Above: A picture of my wife, son, and I at the famous Rocky steps in Philly (a few years ago now)
At this time of the school year it seems like everything is on a downhill slide and only building momentum. Students are absent constantly for spring sports, club trips, and academic competitions. Spring at high school = craziness, and summer break is so close that your students—not to mention, you—can taste it. In this environment it’s easy to throw your hands up in the air and say, “Why bother?” Sure, there’s technically still a quarter left of school, and those wonderful state assessments are about ready to strike again, but is it worth fighting through all the chaos to accomplish something?
Your school year is like running a race. (George Lucas said that clichés are around because they work, so just go with it.) You don’t reduce your pace just because the finish line is in sight—or speed up for that matter. About this time every year I happen to glance at my planbook and have a slight heart attack when I see all the “stuff” I have to cram in before the end of the year. But instead of frantically speeding up or slowing down, keep your pace steady. Keep your eye on the prize, and remember: Students can learn during the last few weeks of school.
Want some proof? Some of my favorite activities happen at the end of the school year. Sure, they’re not the toughest assignments, but they’re fun. After studying American Literature all year, my English III students cap off the course by watching Rocky (just the original, not the 75 sequels) and looking for the theme of the American Dream in the film. Yo, Adrian, it’s there! Then we follow this up by playing the Clash of the Characters game, which is where the students design a fighter based on a literary character we have read about throughout the year. Then they have a video-game-style fighting tournament among these players to see who is the mightiest. It’s goofy fun, but it all ties back to our learning. Where else do you get to see Huck Finn battling Moby Dick? In my mythology course the students have a similar tournament, only they base their fighter on a mythological character.
In English II, my world literature course, we view the 1960’s Planet of the Apes and compare it to Animal Farm, the novel we have just finished. Then the students design an action figure based on a character from Animal Farm. In English IV, my senior college-prep course, the students write a “Goodbye, Ava High School” poem. (Ava is our town.) In this poem the seniors wax nostalgic about the things they will miss most about their school. These activities are some of my favorites from the whole year.
Mix things up a bit, too. The end of the year is the perfect time to try out something new. You can relax your rules just a touch to accommodate assignments that are bit out of your comfort zone. If it flops, who cares? The year is almost over.
Another way to finish strong is to anticipate the next year. Sure, summer break is going to happen, but it’s just an intermission. For some teachers it’s a cardinal sin to mention the next year, but I’ve found if I think ahead to the next year, I’m better prepared to return in the fall. One way I do this is by giving my current students an end-of-the-year survey. I make this in-depth: What was their favorite unit? Activity? Least favorite? What are some things they would change about the course? I give them the opportunity to respond anonymously, so there’s less pressure to say only positive things. Trust me though, you can expect a few negative and possibly rude responses, but overall, my students appreciate having a chance to evaluate the course and give me good feedback.
I hope you have had a wonderful school year, and that this post gives you a few ideas to keep going until the end! If you would like to share some of your comments about how to finish the school year strong, feel free to leave them in the comments below!