Today is our last day of class. We begin with a "speed round" of council, during which I ask my students to tell about something they learned or became better at in ELA this year. Curious Jorge, named by my students last year, will serve as our talking piece.
I have chosen a speed round, which allows participants to be brief and direct with their contributions, to keep the council simple while at the same time meaningful. I expect that at least a few students will speak to becoming better readers this year, which will provide the proper transition I am seeking for the next segment of this last lesson.
I confess to being somewhat of a Huffington Post junkie, where I often begin with the admirable intentions of catching up on the world of politics, only too soon finding myself scrutinizing the week's worst-dressed celebrities.
But I digress. Recently, this particular headline caught my eye, and when I clicked on it and began reading, I could only think of how much my students would love it. However, how could I fit it in this late in the year, I wondered? Recognizing the myriad of skills it demonstrates--inference making, strategic voice and tone, validating claims with support and evidence, addressing counter-arguments--I decided that it represents so much of what I have been training my students to do all year.
In lieu of making copies for each student (again, it's the last day of class--surely they do not want or need one more piece of paper), I have formatted the essay as a PDF to display from my computer. We will read through it together, allowing student volunteers to do the reading, and discuss the implications as we work our way through it.
So while we are in the neighborhood of Toy Story, I transition to this clip from Toy Story 3 in order to shift our focus to saying goodbye to eighth grade.
Before running the clip, I ask my students how many of them have "bedrooms in transition"--that is, like my own eighth-grade son, a bedroom that still has evidence of their childhoods peeking out, evidence that may even get hidden when certain friends come over to visit ("Dude, are those Pokeman cards on your dresser?"). I expect that plenty of my students will nod and laugh in agreement, and we will spend a few minutes allowing them to share brief stories related to the topic.
I introduce the clip by acknowledging that while Andy may be heading off to college, they, too, are heading off into a new phase of their lives: high school.
Side note: No matter how many times I watch this scene, I always get a little misty eyed. Have tissues handy.
Finally, then, it's time to hand back a couple of items to my students before our final farewell.
The first of these items is their writing folders, into which I have placed their graded, final two essays:
With the addition of these last two essays, their writing folders should possess the five major writing pieces we have worked on this year:
As I hand back each writing folder, I encourage my students to review their essays in the order that they were written, paying attention to areas on the rubrics where they have improved and areas that still may need some work. The most rewarding pay-off of a writing folder is when a student can definitely see the growth in their writing when they line up the work they have produced, which I discuss further in my reflection.
When all writing folders are returned, and I have allowed a few minutes for my students to review the contents, I move into the final activity of the year, which is to return the letters my students wrote to themselves on the second day of school.
As each letter is returned and opened, I allow my students a few minutes of unstructured time for laughing and sharing with each other what they have written. When most of the initial excitement has died down, I ask for any volunteers to read some or all of their letters to the whole group, of which I anticipate their will be a few, and usually for the sake of comedy rather than for proclaiming that their goals were met. Because of this, I generally ask the whole group during this time to raise their hands if one or some of their goals for the year were met, according to how they were articulated in their letters, so that the topic of goal setting and achievement can enter the discussion.
As our discussion of their letters wraps up, I wish my students well on their journeys into high school, remind them of how proud I am of their accomplishments in 8th-grade ELA, and encourage them to blow the minds of their ninth-grade ELA teachers with their intelligence.