In the rush to make the year come to an end I would often forget that my students did not all feel the same way. Yes they were tired of school. Yes they too were tired of working and learning, but they loved me or at least were used to me and their ability to have unlimited access to me was coming to an end. They wanted an opportunity to savor it and enjoy the last days of school. I tried to remember that as often as I could.
It’s this mentality that drives the idea of finishing strong. We start the year with a lot of forethought and anticipation, but often limp towards the end of the year. No matter how many days are left on that countdown to summer it’s not too late to cast a vision and make a plan for how you want the end of the year to look and feel in your classroom.
I am going to help you hold the tension of and. You need to pack up your room and your students need to feel a sense of normalcy. You need to start planning for next year and your students need time to reflect on what they learned this year. You need to keep students busy and your students need to be engaged in tasks that matter.
Casting a Vision
Cast a vision for how you want to feel on the last day of school. How do you want your students to feel on the last day of school?
-You want to feel ready to close out the year without having to pack up your entire room or sort through all the things on your staff workday.
-You want to feel like you enjoyed the last days with your students. You don’t want to have regrets about having been too busy packing up your room or just giving students busy work.
-You want your students to feel like it was worth their time coming to school after testing, because you still had things to learn, or purposeful projects to do without feeling like they were just being kept busy while you do other things.
-You want students to feel like you valued their opinions and input into how the year had gone and what they thought should be different for the students in your class next year.
Now keep this vision in mind and use it as we craft your end of year/Life after testing plan. This plan will consist of just a few key things or areas that you want to finish strong in so that you get the things that need to be done, done. Your students feel valued and purposeful and your class community commemorates this unique year of growth and learning.
The components are:
Front and Center- What you need to do to ensure that the learning continues with you at the helm.
Community– What you need to do to make sure students know that even if the year is ending you guys are a family. It is okay to remember the good times, dread the end and look forward to the future.
Back end– What you need to do to close out the year in a way that leaves you organized and ready to unpack quickly next year or what you need to do to reignite your passion for teaching.
We are going to take each category and think about how we can use it to help your end of year vision come to life.
Front and Center Ideas
Now that testing is finally over you and your students can just sit back and relax. No more test prep, no more stress, no more structure. Not so fast. I know that it can be tempting to want to throw in the towel and just start packing in all the teaching and learning for this year.
I would caution you not to do that for several reasons, but the most important one being that your students crave routine and also your students can sense when their teacher is in chill mode and will act out accordingly. Abandoning your routine will open you up to a host of behavior problems as well as allow students to lose the ground they have gained in their reading this year. I suggest you keep the skeleton of your routine the same, but vary what fits into the shell so that your students continue to learn, but have a chance to experience some autonomy along the way.
After state testing one year my third grade students had the opportunity to study drama. They chose a fractured fairy tale reader’s theater that they studied. Students made butcher paper costumes and props. They also create a program for their play using skills they had learned in the computer lab. I reached out to teachers in younger grades who were also at the over it point in the school year and had them sign up for a time to watch my class perform their plays. The teachers and students enjoyed the performances and my students loved being the center of attention.
One year my students had an opportunity to design their own super hero capes and made them out of butcher paper. Then they wrote an origin story for their super hero, and presented their stories to the class.
Take a trip down memory lane and help students commemorate your read-alouds for the year by hosting a book awards ceremony. I got this idea from another teacher author. Have students vote on the best read aloud, best character, worst villain, best cover etc.
Have students review their reading logs and choose their top five or ten books read that year and why. Have them share this list with the class. Students can reflect on the reading goals they set this year and think about how they can continue the momentum this summer and have them set summer reading goals based on their reflection. Provide each student with a summer to- read list and have them jot down which books they’d like to read this summer based on their classmates’ recommendations.
Your class independent reading routines should continue. These routines are the perfect “keep them busy” activity to close out the year with. This is a great time to break out those reading response activities that you’ve been wanting to try, but haven’t. Then have students turn them into a book report that they present to the class or to a turn and talk partner.
Students can also put their reading expertise to work while being a role model to a younger student. We often had buddy reading opportunities at our campus and the end of the year became our favorite time because instead of only meeting biweekly we were able to meet once or twice a week now that testing was over. We partnered the reading with a simple graphic organizer that my older students could help the younger students complete.
Reach out to underutilized staff
Try a new partnership either with co-workers in a lower grade level (hello buddy reading), or with your librarian (hello research project). Either way this is a great time of year to reach out to other colleagues and build relationships which will yield benefits into next school year.
Another partnership you may want to strike up is one with your instructional coach. They can help you brainstorm ideas for end of the year activities that will benefit your students. They may also be willing to come in and co teach a lesson, again something that you can try now and will yield benefits into next school year. If you want help reflecting on your year and planning for next year, this is a great time to reach out to your instructional coach for help with that. They can help you take an objective look at your year and help you plan your goal for next.
Reignite your passion for teaching: Think of this time of year as a chance to break out of your instructional rut. Try a teaching technique that you have been wanting to try. Have you been wanting to try book clubs? Have you been wanting to try read-aloud with accountable talk? Have you been wanting to launch independent reading? It’s not too late. Try it now that the stress and pressure of testing have been lifted. Your current students know the routine and are familiar with your behavior expectations.
I often did this in my own classroom. Although, I was limping towards the end of the school year and just wanted it to end I knew my students still had a few weeks left to learn. One year I tested out a curriculum guide that helped my team dip their toe into read-aloud with accountable talk and built in reading responses. These lessons were just what the doctor ordered and the book I chose was engaging for my students so it was a win win. My testing it out first also helped me make a genuine recommendation to my principal that we buy them for my 5th grade team.
Packing up the room:There have been years when I have been ready to throw everything in my closet and just run out the door, let’s be honest some years I did just that and then regretted it. Let’s finish the year in a way that sets us up for success in the fall. Let’s do little things now that help us come back to a little less clutter and help us come back a little less overwhelmed.
I have compiled a list of ideas that will help you not only close out the year strong in your classroom, but also with your students and your coworkers. I made these tips into a bingo board that you can use to help make it a game. You can set a goal to just make a bingo or you can set a goal to black out the board.
Finish Strong challenge for teachers
Next Steps to close out the year:
-Maintain your routines (the shell of your schedule)
-Try something new to shake things up
-Give students some autonomy by giving them a chance to engage in projects that help them apply everything they have learned this year so far.
-Teach them something they will need next year, not for mastery but as an introduction and as a way to infuse fun into learning again.
-Take part in the finish strong bingo and tag me on social media @msevamireles