I am an unabashed gift giver.
I love tangible ways to express my appreciation for friends, students, family, colleagues, and anyone else I count as important.
…I also love shopping.
But with an impending move to Wisconsin on the horizon, I don’t love clutter in my home–so I am gifting left and right. That was part of the inspiration this year for how I wanted to finish the semester with my students–students I’ve been with for multiple years, in some cases, and others who I’ve only gotten to know and learn with for one semester.
Like any ending, this one tended to color the ups and downs of our school year into a tone more rosy than reality may have painted. With two kids under two, a hectic semester of required assignments, and the ever-present student mood swings offered by snow days, spring break, and finals week, we all struggled at times to stay committed to our work. No school year is ever smooth, or perfect, or simple–but I still like to celebrate its end annually with something tangible. As such, I give each of my students a gift at the end of every year, and have every year since I began teaching.
Here are three ways I “wrapped up” the ending of this school year–literally.
The Gift of Reading
Two groups of my students and I have been together for two years now, and in those two years, I’ve gotten to know these kids (I mean, they’re adults, but I will always refer to my students as “kids” when I think of them) incredibly well. They will be teaching in all content areas, in all grade levels, but still–I can’t seem to turn off my English teacher brain long enough not to say, hmmm, I know exactly what book that forward-thinking history teacher would like.
So this year, I pulled from my own bookshelves one or two books for each of my students–for their personal reading, for their classrooms, or both. In each book, I wrote the student a note, then wrapped each book individually. This time-intensive gesture has been rewarding in spades as my students contact me to tell me they’ve read and loved their books.
The Gift of Writing
We use Google Docs quite frequently, and one of my favorite activities to have students work on is to respond to a writing prompt on a collaborative Google Doc and proceed to write, think, and argue together on one page.
So this year, I printed out every collaborative Google Doc, group-written book review, team-created list of strategies, or class-crafted series of ideal classrooms, social justice non-negotiables, and pedagogically challenging teaching moves that we’d created and bound them together into a class “Anthology of Awesome,” which each student received.
On our last day of class, we shared the anthologies with donuts and coffee. I also brought thank-you notes for students to write to one another–personal messages they hand-wrote and hand-delivered to their critical friends, who had helped read and respond to their work all semester long.
With these pieces of writing in their pockets, my students left class with tangible reminders of the intellectual portion of our time together.
The Gift of Family
For better or for worse, with the end of each school year together, a class is like a family. Some members are dysfunctional, some are estranged, but in general, we’re a bunch of former strangers who now love, appreciate, and respect one another more than we did four quarters ago.
To help us remember this time together, I wrote my classes each a letter that highlighted each student by name, and comprised some of our memories together, our shared goals, and our funny moments. I added this letter to the beginning of our class anthology to serve as a reminder of our students’ names and personalities. For my future teachers, I created our ideal school, in which we’d all teach and get to work together forever. In past years, I simply wrote a letter of well-wishes to my kids, and included each student’s name and a little compliment toward them all.
As we wrap up this school year, these simple gifts are things you might consider crafting to help end your year with students on a high note. It’s easy to get caught up in the end-of-semester hubbub of grades, exams, and packing up classrooms, but I hope you’ll pause to commemorate a year of learning as a group in some way with your students, as well.
Please share how you “wrap up” the school year meaningfully with your students! We’d love to know in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter!
Shana Karnes will soon be leaving the wild and wonderful mountains of West Virginia for the great lakes of Wisconsin. She is excited to continue her involvement in Appalachian education by leading institutes with the National Writing Project at West Virginia University this summer, but will otherwise be relaxing and devouring as many books as she can during her two daughters’ nap times. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader.
Tagged: end of year activities, end of year gifts for students, student gifts
[…] blog, for instance, has so many posts about the importance of making connections with kids. Look here, here, and here, for just a few examples. There shouldn’t be any argument about […]
[…] the posts over the last week or so have completely filled my work cup. Shana is gifting, Amy is reminiscing, Katie is contemplating summer reads… I hadn’t realized how heavily […]
Echoing Trina above, where in Wisco? I teach in Waukesha, not far from Milwaukee.
I end the year by giving my eighth graders a class Shutterfly book. Each student contributes a composition from our time in writing workshop, AND two photos of themselves. I also design pages featuring other things that we’re involved in together such as 8th Grade Theatre Troupe. It is a wonderful gift to give them at the end of the year, and the writing makes it more personal than a traditional “year book.” Another bonus-they can sign one another’s books before graduating from our K-8 building.
Thanks, Shana, for your post! You posts have inspired me many times. 🙂
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Anthology of Awesome? Love it. (And for some reason, those seven syllables reminded me of the late and brilliant Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s “The Beckoning of Lovely.”) My eighth graders compile a “Memory Book” at the end of each year. Starting in April, we begin to write pieces that reach back to their early experiences as learners and their journey through our school (I teach at a Pre-12th grade school). We use lots of rich mentor text. Students write “When I Was Young…” based on Cynthia Rylant’s “When I Was Young in the Mountains.” “This I Believe” pieces are written inspired by NPR’s Jay Allison’s anthology. In the end, students have about eight “new” pieces. They add five of their favorite pieces from this school year. Their covers are six-word memoirs inspired by “I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets.” Parents/guardians write letters to students in response to their writing. We share with each other as a classroom community of writers. They leave the school year with a collection of writing that serves as a primary document of their before-high-school teenage selves. In the back of each memory book, I slip in a poem I’ve written for each individual student. (Each year, I freak out about the time it takes to write something for each student. Truthfully, when I’m finished, I feel like I’ve had time with each of my students. I’ve looked them in the eye on paper and found something I want to say to them, sprinkling them with the appreciation and love for them that comes with them revealing who they are and taking risks with writing throughout the school year.) I know it sounds “assignment-y” but honestly, the Memory Books are one of the highlights of the year. Students leave English with a collection of writing that reveals the acrobats of what they can do with their voice and heart. It offers closure for the year, their middle school journey and hopefully they leave with a strong sense of confidence about who they are as readers and writers.
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I love your idea of Anthology of Awesome! That is a great gift! Where are you moving in Wisconsin? I live in NE WI!