Sunday, May 22, 2016

Calming the Year End Chaos Tips for Success

If you are like me, the end of the school year can be a chaotic and energy-draining time period. There are so many things to get done-like paperwork, end of the quarter exams, keeping your students' focused and engaged. It can seem like a circus act to juggle all of these things at once. Sometimes it feels like it will never end, but the light at the end of the tunnel is oh-so close.

The end of the year for me has always been a time for self reflection of what worked and what didn't. This was especially true when I taught Literacy Enrichment, an elective class for students who scored below average on our state ELA assessments. There was no set curriculum so I created EVERYTHING that we did in our class for 6th-8th grade. It was easy for me to determine what I thought was successful or a great lesson, but what about my students' thoughts on the lessons and activities? Sure I had asked for feedback from them here or there, but did I really give them a chance to really reflect on the things that we did and what helped THEM? I sat down that afternoon and created an End of the Year Survey for my students' to complete. (Click here to download a FREE copy of this survey!)

 I had my students complete this activity during one of the last weeks of school and I was amazed at their view on the things we had done and the honest feedback that many of them gave. It was so nice to read about their favorite activities or short stories that we did (it was no surprise to me that Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat" were among their favorites.). 

As I sat reading their comments, I began to think about how this would help me shape and revise my curriculum for the next school year. It was then that a light bulb went off in my head. If they were giving me such awesome feedback and advice, what type of advice would they give to future students who would be in their shoes next school year. Let's face it, we can give advice until we run out of things to say, but how powerful would it be for students to be the ones giving that advice on how to survive a new school year. I worked throughout the night developing a writing assignment that would allow my students' to take the life lessons that they had learned during our year together and share these experiences and advice with the future students who would be in my class. 

I introduced the Letter to a Future Student Activity to my classes during the final week of school. At first, they looked at me like I was crazy. Did I really expect them to write multiple paragraphs during the last week of school!?! That all changed once I explained WHY they would be writing these letters and that there was a real life purpose to this assignment. I let them know that my plan was to seal their letters in individual envelopes and that each of my new students would get one of their letters on the first day of the new school year. Even my most reluctant writers worked hard to create a multi-paragraph letter that contains tips, tricks, and helpful hints for making it through that next school year. Many of my students would call me over to check over their letters and give them some feedback. Some even asked if they could type their letters because they didn't want their messy handwriting to stop someone from being able to read their letters. I was so impressed with the level of thoughtfulness and hard work that they put in.

This was absolutely the best end of the year activity that I have ever done. I loved being able to give these letters to each new group of students, especially my new 6th graders who were terrified on that first day of their middle school experience. It helped to calm some nerves and also led to some laughs from the humorous stories that my former students had told in their letters. Below is one of my favorite letters from one of my former students:

Without a doubt involving my students' in these two activities helped give me some valuable feedback and information to use as I worked towards planning a new school year out. It also allowed me to show my students how much I valued their thoughts and opinions. This helped cut down on the normal end of the year behaviors and helped end our year on a positive note. 

I hope that you found these two tips helpful in calming the overwhelming chaos that occurs at the end of the year. The end is oh-so near so make every moment with your students count! You've got this, teachers! I hope that you have a GREAT rest of the school year, whether that be days or weeks left and that you have a restful and relaxing summer vacation! :)

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  1. We do similar reflection activities in my class. Students get so much out of sharing their wisdom to next year's class as well as receiving it in the fall. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Those letters sound helpful for everyone! Thank you! :)

  3. Awesome, thanks Stephanie! I loved receiving advice from previously classes as a student, and still value that reflective moment as a teacher.

    -Danielle @ Nouvelle

  4. Amazing end of year assignment! The letter written by your student gave me chills. So great to pass on that wisdom! It means so much more coming from other kids. :)

  5. I love reflection activities and the students love being "heard"! :)