1. Write a rubric.
Provide each student with a copy of the state guidelines for your subject and grade, and explain that the guidelines lay out everything they were expected to learn throughout the course of the year. Demonstrate how a rubric works and then ask students to create their own, with objectives from the state guidelines on one side of the page and their own self-assessments on the other. Students will feel empowered to know what the state expects of them, and usually they’ll give themselves an honest assessment.
2. Assemble a portfolio.
Writing teacher Anindita Basu Sempere likes to have her students assemble portfolios of their work and review them at the end of each year. “Middle school is a time of tremendous growth, so students can see dramatic changes in their writing,” she says. “As students look at old work, they always begin to compare past and present material and say things like, ‘I can’t believe I used to think so-and-so!’ or ‘I can’t believe I didn’t know how to do such-and-such back then!’ Seeing their growth motivates them for the new year. They’re reminded that a concept or technique seemed challenging at first, and they have tangible evidence of their progress.” Sempere, a former middle school teacher who is executive director of TheWritingFaculty.com, an online tutoring company, says that whether you’re working with students in person or online, portfolio reviews are an effective way of helping them become more self-aware about their processes and motivating them to continue learning.
3. Ask leading questions.
As students mull over the year’s work, ask them to respond in writing to questions that will provoke them to look at the bigger picture. For example: What can you do now that you couldn’t do at the beginning of the school year or last year? What do you know now that you didn’t know a year ago? Questions such as these help students recognize both technical and conceptual accomplishments, Sempere says. “When looking at areas of improvement, they feel less self-conscious because they’ve seen their progress, so they know they can continue to learn and grow.”
4. Make a scrapbook.
There’s nothing like putting together a class scrapbook to build community and help students reconsider the concepts they’ve learned throughout the year. Bring in stickers, art supplies, and photos documenting field trips, science experiments, and other activities. Divide students into groups, and assign each group one page or spread to work on. On the same page that they recount an activity, ask them to list the important ideas or concepts they learned from it. When the groups are finished, make sure there’s time set aside so they can all share their pages with the rest of the class. Also, before assembling the book, consider scanning all the pages or taking pictures of them with a digital camera. These can be put together as a PDF version distributed to parents or posted on a class website.
5. Create a timeline.
Have students draw timelines depicting their physical, emotional, and academic growth in your class throughout the past year. Give each student a long piece of butcher paper, and get them started by asking them to choose an image for each month of the school year. The image may depict something they learned, a project undertaken, a grade earned, a skill perfected, or even something that happened in their personal lives that month. They can illustrate their timelines with their own drawings or with photos clipped from magazines. Allow students to share their timelines with the class, and offer wall space for those who want to post theirs in the classroom.
6. Set goals.
Any discussion of students’ progress over the current year should include their plans for the coming school year. As a class, discuss what students might expect to learn in your subject next year. Make a list on the board of their ideas for the skills, concepts, and information they might encounter or perfect in the year ahead. Then students can make their own individual lists of goals—these may include grades they want to earn, skills they want to master, or concepts they want to understand. In addition, have them write what steps they plan to take to reach these goals (committing to extra reading or work during the summer, regular class attendance, better study habits). If possible, distribute these lists to their teachers for the next year, so students can review them in the fall.