(This post is Part Two in a two-part series. You can see Part One here)
Last week’s question was:
“What are the best ways to spend class time during the last two weeks of school?”
It’s that time of the year...
Part One in this series offered many suggestions from two exceptional teacher authors: Roxanna Elden and Donalyn Miller, along with my own ideas. Today’s post includes responses from three more great educators: Chris Wejr, Alice Mercer and Bill Ivey. In addition, I’ve included many comments that readers have contributed.
As I mentioned last week, this response will be the last one for this school year, though I’ll be publishing various “compilation” posts during the summer. During that same period, I’ll be organizing a third year of this blog to start in the fall, so keep those questions coming!
I’ll also be working with Education Week to develop an ebook including some past columns and new material.
Response From Chris Wejr
Chris Wejr is a father of twin girls and a former high school PE/Science/Math teacher, athletic director and volleyball coach. He now works as a teacher and principal of Kent Elementary School in Agassiz, British Columbia, Canada. With a passion for growth and educational change focused on assessment and student motivation, he learns and shares with others in his network on Twitter at @chriswejr as well as on his blog:
The final few weeks of school are often the time for meeting, choosing, and awarding the winners at our schools. Three years ago, our school made the decision to move away from awards ceremonies and consider other ways to honor all of our students.
Although I believe we need to move away from awards I also know this is a difficult decision in most schools as there are often lengthy traditions of trophies and awards. I am not advocating we lower expectations nor am I stating that every child should get some “top _____ award"; however, as we observe our formal year-end awards ceremonies, I strongly encourage you to reflect upon the following questions:
* How many students have strengths and have put forth great efforts but are not awarded?
* What impact does a child’s parents, culture, language, socioeconomics and current/previous teachers have on the winners/losers?
* Does choosing a select few students as winners align with our school mission and vision?
* Are there other ways we can honor and showcase excellence?
* Is there a specific criteria or standard that must be met to achieve the award? If yes, then can more than one person be honored or is it simply about awarding one person that is better than his/her peers in a specific area chosen by the school?
* How does a quest for an individual award align with a culture that encourages teamwork and collaboration?
* If we honored and showcased student learning in a variety of ways throughout the year, would a year -end awards ceremony be necessary?
* Do students have a choice on whether or not they enter this competition?
* If awards are about student excellence and motivation in the “real world”, why do we not host awards ceremonies for our top children in our homes?
* If we are seeing success in encouraging inquiry-based learning, focusing on formative assessment and fostering a growth mindset, how can we defend a ceremony that fosters a fixed mindset and mainly showcases winners often based on grades and/or scores?
I believe we need to honor and highlight achievements and student learning but I wonder... is an awards ceremony that recognizes only a select few, and is often held a few days before our students leave, the BEST we can do?
Here are some ideas to consider:
* Host celebration of learning events throughout the year (or one at the end of the year) in which students highlight/share examples and demonstrations of a key part of their learning.
* Host honoring assemblies in which each student is recognized at a point during the year not through an award but through stories and examples of his/her learning, strengths, and interests.
* Encourage class/department events in which each class showcases and shares areas they have been highlighting in their learning.
* Combine the above events with parent/family luncheons so more time can be spent sharing the stories.
* Share online the wonderful work students and staff do in our schools. Provide digital windows that highlight various stories of learning.
Although there is no single best way to acknowledge the efforts and achievements of our students, we must be aware of our school traditions and cultures and also work together to reflect upon and challenge current practices to create positive change that seeks to honor ALL of our students.
For links to posts on awards ceremonies from a variety of parents and educators, please check out Rethinking Awards Ceremonies.
Response From Alice Mercer
Alice Mercer teaches sixth grade at an elementary school in Sacramento, CA. She started her teaching career in Oakland, Ca, and moved to Sacramento in 2001. Alice is an active member of her union, and uses social media extensively for professional development and to help organize educators to improve our craft and working conditions:
I teach sixth graders in elementary, so there are some special wrinkles to the final weeks with students going through “promotion” from the school (the last week is really just two days), but I have a few golden rules about the last month the school year that still apply:
* Do not start counting down the days in front of the kids, and don’t do it yourself too soon, as it will not make anyone happier.
* Feel free to change it up, but it’s school, you should keep up the academics, otherwise, they will lose respect for you, and start treating your class like a day camp.
* It’s not the start of the year, and it’s not the middle, you can’t run the same program that’s “worked” all year because it’s known, and will be boring and that can cause trouble.
* Don’t throw your whole schedule to the wind, because kids still like some routines to look forward to, especially if they are transitioning away from your campus.
What does this look like in my class? Here are some examples:
We took a short break to go to the native plant garden, and meditate in silence.We did this Wednesday, and the effort to get the class to maintain silent contemplation for even the 3-5 minutes was monumental, but worth it because they needed that centering.
At the opposite end of the activity spectrum, at this time of year, I play dodge-ball (with foam or carpet balls, not the hard-rubber kind) with the kids. This is a safe way for all of us to get our aggressions out on each other.
This is a good time to look at alternative assessment forms and try them out. I’ve already given my kids the chance to do alternatives with more images, and even cartoons, and I’ll be doing that more.
We’re doing more exploration in Mathematics, since we’ve finished the textbook. This week, I had them look at probability and game theory and had them look at different games that had chance (coin flips, cards) and human intervention/skill (rock-paper-scissors, tic-tac-toe).
If you are going to assign projects make sure you still provide guidance and structure, as it can be really easy for kids to go have a lesser ability to focus than usual at this time of the year.
Response From Bill Ivey
Bill Ivey is Middle School Dean at the all-girls Stoneleigh-Burnham School in Massachusetts:
A dream we hold in our middle school program is to recreate what my own junior high school in Amherst, MA did back in the early 70’s: use the final two weeks to completely regroup and offer a curriculum entirely off the map. Here’s how I remember it working.
We had eight periods of classes, and for the last two weeks of the year, we double-blocked them so each mini-course would meet for approximately an hour and a half. Teachers proposed ideas for something they thought they and their students would enjoy, and we registered for the courses we wanted. Some teachers stuck with their school passions and offered courses in art, music, shop, home ec, phys ed and so on. Others branched out in unexpected directions and created interdisciplinary courses that drew on local resources including museums, graveyards, and of course the inevitable tour of Emily Dickinson’s house. I took bowling one year, and we would walk to the old gym at UMass. Another year, I managed to sign up for both “Reading” and “Speed Reading” and happily relaxed with book after book for an entire glorious morning. My ninth grade year, the decision was made for me as I had accepted an offer to become one of the “Hurricane Guard” and return to the Junior High during the winter months and teach swimming while gym teachers life-guarded, all for high school credit. The water-safety instruction course lasted all day for the entire two weeks and remains a highlight of my junior high years.
The moment we can do some renovations and expand our enrollment so that we no longer share teachers from our upper school, we plan to implement this idea. In the meantime, I share it with you in the hope some other school can make good use of it.
Responses From Readers
First, any loose ends need attention. After that my top priority would be facilitating each student’s summer bucket list development - with lots of follow-up classroom sharing of possible approaches, possible cooperation, etc. To stimulate thinking on the bucket lists, I’d try to hold back any field trips until this period if possible. Finally, I might do some outside activities: nature walks, plant / insect / bird ID, paper airplane building / flying, photo taking, ... The ideas are to “set up” the summer period and to do very hands-on activities - to help the students learn through fun activities.
Students and teachers could spend time reflecting on what they’ve learned throughout the year. They could look at work samples from the beginning of the year and identify areas of growth. Students can set summer reading goals. Maybe, they could even create a platform to have book talks over the summer. And finally, the class should celebrate the community and relationships they formed during the year.
I finish up activities we have been working on. We do lots of work finishing up or doing things we did not get a chance to do. We start packing home stuff. We do the summer birthday party, end of the year field trip, observe the graduation. We do a closure of all classroom activities either in the last week or the next to last week. We finish times with older buddies during the last week. The children write thank you letters to all who have been helpers in the classroom during the last year. We finish any testing needing to be done. I take photos of the class. The children help with emptying the classroom and cleaning it the last week. They do things like test the art pens for dead ones, organize the games, math manipulatives, and books. I try and have all the children’s stuff except the report card home by the next to last day. I have found if I wait till the last day someone is gone as well as the day feels frantic.
I teach students with reading disabilities, so the last two weeks is spent on the enjoyment of reading. The students pick a novel, and I use tutors that I have recruited to perform guided reading. The tutors write down any word that is not a site word, and the words accrued becomes the students personal vocabulary word.
When we do silent reading, if the day is nice we go outside to read in nature. If it’s cool or rainy, we read inside while listening to classical music, which tends to soothe reluctant readers. We end the year with a book talk about the individual novels, and that acts as an oral, informal assessment. The kids enjoy the last two weeks. They hopefully develop a love for reading before the long Summer, and they go away with increased vocabulary.
I am a huge supporter of getting kids to read over the summer. My kids know I am a “bookaholic” and can never have enough. One thing you can do is have a “gently used book exchange.” Every kids has books laying around the house in their bedroom etc (well, at least, I hope so!). Have kids bring them in, lay them out for all to look at and touch. All who brought one -- leave with one. Anyone who didn’t bring one? I give them one from my classroom library to exchange.
Set up a wiki page where kids can stay in touch over the summer. Post pages that ask about what they are reading. Our kiddos want to stay in touch over the summer and a wiki is easy to manage. I have used PB Works in the past. Of course, there are others.
I’ve also used Storify to collect responses sent on Twitter:
Thanks to Chris, Alice and Bill, and to many readers, for contributing their responses.
Please feel free to leave a comment sharing your reactions to this question and the ideas shared here.
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