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5 Ways to Enjoy the Last Month of School

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Today we start a fun two weeks. State exams and AP exams dual for the attention and time of most every student and teacher in the building.

Two weeks of juggling tests with students in and out of classrooms. Teachers putting on hats as proctors and hall monitors, shuffling to teach in different rooms so students can test in theirs. Stress can make cranky even the calmest souls.

Two weeks until the end of school after that. June 6 is our last day. Some days that sounds like the equivalent of enduring 12 long winters.

I must make the choice daily to be optimistic, to see the possible in all the end-of-year chaos.

5 Ways to Enjoy the Last Month of School:

1. Talk about Books. I will double the amount of time my students and I talk about books and reading. Summer slide is real, even for students in high school and AP English classes. I wrote some thoughts about summer reading here. I want my students to enjoy the reading they do this summer. Most have read double, some even triple, the number of books they read last year. I cringe thinking that many may not read even one book this summer. (The AP English Literature required summer reading holds little promise with Brave New World and Beowulf.) If we talk about books enough, and if my students write down titles that sound interesting enough, and if maybe I allow them to take enough books from my classroom library home for the summer -- maybe even my most reluctant readers will read at least one book before they come back to school in August.

2. Sit and Listen. Last week a student tapped on my door during my conference period. "Mrs. Rasmussen, are you busy?" I was but I waved her inside. I shut my laptop and turned my chair, and Mikaila began to talk. She told me that she'd been in her business class when an idea for her writing project "burst in my brain, and I started writing it down, and the more I wrote the more I imagined and the more I began to cry, and then the teacher looked over my shoulder and got worried about what I was writing. I told her, 'I'm okay, I just need to go see my English teacher.'" Grinning, she finally took a breath. Mikaila stood and talked with me for the rest of the period. She's got a lot of hurt in her, and she needed someone to hear it. That is all I did. I listened. I still had essays to read and leave feedback on, but that afternoon with this sweet young woman was the best I have had in weeks. I felt needed. During the next few weeks I will try to be still, open my door, and listen. I doubt Mikaila is the only one who needs to talk.

3. Allow Students to Self-Assess. When my students care about their topics, their writing is always better, but after 11 years of school, so many of my writers care more about the grade they'll get than about the quality of their writing. I've tried to change that all year. For the next few weeks, my students will read and revise their own work again and again. They will read one another's writing and offer feedback, and then they will revise again. We have done two rounds of this already, and with the exception of just a few kids who put forth little effort and scored their work high, most everyone wrote an honest assessment of their writing process. They are thinking about the thinking they do as they write on the page. That's the best kind of assessment possible.

4. Begin Planning for Next Year. Not full-on planning, mind you. That would make me crazy, but I have started a list of things I will change. I know I need to do a better job with organizing writer's notebooks and teaching vocabulary. I know I want to read more poetry, although I added a lot in my primarily non-fiction AP English Language class this year. I know I need to do the lessons we did just last week early in the fall. I'll add tabs in a writer's notebook that I can use as a sample with my new students in the fall, and I'll tinker in Drive as I make notes in my lesson plans. Planning gives me energy, so it makes sense to note changes I want to make now instead of hoping I remember them later.

5. Confer and confer and confer. Like you and your students, the relationships my students and I have built all year are strong and trustworthy. I want to utilize this trust and push my students further in their reading and writing than I would have been able to do earlier. The only way to do this is to talk with them more one-on-one. Every day as students read their self-selected books and write their self-selected projects, I will pull up a chair and we will talk. "What are you thinking?" I'll ask, and they will open up and tell me. They know I will listen and offer feedback that they can take, or not. That's the beauty of teaching students to take ownership of their learning.

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Amy Rasmussen teaches AP English Language and Composition at a large suburban high school in north Texas. She fosters a love of reading by offering choice through readers and writers workshop in her advanced English classes. Amy advocates for change in the traditional literature-based English course. Research shows that when teachers make all the choices about the books that students must read, many students begin to disengage with reading (Allington, Krashen, Miller). Few students actually read the assigned texts in high school English classes, and many come to dislike the classic literature we revere so much (Broz, Kittle, Pruzinski). Many teachers and administrators are changing this. They are moving to readers and writers workshop because they know when students read they are better thinkers and better writers. Amy is an engaging teacher and presenter, and she loves working with and supporting schools and districts as they make this move. Memberships and Organizations: National Council of Teachers of English Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts North Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts, President-Elect, 2015 North Star of Texas Writing Project, Teaching Consultant Find Amy on Twitter @AmyRass Host of the new #PoetryChat -- Join us the first Monday of the month at 8 pm ET

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