When L.N., our oldest Lab, plays with our foster pup, Kirby, she is smart. They play tug-o-war with a chew bone. L.N. holds one end of the bone while Kirby tries desperately to wrench it from her jaws. L.N. holds tightly to the bone as long as she can. I've watched her, and her expression says, "I can't let go of this too soon, or Kirby will know he is in charge and can do whatever he wants." Kirby, on the other hand, is just doing what pups do---playing with all his heart in it. He wants so badly to "win" at the game of tug. But L.N. is a wise soul and she knows if she gives in too soon, she'll never be able to be in charge again.
I was talking with my students (who are all teachers) in my Educational Law class the other night. Some of the local districts will be finishing up with the school year in the next couple of weeks, and a couple of my students started talking about how this time of year is so tough because the students just seem to be done and over with school. One student said, "But we perpetuate that, don't we?" He went on to talk about the policy of turning in grades a week early, and how students then know the school year is over except for the fun and games. When I was a principal, I used to jokingly suggest we should have a real last day and a "students think it's the last day" day (which would be a week later). On the real last day, we would simply say, "I know you thought we had another week of school to go, but today is it! Go home and enjoy your summer!" Think of all the shenanigans we could avoid!
But, in all honesty, we have to remember who is in control. No matter what the students might think about the end of the school year, we simply have to make sure that learning is taking place until the last day, or we will lose credibility and end up with the proverbial inmates running the asylum. I know I have been tempted, when teaching this four-hour night class, to cut things short and let everyone go early (including myself!), but I have learned that, as long as I continue to plan engaging lessons that spark interest, curiosity, and thought in the minds of my students, we actually go right up until 9:00 (which is typically my bedtime, I might add) without even realizing it. We simply don't let go of the chew bone too soon.
What can we do, then, to keep up the momentum until the end of the school year? Here are my top suggestions:
1. Plan engaging lessons for the last week that summarize learning from the school year.
Some of the best lessons can be projects that culminate learning for the year. What would that look like in your classroom? Group projects? Advice for next year's students? Have students be the educator for the day? In online environments, I love having students take turns moderating the discussion and give each other feedback. What a perfect way to synthesize techniques we have learned throughout the term.
2. Learning masked as play can be even more rewarding than "knocking off early".
I believe that students prefer structure to lack of structure. Why? I base that on Maslow's Hierarchy of Basic Needs. I think that students need and crave structure as it provides safety. When we go free and easy because we think the kids will love us for having fun, we see it backfire all the time and hear teachers say, "Now, I thought I could trust you guys to enjoy free time, but I guess I can't. Everyone put your heads down." Oh, I so hope I was just exaggerating and nobody really does this anymore, but you get the point. In the name of trying to do something "fun", we wind up with such lack of structure, kids can't handle it. I have a secret: adult learners can't handle it, either. I suppose we all crave a bit of structure.
3. Answer the question: What educational value is inherent in having students clean my room?
Yep, I know it, I just stepped on the time-honored tradition of "Have the kids help clean up the room the last day/week/month of school. And I can't wait to hear some comments from those of you who somehow incorporate learning into this task. But, if it really is simply trying to keep kids busy, why not do something that keeps their minds cognitively busy and engaged? Trust me. I have my adult learners help out with end-of-class tasks, as well. Sonia picks up the materials boxes, Liliana takes the charts off the walls, Casey gets everyone's left-over trash, etc. The difference? We do this after class is over.
4. Reflecting on our learning can take so many shapes and can be done in a variety of locations.
Some of my favorite things to see teachers do are those celebrations that include sharing projects and products. Angelle invited parents to her classroom for the Writers' Celebration. Yes, they enjoyed cake and punch, but at the same time, the students were sharing their favorite piece of writing from the year. And other students were expected to provide constructive feedback to the presenter. How about students going out on the lawn, sitting on a big blanket, and sharing their favorite excerpts from their favorite books with one another? If each student had their own phone or i-pad or other device, they could even take pictures of the books their peers had read that they might want to read over the summer.
5. The students will respect what you expect.
You know this is true. Our puppy, Kirby, is watching us all the time. He is waiting to see if he will be expected to sit at the front door before we go for a walk (he will); he is watching to see if I scold him for trying to climb over the couch (I will); he is watching to see if we make him sit and down stay in front of his food dish before we let him eat (we will); he is watching to see if he is going to get in trouble if he plows through the bushes (he is). Students crave boundaries but will never, ever tell us they do. We have to believe, in our heart of hearts, that we are doing the right things for the right reasons. What are your right things? What are your right reasons?
Please share your ideas with me and with others. Synergizing is the way to winning the game of life, I fully believe. Happy May. Happy end-of-school for many of you. Don't let the magic end too soon!