Tag Archives: Self-Assessment

How To Put The Learning To Work, Part 5: Rememberance of things past

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Wouldn’t it be great to give your students the chance to revisit who they were as a writer as a way of developing an understanding of who they have become? Wouldn’t it be cool to connect writing work that they have done the year before with the writing work that you have done with them? How can we design an end of year piece that enables students to witness their own growth over time? Here’s an idea for how to make that kind of end of year, meaningful work happen.

This culminating activity idea will take a bit of forethought and planning, requiring that your students have access to writing that they did the year before, but that shouldn’t be too difficult. You could accomplish this requirement by either working with your students previous year’s teacher to make sure that they hold on to a particular piece of writing from that year, or ask your students to find a piece of writing that they did the year before. The second option is a bit risky, I know, but it would be interesting to see if your students held on to writing they did last year of their own volition. The key is that they are able to find a “finished” piece of writing that they did they year before.

Once your students have found a piece of writing that they did in the previous year, have them choose a piece that they wrote this year of which they are particularly proud. Now they have two pieces of writing – one from the year before and one from their year with you. Have them compare the two pieces of writing in a semi-structured thought piece guided by a few critical questions. Introduce the questions with something like:

We have been exploring what it means to be writers together this year – what it looks, sounds, and feels like. Let’s honor that work by taking a little time to recognize how much you have grown and changed as a writer over this year. To do that, read the two pieces that you have chosen – one from last year and one from this year. Then, use the following questions to help guide your reflection. As always, work to fill the page.

  • What surprises you when you compare the two pieces?

  • How would you describe your voice in the two pieces? How has it changed?

  • What are some other ways you have changed as a writer?

  • What does this work make you want to focus on in your writing moving forward?

This culminating activity provides your students with a chance to see for themselves how they have changed as a writer over the course of the year, does the important work of connecting who they are across grades, and encourages them to read their own writing deeply and critically. Do not grade this thought piece. It’s more important than that. Making this piece an evaluation-free zone, opens up the possibility for truthful, genuine reflection which ultimately leads to enduring learning. I would also recommend giving your students a chance to share what they learned with a partner, not necessarily reading their thought piece aloud but instead sharing what they learned in the process, maybe guided by one simple question: What surprised you?

Plan to have your students complete this assignment with enough time for you to respond to it before the end of the year.

As always, I would love to see examples of these. If you choose to do this kind of end of year writing, please share it with me.

Modification: If having your students find a piece of writing from last year seems a bit daunting, have them select a piece of writing from the beginning of the year and the end of the year with you.

Extension: Give these thought pieces to next year’s teachers so that they have a sense of how their incoming students think of themselves as writers.


How To Put The Learning To Work Part 4: Transform The Classroom Into A Gallery

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art gallery

Over the past week, I’ve been sharing some ideas for how to end the year meaningfully with your students. The goal has been to design interesting ways for students to resee and remember the learning that happened. The first post suggested having students remix their work to see it again in an interesting way. The second post focused on creating a self-assessment that pushes students back into the work from the year. The third post offered up several different kinds of end of year letters that teachers and students could write to look back on the work as well as look forward to next year. In this post, I explore the idea of transforming the classroom into a gallery of student work as a way to culminate the year.

Idea #4 – Create a Gallery of Your Students’ Work

When I say gallery, I’m thinking of an art gallery, a place where fine art is hung, and in this case, the fine art will be student work from the year. Imagine redesigning your classroom to resemble an art space, clearing all of the walls, making tables available for display. Ask your students, “If you had one piece of work that you did this year that you would like to share with others, what would it be?” This question will prime the pump for the piece of work that the students will eventually hang in the gallery. This gallery should be a collaborative effort. Everyone should get involved in how the gallery will look. What pieces would look good next to one another? Who needs a table or a particular place in the room? One of the things that makes this particular kind of culmination meaningful is having students take ownership of it. They should clear the walls, reorder the space, figure out a way to know what works are going where, etc. This will take a bit of time, but it will be well worth it. Plus, the whole time they are planning for the gallery, they are reminding themselves of the work that they have done over the year.

Once the students have selected what pieces they are going to display, to deepen the learning of the gallery, have your students write the equivalent of an artist statement that will accompany the work. To begin, share a model of an artist statement, maybe something like this:

artists statement


There are others online that are more appropriate for elementary and middle school students. To prepare the students to be able to write their own, talk about the moves the artist makes in the statement and how the students could use those moves in their own statements about the work they are displaying. Basically, a good artist’s statement does the following:

  • Shares a bit about where the piece came from. What inspired it?
  • Talks about how the piece was made. How did the person create it?
  • Discusses what the piece means to the creator and how it has affected his/her practice.

Depending on the time you have, you could have your students work on a draft of this statement and workshop it in class to really polish it up. Again, the dedication of time to this is well worth it because students will be reseeing and discussing the work that they did over the year, reinforcing the learning that happened. The day of the gallery, have your students hang their pieces of work with the statements right next to them, and a blank sheet of paper next to that for viewers to respond to the different pieces.

When the gallery is hung, prepare your students by first talking a bit about what it is like to walk through an art gallery. How do people act? I tend to highlight the fact that it is not entirely quiet in a gallery. People talk with one another in hushed tones as a way of deepening the appreciation of the work. Encourage your students to have those kinds of conversations. I would also stress that the goal is not to make it around to all of the work. That would be impossible. It is much better for students to spend the time really looking at a few pieces than trying to look at all of them superficially. When it comes to the comment page, coach your students to leave a comment about something that surprises or interests them about the piece. Point out something specific in the piece that stands out to them. Most importantly, do not repeat something that has already been written, and do not leave a comment like “this is really good.” Depending on where your students are with this kind of commenting work, you may want to develop a few examples of strong comments with them and put them up on the board for reference.

Then, let them go to town! Walk around with them. Get involved in real work conversations. Enjoy reliving all of the great work that happened throughout the year. Oh, and by all means invite others! Invite last year’s teachers, next year’s teacher, administrators, parents, friends. The more the merrier! The added benefit of the gallery is welcoming others into the fantastic work that you are doing with your students.

The hope is that you have time after the gallery walk to be able to get back together as a group and debrief a bit. Ideally, you would get into a circle with your students and seed the conversation with a few questions: What does this gallery/work make you think about? What stuck out to you? What do you want to make sure I, as the teacher, don’t leave out next year? If you were to give some advice to my students next year, what would you say? You get the idea.

Take pictures of this event. It will be worth it. And send a few to me if you get the chance. I would love to see them.

How To Put The Learning To Work Part 3: Writing An End Of Year Letter

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In the first end of year post, I wrote about having students remix their work in order to resee it and remember it. In the second post, I explored the idea of designing an end of year reflection that plunges students back into their work from the year and encourages them to critically think about it with an eye towards what happens next. In this post, we’ll play around with the idea of letter writing as a way to culminate the year.

Idea #3: Writing An End of Year Letter

There are a few different kinds of letters that I suggest would be useful in bringing the year to a meaningful close: teacher to student, student to self, and student to next year’s teacher.

Letters are great because they are personal. They are different from emails. They stretch time. They open spaces to be honest. The physicality of them makes the receiver want to keep them. Letters are like gifts. You look forward to opening them. Often we’ll read them, or part of them, more than once. Letters also push the writer to think carefully before writing because the audience is immediate. For all of these reasons, letter writing is a great way to end the year.

Write a letter to your students

The kind of end of year letter that probably comes first to mind is the letter from the teacher to the student. This may seem daunting at first, particularly if you have 150 students! Let’s look first at the kind of letter you can write if your student load is more manageable. If you have a class of 26, you can write individual letters to the students. They don’t have to be long, but make sure that you are specific to each student. Highlight a specific aspect of their work that you think was particularly strong. Reveal a way that they were in the class that contributed to the success of the whole. These letters are a time for celebrating great work and for pushing students to keep going in that direction. I would end the letter with exactly that kind of push. Help each of your students see what could possibly happen next for them. Finally, it would be nice to leave them with a quote that you think is particularly relevant. Maybe the whole class gets the quote in their letters. Maybe it is a quote that has become part of the ritual of the class over the course of the year so that when the students read the quote in their letters, it reminds them of the class.

If you have 150 students or more, I would still write a letter, but it would be one letter to the class as a whole. I would still make it personal by pointing about specific things that the students did that made the class meaningful, interesting, and fun. I would include a quote, and I would address the letter individually to each student, placing it in an envelop for each student. Envelops are key. The students have to be able to open the letters up. That is part of the specialness of it.

Have your students write letters to their future selves

This is a great idea. Has a bit of the time capsule element to it. In this case, have your students write letters to their future selves. Let them know that you will hold on to these letters until they graduate from high school. Make sure they include their address on the envelop that you provide for them just in case they leave the school. I know that this does not guarantee that the letter will make it to them, but it is a step in the right direction.

In terms of the letter, coach them on what they could write by asking a few questions:

  • What would you want to say to your future self?
  • What about this year would you want to remember?
  • What are things that are important to you now?
  • What are you proud of?
  • What do you wish could change?

The foil of the future self really helps free the writer to say things they normally wouldn’t say. Once they have written the letters, have them seal them in an envelope, addressed to themselves, and hold on to them. Hand them back the day of graduation or shortly before or after and see what happens.

Have your students write a letter to next year’s teacher

What a wonderful opportunity – the chance to share a bit of oneself with next year’s teacher. For this form of letter, I would introduce it to the students by asking the question, “If you had a chance to write a letter to your teacher next year, what would you want to say?” This question would hopefully open up a pretty interesting conversation that would then prime the pump for the letters themselves. Tell the students that this is a chance to share a bit about yourself, about the work that you have done, and about what you would love to be able to do next year. Questions that they might want to address in the letter:

  • What work have you done that you are particularly proud of? Why?
  • What are some questions you have about next year?
  • What do you really hope you get to do next year in class?
  • What is something that you would like to get better at?

For younger students, this kind of letter is a great way to work on learning the form of a proper letter. For all students, this kind of letter provides an unusual opportunity to make initial contact with next year’s teacher in a meaningful way. All letters should be placed in envelopes and addressed to the teacher(s). Who knows, maybe the teacher(s) that receive(s) it will either respond back over the summer and/or in the way they design the following year.

How to put the learning to work part 2: The End of Year Reflection

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Idea #2: The Summative Reflection

These few posts focus on how to bring the school year to a close in a meaningful and interesting way that also, most importantly, deepens the learning. The first post explored using the form of the Cento Poem to push students back into their work over the year and to remix it in a creative way. Go here to see how to make that happen in your classroom. In this post, I open up the idea of having students do a summative reflection at the end of the year to remind themselves of what they did, highlight particular strengths in that work, analyze areas for growth, and plan for what they would like to do next.

The summative reflection that I am going to share with you is connected to a portfolio, but it doesn’t have to be. The key is to identify questions that you want your students to address that give them the chance to do the following:

  • Take stock of what they have done over the year. Often times, learning is designed in such a way that it is easy to forget. Quizzes and tests are taken and then thrown away. Books are read and not revisited. Notes are taken, put to use once, and then not used again. The summative reflection gives students the chance to go back through that work, whether it is for the year, the semester, or the quarter and remind themselves of what they have done. This is an essential first step in reflecting on one’s work.
  • Identify work that they think is particularly strong. Students need to develop the ability to think critically about their own work and to recognize when they have done something well and why. Chances are, if they can do that, they will repeat the kind of work over time.
  • Think about what they could do differently. It isn’t enough just to praise oneself for particularly strong work. Students also need to be able to be honest with themselves and point out particular work or a skill that could be improved. They then need space to think in writing about that and come up with a plan for how to improve.
  • Project forward. Learning should not happen in prescribed time allotments. Learning should also not happen in siloed classes. Real, enduring learning is connected across time, across classes, across subjects. Students need a space at the end of the year to be able to write about what they want to do next with what they have learned. This summative reflection helps them do that.

Semester Reflection

Click the image to see the Summative Reflection

Ideally, a shorter, targeted form of this kind of reflection would be happening throughout the year so that students would be skilled in this metacognitive practice. If you are interested in that, click here to see my form of a weekly audit. But, even if that isn’t happening, the end of the year reflection is worth doing. To set it up, the last week of your classes, introduce the idea to your students. Take the template I have provided, manipulate it to fit your context, and hand it out. Give them the week to do it. Encourage them to take their time. Have this be the last piece of work that they do for the year.

I have my students send it to me electronically. It is a lot of emails, but I can respond more quickly. Plus, I want to make sure that they get it back. In terms of feedback, I approach it like a conversation. I either track changes or use the comment tab to ask questions, highlight really interesting things, connect them to resources, and encourage them to make something happen. I have my coach’s hat on when I do this. The feedback is always constructive and encouraging. When it comes to grading these, I normally do not grade them. I tell them that this final piece of work is more important than a grade. Teachers often question whether students will turn it in if there isn’t a grade. When I have established a culture of reflecting over time in this way, and my students are receiving regular feedback from me, it is very rare that a student does not turn it in. Even if you have not been having your students reflect on their work over the year, I think you will be surprised by the number of students who will turn it in even if it is not graded. But, if you want to grade it, I would tell the students that they receive an A for this assignment if they turn it in. If they don’t, they fail the assignment. Enough said.

This summative reflection is not only important for students, it is also important for you, the teacher. It provides a great window into the year, the semester, or the unit, depending on how you frame it. You will get ideas for how you might design next year. And, maybe most importantly, they are going to make you feel good about yourself and about your teaching. I can’t emphasize this enough. Teaching is tough, challenging work. It is crucial to design some kind of vehicle in your class to receive positive feedback. Without joy, we don’t have the energy to overcome the challenges.