It’s arrived: the furious final sprint at the end of a 26.2 mile marathon that marks the close of every school year, with frenetic weeks of final exams, summer reading lists, graduations, transitions, locker clean outs, and students whose eyeballs seem perpetually glued to sunshine pouring through the classroom windows.
Amid the frantic pace, jam-packed calendars, and ever-shifting modes of learning, these final weeks are precious. They are opportunities to challenge, celebrate, and reflect with the students you’ve cared for and gotten to know for over nine months, students who’ve established special relationships with each other and built their own unique class identity.
We asked you: How do you make the most of these final weeks of the year? And, how can questioning and curiosity play a part?
Based on what we heard from educators, here are five ways to use student questions to celebrate, reflect, and learn at the end of a school year:
Bookend course content
Brandeis professor Dan Perlman uses the cover of the course biology textbook at the start and very end of the semester, to signal to students that the work of a scientist is not just to answer questions but to keep asking new ones. Students begin and end their learning experience with powerful questions.
Revisit one of your previous Question Focus (QFocus) prompts and then have students discuss how their questions changed over the course of the year. If you don’t have a QFocus from the start of the year, consider using the title of your overall course or subject, or a particular unit of study within it, as the QFocus. Students will see how their questions evolved and walk away with deeper curiosity about the subject.
Take it outdoors
On Twitter, Alissa Alteri Shea took her students outside to a stream on the school property. Students asked questions about salamanders and other creatures they found there, and they drew and journaled.
A New Hampshire educator had her fourth-grade students observe a lake on a nearby town conservation property, generate questions, and then create QR codes so that future visitors to the property can read their questions and answers.
Have students create and lead a review game ahead of final exams and assessments using their questions and an online platform like Kahoot or Quizlet. As a QFocus, you might try something along the lines of, “Questions that someone studying [topic] would ask.”
In this video, Josh Beer uses “questions that should be asked about American Imperialism at the turn of the 20th century” as a QFocus to help students create questions that will be used on the summative assessment unit test.
On Twitter, Shelley Gaudet’s students asked questions related to Canadian history and then created podcasts to report on their findings.
There are some wonderful, easy-to-use resources for getting started with student podcasting, including this how-to series from NPR, this lesson plan from the New York Times, or this post from KQED on five apps students can use to make their own podcasts. If your students participate in NPR’s Student Podcast Challenge, your podcast may be played live on air!
Short of a full podcast, students can post short interviews to NPR’s Storycorps. For more on how the QFT can jumpstart a storycorps interview, read “Question Focus Ideas to Use at Home.”
Metacognition, or thinking about your own thinking, is a critically important part of learning. The end of a school year is the perfect time to engage students in thinking about not only what they learned, but how they learned it. What did students think of virtual learning? What questions do they have about the next school year? Have students generate their own discussion and reflection questions that they can use to think about their experience and look ahead to next year.
Or, consider giving students a more targeted QFocus like, “Questions a historian of the future might ask about my life today.” As Lee Ann Potter writes in this Library of Congress post, “Now is the perfect time to remind our students that they are eyewitnesses to history, that their observations and reflections are valuable. It is also a perfect time for us to encourage them to create primary sources that capture their experience.” Students’ questions and journal entries may become primary sources that historians of the future study in the Library of Congress.