Published Online: May 14, 2012

Teaching Secrets: Ending the Year on a High Note

Ah, the home stretch. Time to coast?

No way. You're the kind of teacher who wants to end this year with a bang—giving your students a positive send-off to summer (and their next year of school).

Here are a few ideas to help you finish strong.

Class Evaluations

At any grade level, completing a class evaluation is a powerful experience for students. For elementary students, the evaluation might be a few brief questions with choices that range from frowney faces to smiley faces. For middle schoolers, true/false or multiple-choice questions might work. At the high school level, a ranking system is appropriate.

Include questions about their thoughts on the content of the class, the workload, your fairness and rules, as well as their own contributions and effort in the class. At all grade levels, include at least one open-ended response. Describe this class in one word. What is one thing you would change about how this class is taught? What was your favorite thing we did all year? Tailor the questions to suit your subject area, technology use, and style of teaching.

Students can complete evaluations using simple online tools like Survey Monkey or KwikSurveys. Online tools compile the information into a user-friendly format that analyzes your results, allowing you more time to focus on the open-ended responses.

These anonymous surveys can give you valuable input, informing your classroom plans for the next school year.

Letters to Next Year's Students

One of my favorite end-of-year projects is to ask my students to write letters to the students who will be entering my class in the fall. I ask them to give an overview of the class, strategies for success, tips about how to navigate my style of teaching, and descriptions of especially enjoyable class projects or activities. These letters are humorous and touching … and are a ready-made way to start the new school year off with a bang!

On the first day of school next year, I will pile the letters on tables to give nervous new students something to do as we take care of first-day housekeeping tasks. As they read about the class from other students' perspectives, they will laugh, relax, and get an inside view of what to expect during the upcoming year.

A Class Scrapbook or Memory Book

Gather photos and memorabilia from events throughout the year and create a class book of memories. Elementary teachers tend to take more photos of activities throughout the year, but if you ask upper-level students, you'll find that many of them have snapshots to share for the project. And if there are no photos, you could invite student illustrations or comic-book-style graphics of class highlights. Have students write captions or short blurbs to explain what is happening in the images. The final product could be a digital storybook created by students using an online tool, or a more traditional paper version that you photocopy for each student. Enjoy with students and parents but then tuck the collection of memories away. When this group of students are seniors, they will love to see this forgotten treasure again!

Awards Assembly

Most schools have traditional awards assemblies, recognizing those who have achieved at top levels or made significant improvements over the course of the year. You can plan a different kind of awards assembly for your class—one that acknowledges the community you have built together and celebrates each student.

The concept is to think of a special award or prize for each student, linked to a habit, strength, or funny story. Maybe Maggie, who brings her favorite peanut butter crackers for snack every day, needs a big box of them to carry her through the summer! Or Mike, who claims he can write better when using your purple pen, gets one of his own. Dominique, who manages to tell the funniest jokes, receives a book of puns you picked up at the dollar store.

I recommend planning this assembly for your last day of class together, transforming your classroom with tablecloths and beverages. End your awards presentation with a reading of an inspirational book such as Oh, the Places You'll Go, or a poem that you've written yourself about your hopes for your students.

It's best if you can plan for this one throughout the year, but if you know your students well and have a good memory, you can pull it off last-minute!

Remembering the Beginning

I like to start the year with written getting-to-know-you activities, like a short questionnaire that students complete on day one. If you've done something similar, return these documents to the students. They'll enjoy reflecting on how they've changed over the school year.

Auction

Every teacher has seen how spring fever can get in the way of academics. If you're looking for an activity to encourage motivation and good behavior during this time, announce an end-of-year auction. Give students tickets for on-task behavior, completed assignments, or positive attitudes, letting them know they'll be able to spend these at the auction. Hint at the kinds of prizes you'll be auctioning off.

You can pick up cheap prizes at craft or dollar stores, at garage sales or thrift shops, or by asking parents to bring in some special items. Local businesses may also be willing to contribute. You can also scour your desk and home for oddball items students will enjoy: fast food toys, toiletries from hotel visits, classroom posters or decorations, CDs, and paperbacks. (By the way, does your class do book orders? Consider saving your points and freebies for the auction!)

You will likely find that the most popular items will be mystery bags—make sure the first has something cool in it! Another might contain something ridiculous—a can of beets, for instance.

Make sure you have a variety of items and that everyone has earned at least a few tickets to spend. Save big items for the end of the auction to keep interest.

And however you decide to end the year with your students, make sure to express to them how important your time together has been. Send them into the summer months feeling good about lessons learned and confident that they will continue to grow and succeed.

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