Looking Back on the End of the School Year

One of my favorite things about working in a school is the school year cycle itself. I love the momentum and the sense of change. There’s a clear beginning (New school supplies! Bright ideas for lessons! Brand. New. Books!) and a clear end (Collecting all the books! End-of-year reports! Putting in final grades!). OK, the last part isn’t nearly as exciting, but the fact that summer approaches more than makes up for that.

I also love the reflection that comes at the end. When I recommend books to my students at the end of the year, I’m fond of telling them whatever book I’ve chosen is in my top five (although I haven’t actually sat down to make a list). If I were to compose a list for this past school year, Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase, E. K. Johnston’s The Story of Owen, Robin Stevens’  Murder is Bad Manners, and Gary Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter would definitely be included.

I don’t do all the reflecting myself; I like to have my students look back on our year together, too. I have my primary students think back to their favorite books of the year, whether they read them with me or not—there’s nothing better than a kindergartner telling you that Matt de la Pena’s Last Stop on Market Street was her favorite book of the year when we read it months ago as part of our Christian Robinson illustrator study. 

With my first-grade classes, I make lists of all the things we learned during the year. (This exercise would be really rewarding with all grade levels—what a sense of accomplishment!) The first-graders pick their favorite, write a sentence, and draw an illustration describing what they liked best. Many of those favorites revolve around books and author studies. It’s no surprise that Mélanie Watt made many appearances this time around. I love the work we do with her hilarious Chester and Scaredy Squirrel. The Pinkney family of authors and illustrators also were popular. And of course, perennial favorite Mo Willems was mentioned repeatedly.

Intermediate and middle school students take a more in-depth look and reflect on what we’ve done, what they’ve learned, and what they’ve read. I just love finding out which books top their lists. Several I’ve blogged about made this year’s list, like Gary Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter and Pam Munoz Ryan’s Echo.

I also loved seeing a couple of personal favorites that I remember recommending to specific students, like Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men and Caroline B. Cooney’s The Face on the Milk Carton, a book that I read over and over when I was in junior high. A couple of nonfiction books that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet made my students’ lists: Karen Blumenthal’s Tommy: The Gun that Changed America and I Am Malala written by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick. Others that cropped up several times included  Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck, See You at Harry’s  by Jo Knowles, Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover, the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi, the Spirit Animals series, and John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. (Sadly, at a conference, I chatted with a lovely librarian who enthusiastically recommends The Crossover but did not care for it herself, which means I can no longer honestly tell students that I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like this book. Perhaps I can tell them that everyone to whom I’ve recommended the book has enjoyed it, which remains true.)

A couple of books that I either read to kids or know that their teachers read to them reliably appear in the survey as well: Roald Dahl’s The BFG, Tamera Will Wissinger’s Gone Fishing, Rob Buyea’s Because of Mr. Terupt, and A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Parks. But the reigning champion of Most Mentioned Book or Series remains Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Do I get my librarian card revoked if I admit I’ve NEVER read him? In my defense, although we have well over 20 copies of each Wimpy Kid book, they are truly, always checked out.

One of the reflections I request from students is what they would change for next year. More books is a common answer, as is more bean bag chairs—they’re not wrong about that one. They requested more time for checking books out—also an understandable answer, since two classes use the same space, we have to ration the number of kids at the shelves and how much time they can spend checking out. (I’m working on it.) But there’s just nothing I can do about the color of the walls. Since the walls are mostly windows that, in the winter, have a view of Lake Michigan, I’m not sure I would want to change that even if I could.  

However, the very best answers are generated by asking students to name one thing they learned in the library this year. Sample responses: “how to create better presentations” (that was months ago, so I’m glad they remembered), “to read whatever you want,” “about blackout poetry,” “about different types of book awards,” “that authors do interviews about their books,” “how to make sure websites are legit and trustworthy,” “how to make book trailers,” “more about the Dewey Decimal system,” and “more about citations.” Students also appreciated learning how to find e-books, how to spot the difference between primary and secondary sources, how to find a book on the shelf, how to write poems, how not to cyberbully, how to use databases, how to work as a team, how not write on books, and the importance of not stealing the work of others from the internet. One student was thankful to learn “how to read good so I can read gooder next year,” another that “libraries don’t need to be very quiet,” while a third learned “nothing that much.” (Just keeping it real.) There were a few answers, however, that were favorites: “how to investigate,” “how to branch out from my regular interests,” “to be more open about reading,” “always be prepared,” and that “your imagination isn’t limited.”

It’s amazing to be able to reflect back with them, and I really appreciated knowing all the things they learned.  They’re so smart, these kids; over the years, those are all things I’ve learned in libraries myself.

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About the Author:

Gundry Rowe is a K-8 librarian at Walt Disney Magnet School in Chicago, IL. She is National Board Certified in Library Media and has been working in children’s bookstores and libraries since she was 16. Although she prefers to balance reading kids' chapter books with books for adults, instead she finds herself reading Little Blue Truck for the 57,000th time to her two little boys.

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