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The Last Six Weeks of School:
Affirming Hopes and Dreams

A colleague of mine described the last six weeks in her school as an avalanche. Everyone seems to gear up to gear down! Often, we seem to increase the pace; we feel compelled to rush through the remaining lesson plans, teach to the last second, and prepare major culminating events as well. We exhaust, and perhaps even discourage, in our final efforts. Yet, it seems as important to end, as to begin, the school year with intention and care.

For teachers using the Responsive Classroom approach, an important goal for the last six weeks of school is to help children know and celebrate what they know. They do that as a group and as individuals. It is part of a reflective and self-assessing process. It occurs over time during the last six weeks of school.

I have observed, year after year, with third graders or with 8th graders, that the experience of recalling math concepts learned, books read, compositions written, geography facts mastered, spelling words spelled correctly -- and more, and more -- gave a sense of perspective and accomplishment. It reassured and affirmed.

When we take the time to review and record the work of a school year, we restore faith in our children and in ourselves. We see the power of hopes and dreams. We see the evidence of much learning and value of our teaching. Yes, there still is work to do, but we look ahead with rekindled energy not sagging shoulders. After all, look at all we did this year!

GROUP REFLECTIONS

The goal is to generate and chart the learning of the year. I often begin with individual reflections, move to partner chats, and then have children brainstorm together. The outcome will be large charts in all our subject areas that list and/or illustrate skills, concepts, events, shared readings, and more. Recalled are the hard spelling words or juicy vocabulary words, the interesting interviews with visitors, the favorite outdoor recess game, the collection of insects that a classmate brought in one day. The references are varied, surprising, and wonderful. The following are the steps I tend to follow:

Step 1. Individuals Think, Write, Remember
Math, I say, emphasizing the word in bold relief, writing it on the board, and letting the word echo out. We've learned a lot of math this year. Can anyone go back to the fall and think of one of the first topics we worked on this year?

A hand or two are raised cautiously. "I think we started with large numbers."

"Wasn't it estimating?" another says.

"Both sound familiar," I say, grinning. "This isn't a test, just a prompt to remember, remember."

I hand out paper and ask children to remember everything they can from our math work this year. I give them 10 minutes to think and make notes. Don't worry about spelling or handwriting, I caution. Just think.

Step 2. Partner Chats
Next, I have children team up with a familiar partner -- one of their "Travel Partners" generated earlier in the year. (This is one way to structure student and teacher initiative that assures children will work with a number of partners during the year.). They read their own list to their partners, adding on as they get new ideas. Then they bring their lists to the group.

Step 3. Group Share: Making Class Charts
From the partner collaborations, we move to our collective lists. I go around the group, asking each team to share one of their recollections until we have exhausted the lists.

Rather than become impatient, I observe the children's interest grow as their lists get longer, as memories are sparked, events recovered. They take delight in the lengthening evidence of their work with decimals, fractions, dividing with two digits. They smile at words partially or fully realized -- equations, numerators, percentages, and so on.

Further Readings

For more suggestions about ways teachers infuse the last six weeks with good ideas, visit the Responsive Classroom Web site and newsletter. Both have rich archives that may be accessed.

We hang the charts in a prominent place and allow students to add as the weeks go by. As facts are remembered, they're added. Over time, we chart all the major subject areas-- math, language arts, social studies, science, the arts. We record morning meetings, field trips, special projects, guided discoveries, assemblies, recess activities, and more. Finally, we chart social learning, or the ways we practiced and learned the social skills encrypted in CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy and Self-Control).

  • We learned to do better with a guest teacher. (A substitute teacher)
  • We learned to clean-up more efficiently.
  • We got better at talking about things without making faces.
  • We learned to do apologies of action.
  • We didn't argue about the rules in four square so much.
  • We figured out how to use the calculators and not break them this year.

Those lists are telling and reassuring. Often we expressed the particular challenges of the group, but sometimes they referred to the struggles of individuals to take care of themselves, one another, and their environment.

INDIVIDUAL REFLECTIONS: YEAR END SELF-EVALUATIONS:

In addition to brainstorming and reflecting as a group, I also encourage individual reflections. That involves teacher-generated worksheets with spaces for students to write about the year and illustrate their writings. Those forms were developed to be age/grade appropriate, but they always include open-ended questions about both the academic and social curriculum. There are both general and specific items to think and write about; they might include:

  • List 10 things you most remember learning this year and tell why they were important to you.
  • Illustrate a favorite work time in the classroom.
  • List your favorite read-aloud this year and describe something the book made you think more about.
  • Describe a problem you solved this year.
  • Describe a new friendship for you this year.
  • Describe something you were proud of accomplishing and tell why it was important.
  • Describe an area of math that was easy and one that was hard.
  • What do you think might be strength and a challenge for you next year?

The children have opportunities to share their reflections in school and take them home at the end of the year. A copy remains in school as part of their portfolio, as a record of growth, and as information for the next year. The final draft of those documents might take several weeks to complete.

WRITING INDIVIDUAL SELF-EVALUATIONS

Steps in the process of writing individual self-evaluations include the following:

  1. Students begin with a first draft. Reflections might include partner chats, pre-writing and /or teacher conferencing.
  2. Students edit and proof-read first-draft responses.
  3. Students write final draft in best writing.
  4. Students illustrate and design a beautiful cover.
  5. Students might share selected parts, add other photos or mementos and autographs.
  6. Many teachers like to add their own special positive message to the copy that goes home. The other copy is filed.

In sum: A critical part of the last six weeks of school involves engaging students in reflections about their year. It is a way to affirm the important learning of the year and to allow children (and adults) to complete the year with hope and pride. We continually want to reinforce the efforts to realize in school many hopes and dreams, to recognize, in the words of Sara Ruddick, that to say an ideal governs is to identify a kind of struggle, not to record an achievement. We have achievements, but we also can celebrate and, yes, record our struggles together as a class.

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