Even though the end of the year is crammed with final tests and projects, I like to squeeze in one last writing assignment: a reflective piece. Without looking back, students may not realize how far they’ve come. For this assignment, I want students to see how they’ve grown in their thinking, not just in their skills. I give them several options to choose from, and as always, I accept any of their own reasonable ideas as alternatives. Here are some possible topics:
- Reflecting on an Assignment from the Beginning of the Year. In September, after reading about the characteristics of the epic hero, my students make shields representing their lives. The shields are divided into five sections: the hero’s narrative (or background), the hero’s strong qualities, the hero’s quests, the hero’s flaws, and the hero’s motto. These symbolic collages hang on the wall all year, and at the end, students revisit their shields and write about how they have changed in the past ten months. Do you have an assignment from the beginning of the year that students can reflect upon or redo? If not, you might consider planning one for the start of next year.
- Five Books on a Deserted Island. This is the prompt I give students:
What five books would you want if you were stranded on a deserted island? Give the titles and authors for each, with a detailed, thorough explanation of why you would want each book.
The students who choose this option really enjoy writing it. The “why” part of the question forces them to reflect on what they value most.
- John Green’s Question in Looking for Alaska. This is the prompt I give students:
On page 70 of Looking for Alaska, the teacher in the book assigns the following question as the final exam: “What is the most important question human beings must answer? Choose your question wisely, and then examine how [three different cultures we have read this year] attempt to answer it.” Answer this prompt, and then explain how you yourself would answer the “most important” question.
- Creating a Wisdom Book. My instructions to students:
Using a new blank or lined journal, create a collection of quotes from this year (from our curriculum or your book clubs). You must have at least 15. On one page, give the quote, speaker and context, title of work, and author. On the other, write your thoughts, reason, reflection, or feeling about the quote (2-3 sentences). Organize, decorate, draw, or elaborate any way you wish. This book is for you to have, consult, and add to.
- Any of the Reflections I Recommend for Teachers here. In this blog post, I encourage teachers to end the year by writing gratitude lists, actual thank-you notes that will be delivered, or a supportive letter to oneself. Any of these activities would be wonderful for students as well. Doing a gratitude list along with your students, and then sharing some of the lists, would be inspirational for both yourself and them. Students need to see adults modeling gratitude and understand that it is a purposeful practice, not just a feeling that happens. What a beautiful gift to give to them at the end of the year.