Every semester has its rhythm. Every 18-week gathering of a learning community has its unique beginning, where we are building the culture, the middle, where learning is in motion and students are discovering their own talents and supporting one another, and the end, where we prepare to dissolve the circle we have co-created. I notice a bit of sadness in myself as the end of the semester nears, mixed with fatigue. I've created some learning rituals to celebrate this ending, to appreciate the energy my students have brought and to give them space to reflect on what they have accomplished, individually and collectively. So, the last 2 weeks; no new content. Just reflection. Here are a few of my favorite student-centered reflection activities. See how you might adapt them to your own teaching situation.
PORTFOLIOS: This can be simple or elaborate. For my ESL Writing class, I have asked my students to prepare 5 sections; an overview of how the class has helped them, 25 new vocabulary words with definitions, 3-5 new grammar points they learned with explanations in their own words, 3-5 sentences from their writing, with errors and then the same sentences corrected, plus an explanation of their error patterns, and 3-5 sample paragraphs. We spend two weeks workshopping, where they go through all their work, design their sections in their notebooks, discuss their work with one another and check in with me. And then in the Computer Lab they create their own unique portfolio, using Adobe Spark. An alternative is to have students design their portfolios using colored pens and paper. The digital file, however, allows them to have an electronic file of their work that they can share with their family and in future learning environments.
ADVICE FOR FUTURE STUDENTS: My friend and colleague Denise has her students reflect on their learning and prepare advice for next semester's students. She uses Flipgrid, so there is a video grid with each student, wherethey can see one another. I love how this allows the students to reflect on their own successes in learning and articulate to future students the strategies they have developed to do their very best work.
LEARNING GAMES: Since we are all so tired by this point in the semester, I try to create fun learning games that give the students a chance to laugh and work together in teams. My favorite online game platform is Kahoot, and I use it create a competition where students need to identify the names of staff members in our building. This could also be lo-tech with photos on cardboard.
RECOLLECTING: I bring in a lot of completely kinesthetic activities too, and an easy one is to have students stand or sit in 2 rows facing one another. They have 2 minutes to tell one another how they have been able to use what they have learned in class outside of class, in their daily life. It is set up like "Speed Dating", so after 2 minutes, everyone in one row moves down one partner and the last person moves to the front of the line. Doing this standing keeps it dynamic, but I adapt it according to the mobility needs of the students. I usually keep the time and direct the movement, but you could also have one student timekeeper and one student movement coordinator.
REJOICING: My tried and true end-of-year activity is to arrange the class in a circle. Everyone writes their name on top of a piece of paper, with the words, "I appreciate you because..." They pass their paper to the left and that person writes something they appreciated about that first student over the semester. The ground rules are no mention of physical appearance. It has to be a personal quality or something kind or helpful that person has done. If they cannot think of a quality, they can draw a little picture or symbol. The student writes their comment on the bottom of the paper then folds it up, "exquisite corpse" style, then passes to the left. It is a little clunky, because one student inevitably shows up on this day who has been absent for most of the semester. Papers tend to get "stuck in traffic" in the middle of the circle. And some students do not know everyone's name. (Name tags help!) But the results are always very touching. I include myself in the game, and over the years I have kept these papers. I have a few in my office and look at them when I need a boost.
What about you? How do prepare to dissolve the circle at the end of the semester?