Helping English-Learners End the School Year Strong
This is an adapted excerpt from the authors’ new book, The ELL Teacher’s Toolbox: Hundreds Of Practical Ideas To Support Your Students, which comes out this month.
Teachers and students may feel like they are limping across the finish line at the end of the school year. During the last quarter, when testing is finished and spring is in the air, teachers and students can be tempted to go on cruise control. However, this attitude can result in a loss of valuable learning and practice time, especially for English-language learners who benefit from as many language-learning opportunities as possible.
While the last several weeks definitely present challenges, they also provide opportunities for students to consider what it means to "finish strong," to set goals and plans to make them happen, and to experience success.
Here are some ideas for encouraging English-learners to finish strong and boost their learning during the last few months—and final days—of school.
Activities for the Last Two Months of School
'Finishing Strong' Goal-Setting Activity
We can teach English-learners the concept of a strong finish by using simple sports metaphors to illustrate pushing through fatigue in order to "play" their best until the end of the school year. Runners don’t slow down at the end of a race. Basketball teams don’t stop shooting the ball in the last quarter. However, understanding this concept is easier than actually applying it. One of the ways we help students do so is through a goal-setting activity.
Ask students to think about what they would like to accomplish before the end of the year. This might be a goal related to learning English, academic skills, or behavior. We pass out goal sheets and work with students to complete them. Then, every Friday for the last several weeks of school, we give students time to reflect on their progress and fill out a weekly check-in chart. The chart prompts them to think about what changes they might need to make the next week to stay on track.
As teachers, we also complete the weekly check-in for our own goals. Students love holding us accountable.
Visual Displays of Learning
The final quarter of the school year is a great time to ask English-learners to reflect on the progress they’ve made throughout the year. In our experience, asking them to create visual displays of their learning makes this process even more creative and engaging.
Here are a few ways for students to visually represent what they’ve learned:
● Divide students into groups, assign each one a topic the class has studied, and have students create posters containing the five most important things they learned about a given topic, along with an image to represent each one.
● Have students individually draw a picture or create a storyboard of their best moment in class during the year. They can use it as a springboard for writing about the experience.
● Have students create a map or timeline of the school year on a large sheet of paper, including important learning topics, memorable activities, school events, field trips, and holidays.
● Have students design a visual representation of their reading journey, such as a chart, a timeline, a map, or a bookshelf, which contains the titles of the books they’ve read independently and as a class.
Activities for the Last Two Days of School
Advice for Future Students
During the last week of school, we often ask students to reflect on the class, including the routines, topics of study, learning strategies, and projects, and think about what would be helpful information to share with new students the following year. Students can work in small groups to brainstorm ideas and can then choose from a menu of options, such as writing a letter to new students, making a list of advice for how to be successful, or creating a handbook for the class.
The authors will share "Instructional Strategies for an 'ELL Teacher's Toolbox'" in a Facebook Live video on Wednesday, April 18 at 6:30 p.m. EST. Listen in on Education Week Teacher's Facebook page.
Teachers can share these projects with incoming students during the first week of the new school year—and we’ve found that students really pay attention to what their peers have to say.
Class and Teacher Evaluations
Asking English-learners to evaluate the class can offer valuable feedback for teachers while prompting students to consider their own learning strengths and challenges. Over the years, we have given students anonymous surveys about our class and our teaching, which give students a chance to offer honest feedback.
Teachers can consider which areas they’d like feedback on and then work backwards to design the questions. For example, if we want feedback on our relationship-building efforts, we might include the following fill-in-the-blank question on a survey: "My teacher cares about what is happening in my life ___ (a lot, some, a little, not at all). If we are interested in how students felt about the level of challenge in our class, we might ask: "The work in this class was ___(too hard, just right, too easy)."
Some of the questions can also be designed to prompt students' reflection on their learning processes, such as "Which activities helped you learn English the most this year and why?" or "What could you do differently or better to help yourself in this class?"
What Not to Do
It’s difficult for students to finish strong when their learning environment doesn’t reflect a spirit of strength. Don’t take work off the walls early and pack all your books away when you are expecting students to engage. Nothing says "School’s out!" like bare walls and bookshelves.
Don’t do a countdown of the number of days left in the school year on your board. For some of our students, the summer doesn’t represent a carefree time of rest and rejuvenation. They may already be experiencing feelings of anxiety, which can be heightened by the constant reminder of how the school year is quickly coming to an end. We also want students to know that we want to be there with them, even if we have momentary dreams of the vacation to come.