Last month Tanguy Pepiot, a University of Oregon senior from France, built a healthy lead and thought that his victory in the 3,000-meter steeplechase was secure. His final kick slowed as he waved his arm, urging the crowd to celebrate with him, and he was clipped at the finish line by University of Washington’s Meron Simon. "I'm not proud of myself right now...." a dejected Pepiot said. "Next time I'll just run the whole final stretch and celebrate in the victory lap." The margin of victory was one-tenth of a second.
There is no “next time” in the education of our students, and those in high-poverty stand to lose the most when learning opportunities are not seized. I’ll always remember a student’s response when I asked if he was looking forward to the pending vacation. Without hesitation or self-pity he calmly stated, “I’d rather be here.” The message was clear – my reality was not his reality; school was preferable to home and learning trumped what waited for him over the break.
The author of Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell, tells us that the opportunity gap between poorer and richer students expands during summer vacation. This is affirmed in a December 2014 report, commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, which shows that, on average, students lose a month of learning time in math and reading during the long break, and this figure doubles for children in poverty. This knowledge makes it even more apparent that our bell-to-bell teaching approach must extend to the very last days of the school year.
We must combine high expectations and support thought the entire school year, and the post high-stakes testing time is ripe with opportunity. Take advantage of it and create experiences for students to extend their learning through the end of the year. The May 2015 ASCD Education Update lists the following ideas for finishing the year strong:
1) Write Notes to Future Classes: Prompt students to “pay it forward” with notes and tips for future students on how to be successful in school.
2) Help with Financial Plans: Partner with a local credit union to introduce high school students to the importance of saving and services available to them.
3) Let Students Be Teachers: Have your students teach a class. Break them into small groups and provide support as they prepare to present on pre-approved topics.
4) Create Student Videos: Partner students and have them outline, write, and film themselves for your class. These can include what they have learned throughout the course, recreations of historic speeches, favorite memories, or even a student lesson…all of which could be uploaded and shown as exemplars to future students.
5) Plan a Panel Session: Organize groups of students to research and present on a topic or debate pros and cons with another student panel.
6) Have Students Evaluate Your Class and Work: Demonstrate that student voice is important and practice life-long learning. Gather feedback on the course and seek feedback on what you can do to refine your craft.
One of the greatest end-of-the-year lessons can only be taught by example, as actions speak louder than words. As we live our professional standards each day and prepare relevant, student-centered lessons, we show students the following:
— what we do is important
— we value you and your time with us,
— we know that you have strength and potential, and
— we’re not going to give up on you.
These messages reaffirm our reasons for being in education, and, as we run our final stretch, our drive and commitment makes a difference to those who matter most. It’s essential for all of us – teachers, principals, and district staff – to finish our year strong, as our victory lap occurs after all of our students cross the line...no matter where they place in the race.