Teaching Opinion

Response: Ways to Use Class Time During the Last Two Weeks Of School

By Larry Ferlazzo — May 19, 2013 7 min read
Illustration of teacher giving special attention to student.
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(This post is Part One in a two-part series.)

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...

Today’s post offers suggestions from two exceptional teacher authors: Roxanna Elden and Donalyn Miller. Part Two in this series will include responses from two more great educators: Alice Mercer and Bill Ivey. In addition, that post will share the many reader comments that have been and continue to be contributed.

In addition to that wealth of advice, here are links to other useful resources:

Finishing the School Year Strong and Teaching Secrets: The Last Day of School are two pieces I’ve previously written for Education Week Teacher.
Ideas for English-Language Learners | Celebrating the End of the School Year is a post I recently co-authored for The New York Times Learning Network.

Middleweb has pulled together a very nice collection of related posts and articles.

And, finally, you might want to explore The Best Ideas On How To Finish The School Year Strong.

By the way, this post is somewhat of a milestone—it’s the one-hundredth “response” to a question at this blog. Thanks to the many readers and guests who have contributed over the past two years. Part Two in this series 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 ebook including some past columns and new material. All author royalties will be donated to The National Writing Project.

Response From Roxanna Elden

Roxanna Elden is a National Board Certified Teacher, a speaker, and author. Her book, See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, is a widely-used tool for teacher training and retention:

For teachers, summer’s gentle breeze can feel more like a strong headwind. After all, test-pressure season and other stressful parts of the year are over. Now you’ve got materials to pack, grades to finish, and the occasional bird flying into your classroom window and knocking itself unconscious. You’re also starting to suspect that your school’s breakfast program has started serving energy drinks and candy. The temptation to go on autopilot is strong during the final stretch of the school year, but that doesn’t mean veering off course. It just means that in addition to steering your class toward its destination you also need to prepare for a smooth landing. Here are a few tips:

Plan around grading: Anything you plan to grade in detail should be due at least two weeks before school ends. By the last Monday of the school year, your grades should be all but finalized. The activities you plan for the last two weeks should be productive for students, but not grading-intensive for you. This is a perfect time for activities that involve group work, art projects, informal presentations, or opportunities for students to share their writing. If your students are busy and self-directed enough, you might even be able to work on some of your own end-of-year tasks as they work on theirs.

Enlist helpers: You’ve got a lot to do. If only you had 20-30 energetic people eager to help you. Oh wait... you do. Students love helping their teachers at the end of the year, and one hour of well-managed help from them can save you twenty hours of rolling up posters, cleaning desks, and packing your classroom library books into boxes. Obviously, the type of help students can provide will depend on their ages, but even kindergarteners can do things like sort and sharpen crayons for next year.

Have students review their work. If students have been keeping their work in classroom folders all year, give them some time to reflect on their progress. Let them read, revise, or share favorite assignments. Then ask them to pick a specific number of papers to keep long term - you can have them decorate a folder for this purpose. Have a recycling bin on hand for everything else.

Give anonymous surveys. Your administrators visited your classroom a few times. Your kids were in there every day. After thirty six weeks of school, no one can tell you what kind of teacher you were better than they can. Have a student collect the surveys and seal them in a folder. Promise that the folder will remain sealed until report cards are printed and kids are on break.

Start thinking about next year. Right now you may not have the energy or the fresh batch of hope you’ll have when you’re planning in August, but you do have perspective. Start a computer file with ideas for making next year better. You may even want to start a “good teaching ideas” email account for insights you have on the go. Your regrets from this year can make you a better teacher next year.

Make your parting message a positive one. If you’re hoping for a teacher-movie-style grand finale at the end of the year, the last few days can feel like a bit of a letdown. The classroom walls are bare. Students are hyperactive or absent or hoping you’ll just let them play with their phones. Even if you are tired and can’t wait for the kids to leave for summer break, find ways to show them that you are proud of their progress and will miss them.

Response From Donalyn Miller

Donalyn Miller is a fourth grade teacher at Peterson Elementary in Fort Worth, TX. She is the author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (2009) and the upcoming, Reading in the Wild (2013). Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy co-founder, Colby Sharp), and facilitates the Twitter reading initiative, #bookaday. Donalyn regularly contributes to the Nerdy Book Club blog:

Reading research indicates that many children’s reading ability declines between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next (Allington, 2013; Kim, 2006). My students can tell you why this happens; they don’t usually read much over the summer. You can offset this summer reading slump by reading as few as four or five books over the summer. Summer break is a marvelous time for readers, freed from the mandates of assigned school reading, to explore topics and books of their own interest. My students and I spend the last few weeks of the school year reflecting on our reading experiences and planning for continued reading and learning over the summer.

Provide lots of opportunities for students to recommend books. Hang recommendations on the walls in the hallways and in the library. Present book commercials over the announcements and in school newsletters. Provide student-created lists or podcasts on the school web site. Discussing books students might read over the summer sends a message that you expect them to read and gives students titles to consider.

Encourage children to make lists of at least four or five books they would like to read over the break. Explicitly setting the goal to read at least a few books sends students off for the summer with a reading plan and some specific titles they have self-selected to read.

Work with students to make lists of educational or literacy-focused websites that provide additional reading and learning opportunities over the summer. Students can research sites, collect their favorites from school activities, and post links on your class blog or school webpage for access during the summer months. Our current favorites are:

Wonderopolis showcases one “wonder” each day that explores interesting topics such as “Why do mosquito bites itch?” or “What is a nomad?” Entries include vocabulary links for new terms and videos that support each day’s content. Wonderopolis also has a free app for reading on the go.

Watch. Connect. Read. Librarian John Schumacher posts daily book reviews, book trailers, giveaways, and author interviews on his kid-friendly blog. Students can discover new books to read and find resources that support and extend the books they enjoy all summer long. Every summer, Mr. Schu goes on a literary road trip, visiting bookstores and famous landmarks in one region of the United States.

Look for ways to include parents and children in your summer reading initiatives and you will have more buy-in and motivation to participate. Advise parents to set the expectations for their child to read every day. Reading for 20-30 minutes a day keeps students’ vocabulary and reading ability growing during the summer and can be a wonderful activity for rainy days, household errand running, and long waits in the car or the airport. My students and I create a newsletter to send home that includes our reading plans, book suggestions, and online resources for parents’ use with their children.

Thanks to Roxanna and Donalyn for contributing their responses.

Please feel free to leave a comment sharing your reactions to this question and the ideas shared here.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose one free book from a variety of education publishers.

And, if you missed any of the highlights from the first year of this blog, you can check them out here. You can also see a list of the ten most popular posts in 2012.

Check out Part Two in this series.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.