As the beginning of the new school year approaches (or Teachers’ New Year, as I like to call it), memories and reflections from last year always pop up as we decide what we want to keep, adapt, and get rid of as we start anew. This year, Gabby and I are moving from teaching 5th grade to teaching 3rd grade, so the calculation is even more complex.
The first way we close the year is by literally closing a book. We also finished our class read aloud, Walk Two Moons, on the very last day of school, which felt perfect - Walk Two Moons (if you haven’t read it, RUN and pick it up!) has a complex, multi-faceted ending with lots of emotions, just like the end of the school year. It also reminded me for the umpteenth time how much I love read alouds and how they are an essential teaching and learning tool, but also wonderful for community building because we all grow to care about the characters and wonder what will happen next together. In fifth grade, read aloud is a fun and touching reminder of how young our students are - when they are listening intently and their eyes widen at a cliff-hanger, they forget about being “cool” and almost in middle school and are children again. Multiple students asked for reassurance that we would finish the read aloud before the year ended - even students who tried really hard throughout the year to make it known that they, “don’t like to read.”
Our literal ‘looking’ back together with our class is a photo slideshow. The slideshow we make is comprised of group photos, exciting things we experienced together like field trips, funny moments, photos with visitors, and proud moments (publishing parties, sharing our Social Studies projects, etc). I used kizoa to set it up and the students love the special effects and soundtrack, but really any photo slideshow recapping the year would probably have the desired effect. Students excitedly comment on photos, remember projects they loved (and were challenged by), and laugh at the silly group photos. Thinking back on our students’ reactions, I am reminded how community building in the classroom is so important and is an essential first step of back to school life.
And we end the reflective time together with a class poem that Gabby and I write for them. Each stanza is about one student and has memories, inside jokes, and champions their growth over the school year. We read it together and take turns (we like to think this is very dramatic!) and each year we find it is our best way of sincerely sharing our love for them and sending each student off with our best wishes. This past year, after we read the poem we wrote, we gave the students a break to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water. One student came back to report that two other students were in the bathroom crying because the poem made them feel so emotional. I went to check on them, and they hugged me and said this year was amazing and the poem reminded them of everything wonderful about it.
My favorite part of the poem (apart from the slightly ridiculous rhymes we manage to pull off) is watching students react to it. When they hear their name and personalized stanza, they look amazed (and very young all over again). It is such a satisfying culmination of our time together. In third grade, we will definitely have to keep up this tradition! We also will have to continue to focus on goal setting and reflecting on our learning, as we often reference something students have learned or worked on in their personalized stanza. The specificity of the way we name their actions and hard work really resonates with students and makes it clear how much we honor their efforts.
We are entering another school year after a summer which has been eventful and frequently painful for many. We are gearing up for the lessons on skills, but also the necessary tough conversations. And looking back, we’re reminded that think these touchstones that closed our community with full hearts last year, will probably (most definitely) transfer to being important things we bring to 3rd grade!
As we look forward, we will take with us the excitement of shared community stories, the wonderful fun of documenting and focusing on the process (NOT the product) of the year, and the importance of telling our students that we hear them, we see them, and we care for them.
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