Tuesday, June 2, 2015

What Students Say at Year's End

"There is nothing “winding down” about the end of the school year. It is more like a complete and total crash. You accelerate until you run into a brick wall and you hope your seatbelt lets you get out of the thing intact so you can limp off to your summer."

 Students have one more day. Tensions have been high as the school year comes to an end.  An in
class focus on two processes--reflection and connection-- made this last week with this year's students wonderful.  I worked on making connections by giving students time in a compliment circle (I'll post compliment pages and write about that another time), by tweeting the lessons students learned from books to authors and by inviting students to write letters to me about our curriculum and my methods. Those connecting pieces (as well as a good round of a Tutti Frutti word/thinking game) raised everyone's spirits.

Andrew got quite a kick out of Carl Deuker's response on Twitter.
In terms of reflection, at year's end I ask students to evaluate themselves and reflect on work they have done. I wrote about this process a couple of years ago here. Changes to state law regarding classroom assessment practices necessitated a change in how I structure and count the reflection, but it didn't really change the process.

My final assessment is a self evaluation, a piece of reflective writing. It gives me valuable information about my curriculum and methods from students' perspectives. One hope I hold out for students is that they will realize (one day) how much I value and take into account their thoughts and opinions. They are smart, young people who will shape our futures. I want them to know, by my actions and trust in them, that I have faith in their abilities.

This year, I cut the number of reflections questions and narrowed the breadth of topics I asked students to consider. I  focused students on essential language arts strands we've practiced every week, all year: reading, writing, speaking and listening*.

I passed out the self evaluation papers last week and told students they would have our "exam" time to write it or finish it (if they worked ahead). I gave students a week to think about their progress, to reconnect with some of their favorite books and to walk with the reflection questions in mind.  Some came to class with their reflections finished and some used all of our one-hundred minutes to work through their final thoughts.

What did I learn so far?

Students read but may have difficulty transferring math skills to track progress.
While students each had reading goals (pages per week) for independent reading, they may or may not have met them. There are only fifteen students in this class period and all but two of them read double digit books this year: 19, 15, 125, 11, 12, 23, 21, 9, 13, 8, 11, 17,11, 10 and 12.  Can you believe that these fifteen students read 317 books this school year--even without Mariah's record breaking 125 books (she read through series after series after series), fourteen students, fourteen high-achievers enrolled in multiple AP and IB classes, read 192 books.  Amazing.

Sometimes though, I questioned the math. One student said, "I did not read that amount [175 pages] each week at first due to may lack of desire to read ... The reason I didn't consistsently read my weekly goal was due to the simple fact that I didn't manage my time  enough to effectively read." Yet, he reports reading 17 books for the year. Perhaps his book reading, often like my own, does not follow a regimented week by week amount of books or pages.

The numbers didn't add up in several cased. I can see where a student who reads several books during vacation weeks could read more, but really based on earlier (nonscientific) inquiry into average pages per book, if a student is reading even 150 pages per week, most will finish two books a month or close to 20 books in a school year. Many students said during heavy testing times they had to study instead of read for pleasure, yet even without reading every day or every week, they managed to rea a lot. The math just didn't add up.

Students read more independently than I could ever teach were I to teach one book to the entire class at a time.

Students appreciate routine events even if they struggle at first. 
Every reflection I've read so far mentions the importance of weekly Socratic discussions, daily reading time and weekly journal writing. Students may differ in their opinions of the texts we used or genres of writing we practices, but they overwhelmingly appreciated and learned from the weekly routine events.

Students surprise us by learning lessons we may have never intended to teach.
I love hearing the life lessons students take away from the books they read. My favorite surprises are always the ones students find in books. Here is a distillation of life lessons from the students in my fourth period class:

I learned...
  • not to be elitist and decided be accepting and humble 
(from Mosquitoland by David Arnold)
  • that not everything is fake or insincere 
(from Papertowns by John Green)
  • it doesn't matter how you began but you go through 
(from Gifted Hands by Ben Carson)
  • that revenge is never the answer 
(from the The Winners' Curse by Marie Rutkoski)
  • things can get better even in dark times 
(from David Lubar's Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie and Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington)
  • family is the biggest thing in someone's life and should not be given up by any of us
(from Killing Time in Crystal City by Chris Lynch)
  • to be strong and to stand up for myself and always trust my heart, even if my brain is contradicting it
(from the Embrace series by Jessica Shirvington)
  • to open your heart to others and sympathize with people who are hurting
(from The Lottery Rose by Irene Hunt)
  • you are the only person that can affect your future, no matter where you come from or no matter what conditions you may have, you can make anything out of yourself
(from Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern)
  • live through hardship
(from It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini)
  • move on even if things seem unfair or unjust
(from The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)
  • you shouldn't let opportunities pass you by
(from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak)
  • you can't control every situation
(from Godless by Pete Hautman)
  • if we let go every once in a while, we'll find that fate knows what its doing
(from I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson)
  • enjoy life and what adventures come
(from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green)

So, let go, enjoy, seize opportunities, and know that even this school year will come to a good end.


  1. Wow- You've done so much to help your students reflect on their learning. And you are learning from their reflections. Really good stuff!

  2. Reflections are wonderful, for students AND teachers. I love your opening quote! I'm stealing it! (with credits, of course)
    Have a great summer! Jennifer Sniadecki

  3. I don't think there's any better way to end the year than with reflective writing. And I absolutely love the quote at the beginning of this post. Ain't that the truth?

  4. Such a powerful end of year reflection. I loved this: "Students surprise us by learning lessons we may have never intended to teach."

  5. Such a powerful end of year reflection. I loved this: "Students surprise us by learning lessons we may have never intended to teach."

  6. I love seeing the reflections. My students complete portfolios three times a year & I will use them for my own evaluations of them, & for future references, this time for their future teachers. When they reflect, there is so much to glean from the remarks, from what one knows about them early in the year compared to this ending. Thanks for sharing what you do, Lee Ann. I always enjoy what you share about your teaching.