to growth as an educator — don’t be afraid to ask what your students got form your time together!
This year, I’m feeling particularly nostalgic and reflective, as, after much consideration, I recently resigned from my position teaching middle school Spanish! While my time in the classroom is coming to a close, I am really excited to have space and time to explore what’s next for me. Many possibilities are vying for my attention — everything from independent consulting and contract work that would support teachers and schools, to going back to school myself for another Masters or Ph.D., to travel abroad, perhaps spending a year living in Japan and teaching English through the JET program, to even potentially completely shifting to a new field! I feel so lucky to have spend the past decade and change working with young people and colleagues who share my passion, and I can’t wait to figure out what my next act will be. ❤