More important than ever
While we know the midterm wall can be brutal, there is nothing like the exhaustion that students, teachers, and administrators face in the final weeks of the school year. The spring semester is always tougher than the fall semester and my math skills are not up to the challenge of calculating how much more difficult this semester has been more than a year into a pandemic with the continued worry about what the summer and fall will look like. Sometimes I can summon optimism about school in the fall and other times I need to grab a paper bag to control my breathing, but right now I must focus every ounce of energy to just get myself and my students through this semester.
I know that I am not alone with this struggle as I have seen repeated appeals on social media and teacher message boards for ideas to help their students navigate these final weeks of the school year. I suggest that teachers consider one of these three paths: Celebrate, Play, Reflect. Personally, I choose to embrace all three because I just love a twofer, but think you cannot go wrong with any combination you choose. Focusing on celebration, play, and reflection will be good for your students and good for you. I hope that is a twofer anyone can get behind.
Recognizing and celebrating individual achievement has been a cornerstone of my praxis for a long time. I have used student-awarded badges for this purpose and I know that reading the evidence supporting those awards is a highlight of my week. Many students find joy in recognizing their peers’ achievements as well as receiving recognition themselves. I love using praise poetry as the capstone of this mutual admiration and will always cherish the poems written from this practice. Sometimes I shake up the more traditional praise poems by mixing in superpowers for a bit of fun to break up the emotion. I started the practice of praise poetry to provide closure to our journey as a community and provide students a much-needed boost to carry them through finals week. I can only think how much more of a boost we all need this year. I highly recommend including yourself in this practice, too. You need this boost just as much as your students.
One of the most damaging trends in American education is our abandonment of play. Even in elementary school we have cut the time and opportunity for play and it is often missing entirely from middle school and high school. We have done so even as science has established the role of play in both learning and well-being. I have built a whole class around games, but even before I began gaming the teaching of writing I made play a key part of wrapping up the semester and beating end-of-semester stress. Now I end the spring semester, my gaming semester, with a game jam, but even my fall semester, which is focused on American literacy, wraps up with a fun, creative project that can be almost anything from a poem to a letter to a cartoon (or even a game). Learning can, should, be fun and playful, too. We all need more play in our lives.
Reflection is a key part of my philosophy for teaching writing. As part of my #ungrading process, my students reflect throughout the semester. However, a final reflection to bring the lessons and experiences of our semester’s work together is also essential to my praxis. I believe in the power of the literacy narrative as tool to inspire and guide reflection. Helping your students conduct a transliteracy reflection at the end of the year can provide a valuable yet low-stakes learning experience that plants literacy seeds for the future and helps lock in essential lessons.
It is tempting I know to choose the path of least resistance and to just put everything on autopilot at this point in the semester, but simple low-stakes literacy activities can provide both respite and a capstone for learning. Focusing on celebration, play, and reflection at the end of a semester or year can be just what everyone needs after any school year, but especially after this school year. What is your recipe for wrapping write?