Literacy Partners

Ending the School Year on a High Note

You’ve got no choice, babe
But to move on, and you know
There ain’t no time to waste
You’re just too blind, to see
But in the end, ya know it’s gonna be May! (You know, as the meme suggests.)

Okay, okay, it’s already the second week of May. That means there are just a few weeks of school left and it’s almost time to move on to summer reading and relaxing. But before you pack up your hand sanitizer and plexiglass dividers, how will you make the most of the last few weeks of the school year?

Recently, educator and author Matthew R. Kay wrote of the importance of getting endings right. In this article, Matthew describes a theory posited by Daniel Kahneman — the peak/end rule. This “rule” says that we tend to remember the emotional peak and the end of an experience. We’ve all experienced this in our own lives: the endings of movies, books, relationships, and notably, school years.

More than any other year, ending 2021 on a high note is important.

I’d argue that one of the most powerful ways we can do this is to bolster our relationships and build community with students. Sure, fun activities and projects will leave kids feeling optimistic — and we should do those things. But feeling listened to and valued can make an even longer-lasting, more meaningful impact.

Here are 3 ideas to end the year on a high note:

  1. Burn 5 Minutes and Good news!
    Matthew Kay starts every class with 3-10 minutes of informal conversation. This allows students (and the teacher) to practice listening skills while getting to know each other. Once a week, they dedicate time to sharing good news — anything that’s going well in kids’ lives. The important thing about this practice is that it’s prioritized and not relegated to what Matthew calls “garbage time.” Show kids that their lives, both inside and outside of school, are important. You may have already been doing something like this on Zoom. Keep it going! Read more about how Matthew teaches his students listening skills and incorporates these activities in his book Not Light, But Fire. The book is really about setting up the conditions for meaningful conversations about race in the classroom and it really is fire!
  2. Create or revisit identity maps.
    Did you use Sara Ahmed’s identity map activity at the beginning of the year? If so, maybe it’s time to revisit them and add another layer or make revisions. Perhaps you have new kids in your class after moving into the hybrid or in-person model or you haven’t tried this strategy yet. Now would be a great time. If you’re doing this for the first time, here’s what it could look like:
  • Brainstorm with kids all the things they think about when they hear the word “identity.”
  • Read aloud a short, engaging text where the identity of the character can be named or inferred.
  • Create an identity web of the character as you read aloud.
  • Help kids make their own identity webs, modeling yours first.
  • Give kids an opportunity to share their webs with a partner or small group.

These identity webs allow students to both understand themselves better, as well as make connections with others. As Sara states so beautifully, “Identity webs help us find commonalities which springboard us to notice, wonder, and see the humanity in one another.”

3. Shoutouts
Also called “High-Grade Compliments” (Kay, 2018) or positive feedback. Whatever you call it, make space for kids to give each other meaningful, positive feedback. In Mr. Kay’s class, he takes about 20 minutes every few months to do this. Maybe you try this a couple of times before the end of the year. However, you decide to structure this time, one of the most important things to keep in mind is the quality of the compliments. They should be about something significant, be specific, and be crafted in a way that puts the focus on the receiver of the feedback.

It should also be authentic. This is similar to what we think about when conducting reading and writing conferences. Instead of saying, “Good job!” we say, “The way you used different sentence lengths created a rhythm that was like music to my ears.”

We can apply the same ideas here to compliments that students give to each other. So we can teach kids to turn compliments like, “You’re cool,” into something more like, “You try new things with such confidence. It inspires me to try things even when I’m a little afraid.”

These strategies will also be great to start at the beginning of the year. You may want to bookmark this article to come back to in the fall.

If you want to do a deeper dive into building relationships, community, and ultimately creating the conditions for meaningful conversations about race and more, here are the two books I referenced and a bonus one that’s a must-read for all educators:

How we’re ending the year on a high note
We’re putting the finishing touches on our best Reading and Writing Institutes ever.

End your year on a high note with inspiring keynote sessions from renowned educators, thought leaders, published authors, and TED speakers.

Join us for our Writing Institute June 21 – 24th, and our Reading Institute, June 28 – July 1st.

Feel confident to take on workshop next year whether you’re on your laptop or standing at the front of the room.

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