Ideas: The Last Weeks of School!
I remember from my days in New Hampshire that spring brought mud season, complete with bumpy frost heaves rippling across rural roads as the ground thawed. Then came black fly season that drifted into June, well beyond the last snows of May. Then glorious summer finally arrived – and it felt as if we had earned it.
Most schools in North America seem to have survived the pesky testing season and can now look forward to swarms of young people experiencing spring fever. At schools not on a year-round schedule, these last few weeks can be exhilarating for teachers, too, using lessons and activities that capture middle graders’ energy, stretch their minds and engage their attention. Below are ideas shared by educators to do just that.
Cossondra George, who is completing her eighteenth year at Newberry Middle School in Michigan, suggested in an Education Week Teacher post that teachers finish the school year not with a slow glide but with a strong climb. Her ideas for having students evaluate the year of learning through an anonymous online survey include levels of complexity to fit different age groups. George also shares her plans for having students write letters to next year’s class, hosting an in-class awards presentation, working with students to create a memory book (online or on paper) and more.
In Bringing the School Year to a Strong Finish, Mike Anderson homes in on the emotional impact students may experience as their year ends. Anderson, who spent 15 years teaching 3rd-5th graders and now works as a Responsive Classroom consultant, provides a collection of activities to prepare students for the transition while keeping their learning on track.
Anderson concludes: “Our school days are so busy that slowing down to think about anything further away than the next week often seems impossible. But it’s exactly because we’re so busy that we need to think about ways to keep the focus on learning and community right through the end of the year. Otherwise, we risk losing valuable learning time. And we may deprive students of that wonderful feeling of bringing their work together to a fruitful conclusion.” Responsive Classroom, which works with K-6 educators, provides lots more end-of-school blog posts.
Of course teachers need to tend to their own stress as the year ends, too. Nearly 200 teachers commented on Elena Aguilar’s Edutopia post, How to Stay Charged During the Final Weeks of School. A teacher for 14 years, Aguilar is now a transformational leadership coach for Oakland Unified School District. In her Edutopia post, she offers specific tips: introducing an engaging project while maintaining a familiar schedule, providing time for reflection for yourself as well as for your students, and more. Aguilar concludes by outlining why some students’ troubling summer expectations may cause them to act out and suggests ways to respond that help them and you as the last day of school nears.
Writing about Six Engaging End-of-Year Projects for Edutopia, UCLA Graduate School of Education instructor Rebecca Alber remembers her former high school students’ post-test malaise and suggests remedies that can work for them and younger students. She points out: “They have to feel as if they aren’t actually doing work. (Yep, you have to trick them!) And whatever you do plan, three elements are essential: choices, creativity, and constructing.” Alber recommends involving students in “Show What You Know,” “On-Campus Field Trips,” “Craft a New Ending” and more, all with cognitive demands attached. Commenters on her post offer ideas for middle graders as well as older kids.
Projects take over in May for seventh and eighth graders at Marin Country Day School in Corte Madera, CA. In a 2012 MindShift article, Building a Bridge to Summer with Projects, Matt Levinson, head of the school’s upper division, lists some of the children’s options. Eighth graders choose one project for the month. Seventh graders rotate among a range of options including one centered on service learning.
You’ll find a how-to for planning and implementing a three-week service learning project for upper elementary students in Alycia Zimmerman’s ‘Tis the Season to Do Community Service. Writing in Scholastic’s Top Teaching blog in 2011, Zimmerman outlined a December project with logistics that could fit just as well in May or June. Along with a step-by-step guide, she provides links to Generationon.org and Learning to Give. Browse the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse’s SLICE database for service ideas arranged by grade, including one set for grades 4-6 and another for grades 6-8.
Imagine yourself surrounded by a busload of middle graders: a never ending nightmare or a memorable spring day filled with learning? You decide (assuming field trip funding is still a reality in your school district). Get down-to-earth specifics for creating a day (or more) of academic fun from Amanda Wall’s MiddleWeb guest article, Learning on Field Trips. Wall, a former middle school teacher and doctoral student, shares lessons she’s learned about planning, sharing academic goals, grouping and more, neatly summarized in six tips.
Brighten spring learning with help from the calendar. Though exploring Mexican culture through observing Cinco de Mayo may be too late for this year, other historical events remain. May’s Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month is just getting started. In addition to learning the history and contributions of Asians and Pacific Islanders in America from a Library of Congress collection of federal resources, students can see their impact on modern day America with help from a US Census fact sheet. Scholastic provides several detailed lesson plans.
Teachers may also want to take a quick look back at Law Day. In 1961 the US Congress declared May 1 to be the nation’s day to celebrate the rule of law. Today the American Bar Association offers varied Law Day resources, including several lesson plans. If not this year, mark your calendar for 2014?
A more somber American observance arrives on May 27: Memorial Day. The US Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, supplies an overview of America’s day to remember citizens who died serving the country. The document follows the development of Memorial Day with its beginning after the Civil War, when it was often called Decoration Day as people decorated military graves. The VA mentions Confederate Memorial Day and notes that after World War I, the scope of the national Memorial Day in the U.S. was expanded to commemorate all military who had died for the nation. (In 1971 Veterans Day was also declared a national holiday.)
More recently Congress created the National Moment of Remembrance which encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who died serving the nation. The VA website hosts a video featuring actor Joe Mantegna, a recurrent host of the annual Memorial Day concert, speaking about the observance. More videos as well as an overview of the day are available from History.com. You can also find lesson plans at Read Write Think.
Teachers whose school year runs into June (or year-round) may want to celebrate Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates June 19, 1865 when American slaves in Texas learned with the arrival of federal troops that they were free, following the end of most hostilities and General Lee’s surrender in April. TIME provides an overview. Read Write Think offers links and an activity to compare June 19 and July 4 using an online Venn diagram.
The summer solstice also provides learning opportunities for both science and social studies classes. Arriving on June 21 this year, the solstice marks the year’s longest day in the Northern Hemisphere. The AAAS’s Science Netlinks hosts a quick audio explanation of why our planet’s 23.5% tilt developed during the period of frequent celestial collisions and how the tilt impacts Earth’s seasons. An accompanying post explains why more huge direct hits from space debris are unlikely. Science Netlinks also provides lessons. National Geographic hosts an enlargeable graphic showing Earth’s revolution around the Sun. Visit TimeandDate.com for a look at solstice traditions in the Northern Hemisphere. Earthsky.org provides a 2012 post on viewing Stonehenge on the summer solstice. This June check back at earthsky.org for a 2013 story.
Lots to Read
Relaxed, post-test reading takes on an organized flavor in Spring. Though the Association of American Publishers’ Get Caught Reading site hasn’t been updated since 2012, there are plenty of interviews with favorite authors and other celebrity highlights. Read Write Think provides resources to help students dive into books, especially during National Children’s Book Week for grades K-6. Kids can vote in the Children’s & Teen Choice Book Awards through May 9 and hear the favorites announced May 13 as the week begins. The Children’s Book Council and Every Child A Reader originated the awards in 2008 so that youngsters could share their opinions about books written for them. Teachers and librarians can find Book Week resources here.
Over at the Nerdy Book Club, you’ll find a teacher’s bright idea about how middle schoolers can spend some time near the end of school “paying it forward” by reading to younger kids. In this teacher’s case, the journey to the elementary classrooms “is part of an authentic assessment in my Speech and Debate class.” Works either way!
The last weeks of school may also be a good time to refresh spelling skills, especially with the Scripps National Spelling Bee finals May 28-30.The Bee website offers suggestions for organizing a bee along with a couple of helpful downloadable PDF’s. (Note: it’s too late to register a class, and parents have to pay to access materials for their children in the Bee’s Word Club.) You can find plentiful lists and worksheets by grade at Spelling Words Well, a creation of Ann Richmond Fisher, an education writer and former teacher. Her site has begun assembling materials that are aligned to the CCSS, now through grade 5 (May 2013). For more spelling fun, with access to the New York Times, you can share spelling problems encountered by the paper’s writers in a recent post, When Spell-Check Can’t Help by Philip B. Corbett.
Find lots more awesome links to spring’s historical and cultural events – everything from Stonewall Jackson’s death to Nelson Mandela’s election as South Africa’s president – on Awesome Stories’ interactive monthly calendar.
And what about the very last day of school? You can prepare for the grand finale by referring now to Larry Ferlazzo’s helpful suggestions for closing out the year, gleaned from his own classroom and from his readers. Update (May 2013): At his Classroom Q&A blog, Larry has just posted Ways to Use Class Time During the Last Two Weeks Of School featuring ideas from Roxanna Elden and Donalyn Miller in part 1. Part 2 will feature Alice Mercer and Bill Ivey along with reader suggestions.
Update (May 2013): Writing at Edutopia, Elena Aguilar suggests ways to integrate the arts into the post-test weeks to bring enthusiasm back into the classroom.
Update (May 2013): Scholastic offers a lengthy collection, Wrapping Up the School Year, including several blog posts that look really helpful for middle grades teachers: Genia Connell’s post that provides two upper elementary lesson plans, Brent Vasicek’s detailed Your Closing-the-Classroom Checklist, Cate Sanazaro’s quick strategy for making next year’s first day fun and efficient, and Ruth Manna’s Saying Goodbye, suggestions for helping kids with their end-of the-year mixed feelings.
Update (May 2013): Find out how Mobile Apps Make Field Trips More Interactive in an Education Week post by Sarah D. Sparks.