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March 20, 2013 Beyond the Publishing Party: Ten Ways to Celebrate Learning By Alycia Zimmerman
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    Class “publishing parties,” periodic open-houses during which families visit school to read completed student writing, are now a fairly standard part of the writing workshop classroom. However, academic celebrations don’t have to be limited to the end of the writing process. A balance of public and private celebrations allow students to reflect on their personal learning process, share their growth within the community, and inspire them to work to their fullest potential. Here are ten ideas, ranging from the very small (snacking celebrations) to larger efforts (student wikis). How do you celebrate learning in your classroom?


    Hold a “Conference”

    To provide a real-world context, I describe academic conferences to my students, a mainstay from my former professional life in university publishing. At the end of a science, social studies, or math content unit, my students create their own PowerPoint or Prezi presentations to share their learning at our very own conference. Then, we invite parents, siblings, and other classes to learn from the expert student presenters.

    To set up the room for the “conference,” I borrow projectors from my colleagues and set up projection stations around the classroom. White cardboard display boards taped up on walls or propped into corners make perfect projection “screens.” We can fit six “presentation stations” in my classroom for simultaneous student presentations during the conference.


    White posterboard serves as temporary "presentation screens" around the classroom.


    Schedule Some “Rewards Travel”

    I use celebratory field trips to mark classroom milestones beyond our classroom walls. My students earned a field trip to the Museum of Mathematics after the entire class mastered multi-digit multiplication. And when my students reached their reading stamina goal of 250,000 pages, we celebrated by spending nearly the entire day reading at the public library. I think it sends a great message when we cheer on academic successes with additional opportunities for learning.



    Spark an At-Home Conversation

    After a jam-packed day of learning, some of my students still answer with a meager “Fine,” when asked by their parents about their school day. So I occasionally send my students home wearing an “Ask Me About It” necklace. With some colored paper and yarn, it’s simple to create a class set of badges to wear home, and my students are proud to wear their badge necklaces like medals of honor.



    Download the Math, Science, and Reading badges.


    My students rarely feel prouder than when I invite them to teach a newfound expertise to the entire class. Sitting in the “teaching chair,” or standing before the class, student-led lessons cement the learning for the “teacher,” and expose the rest of the class to new content or strategies. These teacher-swap mini lessons often grow out of individual reading or writing conferences I have with my students.

    Carpet Concerts

    Students take instrumental music lessons in small groups at my school, and they usually only get to hear each other perform once a year during an orchestral assembly. Informal “carpet concerts” in the classroom provide much needed study breaks for the entire class, while allowing the young musicians to shine. Sometimes I ask the students to play the pieces they are learning from their music lessons; other times, I ask the students to improv compositions to accompany our academic learning. 


    Create a Museum

    Here in New York City, you can find a museum for nearly everything. Creating a class museum as a culminating project for content units is a natural fit, particularly when the students create “artifacts” to accompany their research. Other children enjoy visiting our class’s museum, and an authentic audience of their peers pushes the student curators to concisely communicate about their learning.

    A student-created Math Museum in the school lobby allows my students to show off their work.


    Munching on Milestones

    From preparing no-bake pie for Pi Day, to tasting hardtack at the culmination of a Civil War unit, content-oriented cooking projects are a fun and tasty way to make learning experiences memorable. Children’s literature, history units, and cultural studies usually have obvious culinary connections.  

    Students enjoyed decorating the backs of vanilla wafers with data and graphing symbols.


    “Publish” Online

    Rather than a “hardcopy” publishing party, a virtual publishing party allows my students to share their work with an even larger audience. Given that many of my students have relatives living in other parts of the country or internationally, when we post digital projects online we welcome family near and far to view and celebrate their learning. We use my class website to host the students’ work; the website provider Weebly has a simple enough interface that my students can independently post their work online, and I can enable commenting to allow for responses from our virtual “guests.” Wikis and Google sites are also easy solutions for creating digital gallery spaces for students to share their classroom work.


    Post-It “Process” Parties

    Who said that only finished work is worth sharing? Celebrate a process-oriented culture by inviting other classes to come view work-in-progress and to share constructive feedback. It helps to explain to guests their role in providing constructive feedback, and to provide a clear focus for a process viewing session. I might say, “The writers here are working on adding realistic dialogue to their fiction, and would like your feedback in how they are doing with this.” I often put out stacks of sticky notes for guests to write their constructive feedback. At less focused process parties, I provide stacks of “Grow and Glow” templates for guests to write a suggestion and a compliment for each student.

    Download the "Grow and Glow" Template.


    Students eagerly receive constructive feedback during a "Great Beginnings" process celebration.


    Sidewalk Scholars

    Head outside into the schoolyard or to a nearby sidewalk for the students to “publish” their learning for passers-by in chalk. I find that sidewalk publishing works particularly well for short-format writing like math problems and haiku. For a bolder visual, try making homemade sidewalk paint using equal parts cornstarch and water with plenty of food coloring. Students can “paint” their writing onto the sidewalk with this concoction using chunky paintbrushes. Then invite students to sit back and watch the public appreciate their work.


    How do you celebrate classroom accomplishments? Share your ideas, feedback, or questions in the comments section below!


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