The Entire School Year

Only two weeks left in the semester and my students still have a lot of questions about how to teach English. I asked them today to write down their remaining questions so that I could use the final class periods to address what they feel they need most urgently.

Since I haven’t taught secondary school for 20 years, I’m not sure I can answer in full one thing they listed–what do you do at the beginning and the end of the school year–so I’m wondering if any readers could share their ideas about this. Please use the comments section to describe what you do at these challenging points in the school year.



  1. Cathy Blanchfield

    The beginning of the school year is a time for me to assess their abilities and establish a safe environment for the students. One of the best ways I know to asses their writing ability is to ask them to write a letter to me. I hand out a letter to them that explains a little about myself (not too much; they really don’t want to know personal stuff, but just where I went to college, my children and grandchildren, etc.) and then how I feel about reading and writing. i also tell them a little about my expectations for the class. I ask them to answer, using my letter as a model telling me about their main interests and goals, and how I might help them achieve those goals. You’ll be surprised by how they answer. I not only get a good start in learning about each, but I also take notes about their errors and struggles. They are very honest. This is homework the first night. That day in class we do a tea party. This is an activity where I have categories (find someone who keeps a diary, find someone who write email often, find someone who loves nonfiction, find someone who reads the newspaper daily, find someone who reads and writes another language, to name a few.) Kids need to fill in names in all the categories (they must write the names, not just ask the other student to fill it in). The first students finished “wins”. Then we share some “surprising” discoveries. This is a great ice breaker.

    End of year is another story. Let me know, Kathee, if you’d like to have more.


  2. At the beginning: I set the tone, the boundaries, the expectations. I get to know the students and how they interact with one another, me, and the subject. There is a lot of training (especially for the sophomores) and lots of reminding for the seniors whom I had a year earlier. We work every day after the first day. The first day we just get to know one another. I don’t like to overwhelm kids with lots of paperwork or rules that first day. “Teachers talk too much.” Students don’t appreciate that.

    At the end: Because we did portfolios there was a wrap-up to the year’s (or years’) work. The sophomores would go through their portfolio folders, keeping what they loved, tossing what didn’t work so well. They would write summaries of the work: what they did, how well they did, what they learned. Sometimes they would pick a piece they did poorly but learned how to do better by the end of the year. Those portfolio pieces followed them to their junior year where they added more, and eventually in their senior year they put it all together in a nice form of presentation. My students were very reflective by the time they got to be seniors.

    As for the seniors, because I taught an elective, I always allowed them time to work on projects from other classes or to study for finals. As you know, I worked closely with their English and Econ/Govt teachers so always knew what still needed to be done.

  3. I have them reflect upon their year – in all classes – not just mine. They have to evaluate their learning, their teachers, their desire for more information, their application of this learning to real life scenarios, and to their futures. I ask them to grade me – only – and to make suggestions for next year. I want to know about what they learned, and how it could be better.

    I ask them to write and illustrate a survival guide for next year’s students.

    We do a college information project to prep them for the future. This in includes a college resume for letters of rec, research into what schools would best serve them, information about how to pay for said school – how would they get financial aid? are their parents behind them?
    What are the living conditions like? Dorms, apts.? living at home? Weather, activities, majors, access to grad school – all of these must be addressed.

    We play w/ poetry, skits, etc.

    They make a front page newspaper of their favorite piece of writing from the year – must include things like historical background, sports, main events, character interviews, editorials, fashion, news headlines.

  4. Kathee

    Here’s what one teacher posted on my Facebook page: “At the beginning of the school year: find a way to connect with them, whether that be through writing, art, music, etc (whatever is appropriate for your discipline). Also, train them how you want them to act in your class by introducing the…m to your routines. At the end of the school year: most likely you’ll have so much more you need to teach them that “ending the year properly” or with perfect lessons won’t be a worry!”

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