Survives Thrives at the End of the Year
In September I wrote a post about beginning the school year slowly and avoiding the instinct to “hit the ground running.” Today’s post is about that very same thing, except it’s May, so we’re thinking about ways we can begin to slow down and close out the year with intentionality, reflection, and kindness–kindness to ourselves and our students.
In May and June the tendency is to speed up again. We feel the end-of-the-year crunch and see the list of things we’ve yet to get to, the empty squares in our grade book, the piles of papers still waiting to be assessed. But now is not the time to fret or sprint or try to make up for time lost. It is a time for celebration and reflection, not worry and regret. You have given so, so much to your students this year, and they to you. Let’s really sit in that feeling and knowledge at year’s end.
Here are eight ideas for thriving in May: for getting more sleep, grading fewer papers, and allowing yourself the time and space to reflect on everything you have done this year.
1. Leave white space. In past years I’ve printed out multiple free blank calendars from print-a-calendar.com and drafted out several paths to the end of the year. Quickly the blank grids become filled with assignments, lessons, activities. I would keep these dizzying pages separate from my real planner as I worked to find the densest, craziest way to incorporate all. the. things. by the end of the year.
No more. These separate printed pages were a betrayal to the rhythms and intentions I worked hard to create all year. Why was I suddenly going into sprint mode?
Let’s challenge ourselves in May and June to shift our mindset. Rather than thinking about filling each calendar day with as much as possible as we try to fit it all in by the end of the year, let’s ask ourselves, “What can I leave out? What’s not necessary?” And leave some white space on your workshop calendar: a few class periods designated solely for writing, or sharing writing, or talking about writing. Not every class period needs a concrete lesson with a beginning, middle and end, and measurable outcomes. Instead breathe some time and space into your schedule.
2. Release responsibility. After a year in your classroom, your students should be able to take on more responsibility. Perhaps, instead of teaching a minilesson one day, you have students work together in inquiry groups to research a writing point and plan a lesson they can teach the other groups. Or perhaps you put them in charge of finding engaging notebook times for a week. Think of the rhythms and scaffolds you have been supporting them with all year and where you might be able to pull back a bit to allow for greater independence as they prepare to leave you and head into the next grade.
3. Stretch your writing experiences. I begin each class with a new notebook time offering–a graph, chart, sentence, or small passage for my students to write into. But coming up with a daily notebook invitation takes a bit of time, time that I could put back into writing conferences or portfolio assessment or planning an end of the year writing celebration. If you begin your workshop in the same way, with a daily writing invitation, consider an Extended Notebook Time for the next few weeks where you present a new NBT on Monday and slowly work through it over the next several class periods. This slowed-down version of notebook time allows for deeper writing and reflection and will allow you to redistribute your planning time:
Monday: Read the invitation like readers. Pull a sentence from the current book you are reading and have students read it through a literary lens: What does this sentence reveal about character? Plot? Setting?
Tuesday: Read the invitation like writers. What do you notice? How was the sentence put together?
Wednesday: Write under the influence of this sentence. Invite students to draft their own lines, incorporating the techniques you listed the day before.
Thursday: Revise. What can you do in five minutes to make your sentence a little bit better? Perhaps you model this type of quick revision on the white board.
Friday: Publish and share. We love Padlet for quick publication opportunities. You can set up a Padlet digital whiteboard in a matter of seconds, and students can read one another’s work and enjoy commenting.
Click here for a post about implementing a 5-day Notebook Time poetry invitation (scroll down to Extended Study of One Notebook Time Invitation).
4. Take pictures of everything. Avoid the packing-up-the-classroom nightmare by taking pictures of the anchor charts on your walls and student work now. Having a hard time throwing things away? Revisit this excellent post by Megan as you undress your walls and prep for a fresh start in the fall.
5. Write yourself a note. Ideally, after each writing unit of study, I go back through my planner with a purple pen and annotate my unit with notes about what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what I wanted to change the next time around. It’s never to late to reflect, though, so take the time now while the teaching and learning is still fairly fresh in your mind and jot down some ideas about how you want next year to go. Come September, you’ll be thanking your May self.
6. Celebrate. No matter how busy the end of the year gets, leave some time to honor and celebrate your and your students’ hard work and growth this year. A celebration can be as simple as some bowls of Hershey kisses and reading favorite lines from notebooks; a walk to a pretty spot on campus and sharing favorite poems. O it can be more involved like planning an open mic or inviting parents into the classroom for a Meet the Author event.
7. Minimize paper. I’m thinking about end-of-the-year forms and questionnaires and anything you might have to carve out time to sit down and read that isn’t actual workshop writing (and therefore not really worth your time!). I love the idea of an exit interview or questionnaire for students to complete about their experiences, but instead of giving them paper forms, consider putting them in groups of three or four, and having them record a ten minute conversation, using guiding questions you’ve given them. Then you can listen to this conversation while driving home from work or cleaning up your classroom at the end of the day instead of having to find time to sit down and read.
8. Make a non-exam exam. For those of you who give exams, consider an experience that will allow you to assess your students’ growth AND will be both enjoyable for your students to create and for you to assess. Rebekah’s older post on Writing Workshop Finals offers a few joyful experiences to consider.
How we close out the year with students is bigger than how we close out the year: We are modeling for them the kinds of experiences we want them to have at the end of something.
So let’s be kind to ourselves and our kids, choosing calm over chaos, reflection over new material, white space and margins over clutter and jam-packed calendar days. Here’s to simpler, more easeful last weeks–to letting a little bit of summer seep in right now.