Dear Sarah,

As the end of the school year approaches, I want my students to begin reflecting on the learning that has occurred this year. Do you have any suggestions for activities that would commemorate their learning and growth?


End of School Year Inspiration

Dear End of School Year Inspiration,

What a wonderful and timely question! I especially love the way you’ve framed the question around commemorating student learning, growth and thinking beyond the traditional exam or assessment. Regardless of your content area or the ages of your students, here are some very transferable ideas for commemorating all the ways your students have changed.

Portfolio of Work. If you haven’t tried to have students use a portfolio of work for the end of the year before, this could be the time to give it a try! While there are many ways to approach portfolios (and I think i’ve tried most of them at some point) if this is you dipping your toes in the water, I’d start with a mini-portfolio. Ask students to pick a few pieces of work that best represent their learning this year and then have them reflect on why these pieces, more than others, demonstrate that growth. Depending on how old they are, you can make even these brief reflections more thoughtful by asking students to cite specific moments in their work or incorporate standards language.

Mini-TEDTalk. What I love about TEDTalks is the way they all implicitly make us question something we think we know. Instead of having students report on what they did during the school year, ask them to give a mini-TED Talk where they raise a question about learning, about school, or about a curiosity they will pursue because of what they learned this year. And if you’re concerned that students will have trouble giving a TED Talk, just check out the young people already doing this on TED like Thomas Suarez!

Time Capsule. Still thinking about artifacts, ask your students to create a “time capsule” of their learning. You can even get creative in the types of pieces you ask them to put into their time capsules: 1) the one that surprised them the most; 2) the one that challenged them the most; 3) the one that shows how they built on previous learning; 4) the one they would still revise; 5) the one they would continue working on; 6) the one they would want to be sure and look at again in five years. These ideas aside, the best categories may be the ones you come up with together!

Artwork with a Metaphor. Sometimes the end of the year is one of the best times to get tactile. Think of all the ways you could ask students to metaphorically represent their learning through a piece of art. Perhaps it’s a play-doh sculpture or an original movie poster. Maybe it’s a painting or one of those styrofoam heads you can get at the local craft store that serves as the “canvas” for representing how their brains changed this year. If you’re going to use this approach, the frontloading is crucial. First, have students examine their work and determine what learning has looked like for them throughout the year. Once they’ve talked and written about that, have them think about objects that could represent that learning which they could incorporate into their art pieces. Has learning been like a playground? Like a tree? Like a lightbulb? Like a roller coaster? Like mountain climb? Like a boomerang?

Letter of Metacognition. I’ve been using letters of metacognition almost as long as I’ve been teaching. Sometimes they accompany a portfolio or work and other times they stand alone. The idea is that students write a letter to themselves in first person where they chronicle their growth and/or challenges in learning throughout the year. Again, you can adapt this to your purpose by considering if you want students to connect this letter to standards or to artifacts that show their growth. At times, I’ve even had it double as a mini-research piece, where students must cite their own work with direct quotes, summary or paraphrase and MLA attribution. This one definitely has an authentic audience!

RoadMap. If the idea of artwork sounds intriguing, but a little too open-ended or potentially overwhelming, this is a nice way to get at many of the same skills. Give students a large piece of poster board and ask them to map out their learning of the year. Where were the hills or the flat areas? What are the landmarks and where did the terrain change? Have them create a legend where they include specific pieces of work that also show up on their maps. Not only can these road maps stand alone, but they could be a fantastic foundation for a digital tour guide or exit interview.

Recorded Discussions. Using some basic technology (like a voice memo app) have students record a conversation with a series of people where they have to describe their learning throughout the year. Perhaps one person must be a mentor, another a peer, and a third could be someone younger than them. Rather than feeling like you need to listen to all of the discussions and assess them, consider how they could be a springboard for one of the other ideas in this list. Perhaps the discussions get kids ready to make a roadmap or write a letter of metacognition or give their mini TED Talk based on what these conversations taught them.

Exit Interview. Often, what I most want to hear at the end of the year are individual voices. So, exit interviews can be a way I find to carve out some time with each learner. These conversations can range from content specific questions to larger reflective questions. I like to have a combination of questions students can prepare for and some that are a bit more unpredictable. I always appreciate the ways these conversations situate me as the listener, as the person honoring someone else’s learning story.

Letter to Incoming Students. Ask your students to help usher in next year’s learners with a letter that both welcomes and challenges the newcomers. Suggest that your students not only talk about what they learned, but have them come up with pieces of learning advice: how to best face a challenge, how to revise your work, how to best study for an exam, how to collaborate and learn with others. The real audience may be just what they need to think carefully about their own learning in ways that pay it forward.

Digital Tour Guide. There are so many neat digital apps that students could use to guide a “tour of their learning.” I’ve really enjoyed using Shadow Puppet recently and can imagine how easily students could upload images of their work and then talk about them to create a digital slideshow. Like so many of the ideas in this list, the prompts of the time capsule or questions of the road map could help give your approach to this method even more structure.

As I think about all of these ways you can consider approaching a commemoration of learning, think about these three big moves: select, collect, and reflect. Each phase is discerning and reflective in itself. Being deliberate about the ways in which you ask students to approach each move will certainly help them capture more than tasks, but the ways they’ve grown. Whichever approach you take, remember it’s commemorating how they learned more than what they learned that propels our students into lifelong learners.

Teach openly,

With Teacher2Teacher



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