The end of the school year is approaching, and sometimes I find it difficult to keep my students (and myself) still engaged and diligently working until the end. This year has been a roller coaster of emotions, but despite it all I am grateful for the opportunity to teach a new grade and add some new creative ideas to my teaching experience.
What follows are some meaningful activities and discussions I have had with my students in the last few weeks of school to keep us interested in the classroom. I have found a lot of success in these final unit plans.
I decided to end the year reading and writing memoirs. Memoirs are great because they are based on the author's own memories and experiences. Students find if fun to write about their childhood memories or moments that stand out in their lives.
With my regular Language Arts class, I had them participate in an interview project, inspired by Story Corps. This played into the memoir unit because it asked them to ask some deep and sometimes difficult questions to an adult; then, the hope was that they would be able to ask themselves similarly deep questions in order to think of a meaningful memoir to write about their own lives.
I really, really liked this assignment because it helped students branch out of their comfort zone and have meaningful conversations with their parents, grandparents, leaders, or other adults in their lives. Some students hated it (haha) because they said they felt awkward asking personal questions to their parents, but I think it was actually good for these kids because it helped them see their parents as real people with hope, dreams, failures, and successes.
Another unit I incorporated into my curriculum this year was on finding a job. My students learned how to fill out a job application, write a neat and clear resume, and effectively communicated in a job interview.
As part of the unit, my honors class did a little extra research and discussed the question: "When choosing a career, should you follow your passion or choose a more practical occupation?" Ooo, this was definitely a fun and heated debate.
I first had students write for 3 minutes on their initial opinion. After that, we took a vote. In almost all of my classes, the unanimous opinion was that people should follow their passion. Well, to start the ball rolling, I showed them a video by Mike Rowe where he clearly argues the point that practicality should be the guiding principle in choosing a career (see the assignment button above for access to all the videos). We took notes and discussed some of his main points. The next day, students were able to do even more research on both sides of the argument. As they watched videos, listened to podcasts, and read articles, they talked with other students at their tables on what they were learning and what they did or did not agree with. It was awesome to hear students consider their own experience as well as the experiences from their parents and grandparents as they tried to make sense of what they learned in the research.
The final day we had a debate. I assigned certain students to defend the "Passion" side and others to defend the "Practical" side. They used their notes and the discussions from the previous days to argue their point. At the end of it all, we did a final quickwrite where students wrote about their opinion now after the research and discussion. Most students now felt that there needed to be a healthy balance of practical and passion in a job. It was interesting to see how their opinions had developed through the mini unit.
Finally, I merged what we had discussed with personal memoir with the pointers on how to persuade a possible employer in a job resume/interview to have the students write college admissions essays. I think my students were pretty shocked to find out that a college admissions essay was very different than the "essays" they are accustomed to seeing and writing.
We first discussed what kind of purpose and audience this type of essay would need to fit, and that helped us also figure out an appropriate tone for the stories we chose. (Basically, I wanted to make sure that students were not just choosing a story for the purpose of making their 9th grade peers laugh; that would not fulfill the purpose or audience that is truly meant to be targeted in a college admissions essay). We looked up commonly used questions for the essay prompt, and then students were able to start brainstorming and drafting their essay.
Students enjoyed this final assignment. It was a way for them to write memoir-type stories in a meaningful and structured way. I loved reading these and seeing a small part of their lives that shape their personalities. I read stories about dance recitals and football teams, the sadness of divorce and the joys of family vacations, role models and important life-lesson moments. It was really insightful and helped me love my students even more.
So next week is our official last week of school and (let's be honest) it will be filled with memory book writing, trips to Lagoon, and cleaning up the classroom. I am grateful for this year to have taught 9th grade. I have learned a lot and have grown closer to my students as we have struggled together.
To end it all, I think this school year can be summed up in this adorable cup I received from a student: "Eat, Sleep, Teach, Repeat". Haha. Sometimes it felt like I was just going through the motions, but I hope my students were able to pull valuable lessons from our discussions.
Andrew and Maichael
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