As a teacher I loved the last day of school. Obviously, I was looking forward to a summer of no more (school) reading, no more (school) books, no more student’s dirty looks. But it also provided the perfect time to look back and reflect on the year, to really think about and examine my successes, the failures and the things I wanted to work on for the next year.
When I taught, both upper elementary and middle school, one of my end-of-the-year activities was to provide my students with that same opportunity. I’d start by reading Last Day Blues (of course), and then, like the students in the book, talk about what we would miss and also what we were looking forward to for next year.
After that, the students looked over their year with a more critical eye and tried to identify things that went well and those that didn’t.
Here is how I did it:
- First, we would brainstorm possible successes and failures in academic, social or extra-curricular activities. For instance, success might be getting a good grade in a hard class or trying out and making it into the school play. Failures might be continuous struggles to get homework done, or consistently getting in trouble in a certain class.
- Then, have each student decide on one personal success and one failure and reflect on and write about what they learned from it.
- Possible guiding questions to prompt reflection are: What made it a success or a failure? What would you do differently if you could? What did you do right? What was good/bad, right/wrong about the outcome? How did it make you feel? Why?
- Finally, have them write a take-away: How are you going to use that learning or insight going forward.
This was always a low-stakes activity and the students had lots of time and leeway in terms of what to write about.
When they were done, there was time to share thinking if they wanted.
That was it. Nothing earth shattering, but certainly a productive and engaging way to spend one of the remaining days of school.
Two years ago, when the day was done and the kids had left the building, I wrote this in my own journal, “Today we spent the day sharing our reflections on the ups and downs of the school year. I am touched by how noble and kind, motivated and even wise these seventh graders are when they take the time to put their thinking down on paper. A few kids wrote what they thought I wanted to hear (‘I learned to do my best no matter what it takes.’) but the majority wrote about the importance of accepting others, the desire to keep trying, the surprise that comes with learning something new and the pride that comes with success after hard work. Their sharing made me love them even more, sad to see the year end, and oh so grateful that I have gotten to spend this year with them!”
My end-of-the-year assignment always did leave me with a feeling of Last Day Blues….that is, until I locked my classroom door, walked into the parking lot, started my car, and drove head-first into the first day of summer vacation!