Thursday, May 17, 2012

End of the Year Celebrations

I love to celebrate. For me, everything in life deserves a little celebration, and the end of the school year is no different. And while my school calendar fills up with picnic days, field days, field trips, and more. I had to steal this day for the final celebrations in reading and writing.

I saw Donalyn Miller speak in person for the first time last March. I remember watching some photos in her slide show and she shared one of kids holding up signs with numbers in them. They were the amount of books those children had read that year. One photo with some boys that had lower numbers than most of the other kids intrigued me. Donalyn shared that while those children read less than many of the other kids in the class, they greatly increased their reading over previous years. Later I saw an amazing video of high school students in Penny Kittle’s English class that did something similar. I knew I wanted to celebrate our reading at the end of the year like this. 

Today was my second year having this celebration. I loved hearing the conversation between students. Complimenting each other on how many books they read, asking favorite titles, favorite genres. Several kids asked each other how it compared to their books read last year. In one class a girl said she read more books last year than this year but this year she read books that challenged her. Some boys pointed out to her what a huge change that was. The mood in the classroom was one of joy. It probably didn’t hurt that we were having ice cream as well. Many kids asked me if they had to return my classroom library books yet. It was our last reading class but did I know they were having a read-a-thon next week? I assured them they could continue reading. I heard reading plans made, book recommendations given. What a wonderful end to the year.

While I teach reading to my own class and two others, I only teach my own class writing. They knew we were leaving the classroom for writing today but I refused to tell them where. See, a few years ago I had read this post from Jim Burke and knew I wanted to try it with fifth graders. I did last year but didn’t have them write. With my current group, I knew I needed to extend the activity. My class has grown so much but, as I send them off to middle school, I am so worried for them. They have the tools needed to succeed but I fear they will forget what they’ve learned. So we walked the football field.

Beginning on the eleven-yard line (imaginary – the lines aren’t painted on in spring) we talked about what my life was like when I was eleven. They dropped their binders there and we began to walk my life. I shared triumphs and heartaches that I’ve experienced in my thirty-eight years. When I graduated college. When I got married. When family members passed away. When I had my children. When I decided I had to teach. We reached the thirty-eight yard line and looked back at the eleventh. And then we walked on. We finally reached the eighty-eighth yard line. I shared that was the age my great-aunt was when she passed away last Friday. We looked way back down the field. We talked about how the choices we make in life help shape our lives. How we have no control over some events but great control over others. I asked them to think about what they had accomplished this year and what they wanted to remember for next year. They then spread out over the football field and wrote themselves letters.

Over the next thirty minutes I walked around the field as they scribbled notes to themselves. Some sat by themselves, some whispered to friends. One of my wonderful students who lost two fingers in an accident just a few weeks ago showed me that he was finally able to write again. We talked about how impressed he will be with himself when he receives his letter in the fall, look what he has overcome already.

Finally, we lined up and journeyed back to our classroom. The students selected envelopes and I taught them how to fill out an envelope to be sent to themselves. They sealed their letters inside and I promised to mail them the first week of August, before they began sixth grade. It was a wonderful celebration to end our year as writers.

So that is how we celebrated today with four and ½ days of school left. It was one of my favorite days this year. What is your favorite way to end the year?