Wow, I did not expect to be away from blogging for that long. But you know what happened. The transition to remote learning was swift – my school went from “we’re making a plan just in case” to “oooh, you have two days to prepare and then we go live” in the space of a week or so. We also went from “we’ll be back on campus after spring break” to “we might be back by May 1” to “this is how the rest of the school year is going to go”. So many ups and downs – I described it to a colleague as a rollercoaster of excitement as the car climbed the hill and started down, to the depths of despair as the “fun” wore off, and then the plateau of resignation as we were grinding through to the end.
But I don’t want to dwell on that experience. I wanted to find a way to end the school year on a positive note. We wouldn’t be able to do the usual final project and presentation; final exams were essentially canceled. We were told that all assessments had to be complete by the next-to-last class, so there was one final class session looming ahead. What could I do with my class that could keep them engaged when they knew there were no more grades to be doled out?
I read a blog post that talked about end of the year reflections, but now for the life of me I cannot find that post! (I thought it was one of my usual reads, but I have searched my Feedly teaching folder high and low and didn’t find it.)
That post pointed me in two specific directions that I incorporated into a final assignment. The first direction was Dave Stuart Jr.’s blog post on Pop-Up Toasts. Dave Stuart’s blog is one of my usual reads, so I’d probably seen this and had it in the back of my mind. In his blog post, he lists a few prompts that he gives students. He has them do a quick writing assignment, then has students fine-tune their toasts by working with a partner. Finally, each student shares their toast with the whole class.
The second direction was an End-of-the-Year choice board of prompts created by Teach in the Peach. The choice board included great, thought-provoking prompts for students to reflect on areas of growth.
Obviously I had to make a few modifications, since everyone was working remotely, and we only had one Zoom meeting per week for each class. I selected nine different prompts. I made one addition to the prompt to encourage (aka FORCE) my students to write more. I know my students – if the prompt said “My favorite lab/activity/lesson from biology class this year was . . . “, I would have gotten a lot of one or two word answers. So for many of the prompts, I added “because . . .” to the end of the prompt. I wanted to know WHY it was their favorite activity!
A week before the final class, I went over the assignment and the prompts. First, each student had to choose three prompts and write a brief reflection. I didn’t want a folder full of private reflections, though, so they had to post their reflection in a discussion post I set up in Schoology. I made them separate their reflections, so each one was a separate post. Second, each student had to respond to three of their classmates’ reflections.
I didn’t know what to expect – I didn’t know whether students were so burnt out and demoralized from the remote learning experience that they would focus on the negative, or if they would blow off the assignment because they knew it wouldn’t really change their grade much.
As I started reading their posts, though, I was gratified to see that they took the assignment seriously. Their reflections? *hand on heart* So amazing.
Not gonna lie, I copy/pasted so many of their responses into a spreadsheet for those days when I need a little pick-me-up. I’m also planning to make a slideshow of responses to the most popular prompt: “The top piece of advice I would give to next year’s biology students is . . .” so I can share it with next year’s students at the beginning of the school year. If we start the year with in-person teaching (*fingers crossed*), I will have it running on the screen as they come in on the first day of class.
On the last day of class, once everyone was logged in to Zoom, I put students in pairs and had them go to a breakout room to practice their toasts. When we came back together in the main session, I randomly called on students and had them share their toasts. They were thoughtful and funny and really great with each other. After everyone had shared, I made my own toast to them. I acknowledged the community they had built in their classes, the grace and grit they showed in shifting to remote learning, and their all-around fantasticness.
I’m glad for the people who inspired me to do this activity – unknown blogger that started the ball rolling, Dave Stuart Jr, and Teach in the Peach. It was a positive way to finish up a really weird teaching year.