If Your School Year Were a Book: Endings
Writing endings has always been one of my biggest struggles as a writer; it’s a struggle I know I share with many. Whether I’m working on a fictional short story, a poem, or essay, it’s always a challenge to find a way to wrap it up.
In my work as a coauthor on the Units of Study series of books for reading and writing workshop, I learned to think of planning curriculum as writing another kind of story. As part of a team of coauthors, we worked hard to write beginnings to the school year that we hoped would hook the kids (and teachers) to help them to fall in love with reading and writing workshop. Each unit has an arc to it, much like a story, with rising action, a high point, and eventually an ending. Then, too, across the whole school year, the minilessons and days add up to create a storyline, with twists and turns, ultimately leading up to the moment when we must say “the end” and close the book on another school year.
As the end of this school year draws near, you might think about the qualities of your favorite stories to help you plan an ending that is meaningful for you and your students.
When I think of my favorite books, many of them end with final chapters or scenes that recall important moments from earlier in the story. Think of the entire last book in the Harry Potter series, when everything Harry has experienced in past books is brought together in a giant culmination. As a reader of The Deathly Hallows, you are constantly reminded of past duels, adventures, relationships, and discoveries. In the end, all of the separate bits and pieces come together to make perfect sense. What JK Rowling has done is created an opportunity for Harry (and readers) to remember and reflect, and then come to some conclusions and new learning based on our reflections.
Your own students are not nearing the end of an epic battle between magical forces of good and evil. However, they, like Harry Potter, have had their own trials and tribulations, adventures, relationships, and discoveries this year. Like a good book, you may want to plan to give students time to remember and reflect on all that they have experienced this year in writing workshop.
A perfect tool for this is a yearlong writing portfolio. If you’ve been saving samples of student work throughout the year, now is the perfect time to make those available to students. Portfolios are like the movie-scene equivalent of a montage: snapshots of important moments from across the story of your school year. Students can look back on their writing, looking at the beginning, middle, and end of the year samples. Encourage them to talk or write about what they notice about their writing samples.
I often ask students to ask themselves questions like:
“How have I changed?”
“What’s the most important thing about this?”
“What does this teach me?”
“What’s the lesson(s) here?”
Taking a bit of time at the end of the school year to remember and reflect gives kids the sense of an ending, of closure. Encourage students to name not just what they noticed, but what they think it means. Articulating key lessons will help solidify what they’ve learned and carry those lessons with them beyond your classroom walls, to whatever lies ahead.