Closure: The Case for Engaging End-of-Year Activities
By Elizabeth M. Wessling
March 2015, Volume 38, Issue 7
Imagine you’re five years old, getting ready for the last day of kindergarten summer school, expecting a busy day with lots to do. Your class just learned about the letters “Y” and “Z,” but instead of conducting activities about letters or numbers, your teacher passes out popcorn and says, “Class, I have a special treat for you today. We are going to watch Charlotte’s Web.” She pushes play and then proceeds to pack up supplies in the back of the room.
This was reality for my son, Matthew. His teacher planned for his last day to be “fun,” but Matthew did not find it fun, though he liked the popcorn, of course. As a parent, I was upset that my son watched a movie when he should have been learning something. As a fellow teacher, I was upset that his teacher wasted an opportunity to engage him in a closure activity.
Though teachers plan how to begin each year and each unit in order to build a connection with students and engage them in learning, unfortunately, very little plan time is devoted to closure.
Why Closure Matters
Closure gives students reflection time to think about what they have learned, how things connect to previous lessons, and what they might learn next. This ends the academic year with a student-centered activity.
It leaves a memory. Like entertainers, we educators need to finish on a strong note and give our audience something to remember. Research conducted by the Neurobiology and Behavior Community Outreach Team at the University of Washington concluded that our brains are organized to think that the first things in a list are important, so we remember them, and the last things in a list remain fresh in our memory, so we remember those, too.
Teachers need to consider the last activity they do with their students and decide whether this is how they want to be remembered. Let’s end the year with an engaging, student-centered activity that leaves students feeling proud of how much they have accomplished and hopeful about their future.
It boosts engagement. Students’ emotional engagement at school is the non-cognitive measure most directly related to academic achievement. The 2013 Gallup Student Poll, results indicated that 28 percent of students are “not engaged”—i.e., mentally checked out—and 17 percent are “actively disengaged,” feeling negatively about school. According to Gallup, a one percentage point increase in a school’s average student engagement score boosted reading by six points and math by eight points. Therefore, teachers need to plan for continuous student engagement, down to the final student day. Don’t stop planning when a mandated curriculum is “finished” or when final exams have been taken.
The Principal’s Role
As the chief instructional coaches of schools, administrators must encourage all teachers to use best practices to engage all students all year long. It’s undeniably true that a closure activity is much more engaging for students than watching a movie. Principals should make it a priority to visit classrooms on the final days of school. It is not good enough to simply inform staff at an in-service or through email reminders about the benefits of student engagement. Instead, you should observe the closure activities taking place and share what you see with the rest of the staff. Help teachers find creative ways to celebrate learning at the end the year.
A Different Closure Approach
Imagine again that you are a five-year-old attending your last day of kindergarten summer school. After lunch, your teacher places an oversized piece of paper on each desk and announces, “Class, I have a special treat for you. We are going on a gallery walk.” She instructs you to think about all of the letters of the alphabet that you have learned over the past three weeks, draw your favorite letter, and draw a picture of something that begins with that letter. The pictures are hung around the room, and each student has a chance to discuss his or her drawing.
Once everyone shares, the class walks around the room in a circle, looking at each person’s drawing and signing your name on the bottom edge of the each. When you take your poster home, you are excited to share your creation with your parents.
Elizabeth M. Wessling is a mathematics teacher at Bellevue West High School in Bellevue, Nebraska.
- Think-pair-share: First, asked students to think individually about a question. Then, help students form teams of two, in which they take turns expressing their thoughts to their partner. Next, pairs report their discussion to classmates—perhaps to other pairs, or the whole class. Try having team members report their partner’s answers rather their own—a technique that promotes listening skills and prevents students’ fears of appearing boastful.
- 3-2-1: On a note card, students write down three units/topics they enjoyed the most during the year; two questions they have about a topic; and one thing they want to learn more about in the future. These ideas can be incorporated into an art project for students to take home.
- Final Journal Entry: Have students read through the journals they have kept throughout the course. Then, students can write a final entry about of what they learned.
- Photo Journal: Students can create a photo journal of the year’s academic progress to share with the class.
- Postcards/Letters: Have students write a postcard or letter to students in a younger class describing the topics presented that year. If time allows, have them personally deliver the letters and spend time sharing about learning between grade levels.
- Recipe Card: Create a “recipe for success” to give to the next group of students.
- Doodles: Students can sketch or draw three concepts they learned over the year and describe their doodles to the class.
- Gallery Walk: Students can create a graphic organizer or infographic to represent their learning. Students then post the graphics on the wall for other students to view.
- What’s Inside: This can be done individually, with a partner or in small groups. Students get a sealed envelope that contains a slip of paper with a topic, vocabulary word, or problem. Students then have to explain, describe, or solve the contents of the envelope.
- Self-Assessment: Have students describe their sense of progress towards understanding by answering reflective questions about their work.
- Square Head Teachers: squareheadteachers.com/category/end-of-the-year
- Educators Technology: educatorstechnology.com (click on “All Categories” and on “End-of-School Resources”)
- The Curriculum Corner: thecurriculumcorner.com/thecurriculumcorner123/category/seasonal/end-of-year
- Dr. Nicole Grimes: drnicolegrimes.com/5-end-of-the-year-activities
- The Cornerstone for Teachers: thecornerstoneforteachers.com/freeresources/seasonal/ending-the-year
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