It’s that time again when we will be saying goodbye to this year’s students. Whether they are moving on to a new grade, new school, or new chapter in their lives, change is on the horizon. For us, too. The end of the school year is also filled with so many activities, ceremonies, standardized tests, and other disruptions that we can begin to feel overwhelmed. We are all in wind-down mode which can lead to feelings of disconnection and demotivation.
Yet, the end of the year can also be a time of reflection, celebration, and reset. So, what are some ways that we can help our students (and ourselves) reflect on the literacy practice and growth they accomplished this school year? Here are two ways that I found were successful with the middle and high school students I taught.
1 Confessionals as a Vehicle for Reflection
I LOVE reality TV shows. It’s something that surprised my students. I think they thought as an English teacher that I wouldn’t fall for the façade of reality TV. I mean, it’s obvious there are producers serving as game makers, creating storylines, and endlessly manipulating the audience. Yet, I find myself so drawn into the stories of the auditionees on American Idol, the strategy on Survivor!, or the drama that ensues on The Bachelor. When helping my students understand the structure of genre, we brainstorm characteristics of each. My students were having a hard time with this, so I asked them to characterize reality TV to illustrate my point. One of the characteristics of a true reality TV show is that individuals are recorded in confessional videos sharing juicy gossip and opinions about others on the show, secrets of their strategy, or more of their own story. I’m always yelling at the TV “Don’t say that! The person you’re talking about is going to see this!” Inspired by this characteristic of the reality TV genre, we decided that students would each record a confessional video reflecting on how they felt they grew as readers, writers, thinkers, and speakers during their year in sophomore English. Students first did some preparation for the video by writing a script and finding evidence to support each claim they were making about their growth. Then they practiced on their own or with a peer before recording their own video. Students were invited to bring a peer into the conference room to be their producer if they wanted to.
What ensued surprised me. I thought I would quickly zoom through the reflections as I assessed them; it was the end of the year after all and who has time to watch all these videos? But I couldn’t help myself, I watched every last minute. Students opened up about so many aspects of the class, giving me true insight into the units that were most engaging and impactful, and those that I might want to revamp over the summer. Plus, they said some warm fuzzy things about me and our learning community. Of course, some used it as an opportunity to try to be funny, but overall, nothing disrespectful was recorded and I found the goofy students who took it a little less seriously quite endearing. After all, they were leaning into the genre of reality TV.
2 Reading Recognition Ceremony
Another way to celebrate and reflect on the year is to provide some recognition for the reading students did during the year. We went all out and had an awards ceremony for the 9th graders in a reading intervention class I was teaching. I wanted students to feel special. Many were not part of co-curricular teams who had end-of-season awards banquets, so many hadn’t had that feeling of being recognized publicly. We planned an evening event in our school library and had students invite mentors to attend (this was to ensure the students would come because “it would be embarrassing if your football coach showed up and you didn’t”). We got area businesses to donate gift cards, books, and goodies. We had students vote on awards for classmates (avid reader, most improved, most valuable partner (MVP), obsessed with Harry Potter, etc.). We kept all awards positive and ensured every student got one. Then we gave out some special plaques to students who stood out, similar to coach awards given at co-curricular banquets. We had food, decorations, and ended the night with an open mic. Students were excited to share about their accomplishments as readers as well as how becoming a reader and spending time in the pages of young adult novels gave them insights into themselves, each other, and worlds they would never get to experience if it weren’t for books. Whether you go all out or simply do a celebration during one of the last class periods together, the rewards are worth the work.
There are many more ways to reflect and celebrate. What are you doing to honor your own work and the reading growth of your students this year? Tell us by posting on Twitter and tagging @MackinLearning. If you are looking for ideas to get students reading, consider visiting my blog, Just Let them Read! or my recorded webinar, Just Let Them Read! Creating Conditions for Real Reading, Writing, and Talking in the Classroom for ideas.