Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ending the Year "Write": Using Written and Spoken Reflections to Wrap Up a School Year

This past week, I watched my seniors enjoy their last week of high school.  Their excitement and energy has filled the classroom since prom at the beginning of May, but this week, they were officially faced with the reality that their high school careers have come to an end.  In order to allow seniors to fully appreciate what they have learned, it is important to provide time to reflect.  Metacongitive processing is beneficial at any age, and this year, with such a high-spirited group, I have really enjoyed taking the time to reflect with them.   Here are a few activities that I have tried to work into my end of the year schedule with my seniors and sophomores.  Ranging from typical to a little more unique, I saw a great deal of benefit from these activities and received useful feedback from my students.  As hard as saying goodbye can be, embracing their excitement has been rewarding and rejuvenating, and reflection is an incredibly valuable part of that process.

1. Traditional Written Reflection: At the end of the year, asking a few questions such as "What was the most memorable activity in this class?" or "What can the teacher do to improve student learning?" can provide teachers with valuable comments that can be reflected upon over the summer as a means of preparing for next year.  Every year is an opportunity for improvement and adjustments that can improve student learning.  Writing this information on a note card or a half sheet of paper is a quick, easy way for students to provide comments that I've found valuable.  Often times, I find that students write kind words as well... or draw very goofy pictures that certainly have made me laugh.

2. Google Survey Reflection:  At the end of each quarter, I have students complete a Google Survey that asks them to reflect upon their current grade, identify their strengths and weaknesses, highlight class learning activities that have been both valuable and less valuable, and asked to provide me with any other feedback that would help me improve the course.  What I like about administering the same survey reflection multiple times throughout the year is that it has allowed me to collect qualitative data that I have used to improve student work.  I always post the results (without names) as a means of opening up communication with students about the class and have identified how I am planning on making adjustments to improve their classroom experience.  Often times, kids who are excelling simply post positive comments, and students who are not turning in work or using class time wisely will admit it.  Its a great way to dialogue with the group and individuals about progress and how we can work together to increase learning!

3. Name Web: At the beginning of the semester in my sophomore classes, I have students play the name game using a ball of yarn to show how interconnected we all are.  In addition to sharing their names, students have to share the origins and history of their names.  At the end of the semester, we get into the same web and share one way their identity has changed as a result of this course.  While everyone knows each others' names, they still make the web to show how we all belong to a community that we have built together throughout the course of the semester.

4. Letters to Future Students: Writing a reflection with the understanding that a future student who is taking the same course next year will read it is a great way to encourage students to think deeply about what they learned and how it affected them.  Writing for a real audience also increases their efforts, writing level, and thought that they place into the assignment.  In these letters, outline the course, give advice, and share what they learned from the experiences that they had.  These are great tools to use at the beginning of the semester, and future students have enjoyed reading what their predecessors had to share.

5. Impromptu Eulogies: In my senior speech class, I've tried to think a little outside of the box in terms of reflections.  Instead of writing out a formal essay during the Special Occasion Speech Unit (the last two weeks of school), this year I had students complete impromptu eulogies on a classmate.  Since their high school days are over, I frame the eulogies as a way to acknowledge their commencement and recognize the new lives they are about to experience.  Each student starts by writing his/her name on a sheet of paper and then selects another student at random.  Then, they all have five minutes to write a one to two minute speech honoring their peer.  In  speech class, they have shared so much about their passions, interests, and personal lives that no matter how closely they know each other outside of class, they have enough to say about their peers.  While some students have fun with the eulogy and develop clever ways in which the student they are speaking on has met an untimely end, all speeches were good-natured, fun, and even touching.  After everyone has spoken, students are asked to write a thank you note to the student who spoke about him or her as a way of practicing effective communication and showing thanks for the kind (and in many cases, humorous) words. This certainly was the least conventional but perhaps the most fun reflection activity.

Now that the school year is coming to a close, I am eager and excited to have more time to reflect upon this school year, reexamine my curriculum, and learn more about best practices to use in my classroom this summer.  Reflection is an invaluable part of the learning process for teachers, too!
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