Let’s talk this over
It’s not like we’re dead
Was it something I did?
Was it something you said?
– Happy Ending, Avril Lavigne.
In many countries, the end of the academic year is fast approaching (*cue cheers/fist pumps/tears of joy and relief*), as Avril said/sang, there’s still time to end the academic year on a high.
Exams done, marks given, reports written, it might be tempting to meander lazily downstream until the final day, sticking on films with no motive other than being able to have a nap at the back, right? Resist the temptation!
WHY?! A nod towards the psychology of group dynamics will shed some light on the importance of a strong, positive finish, then I’ll make a few suggestions on what we could do.
Why is the ending important?
According to Tuckman’s theory of group dynamics, which I presented on at IH Brno in February, the fifth and final stage of a group’s development is ‘Adjourning’. This doesn’t mean that we show students the door and slam it behind them! Don’t underestimate the power of the ending: according to Dörnyei and Malderez (1997), a negative ending could ‘have detrimental effects on future L2 learning experiences,’ and the opposite also rings true.
Indeed, a student’s memory of learning English in a particular group will be shaded in large part by the Peak-End rule: we remember a whole experience based on the most extreme highs and lows (the peaks) and, most of all, how it ends. Take a film as an example – no matter how much you enjoyed the first 99% of it, you’ll be left with an overall sour memory if the ending disappoints.
“But what about that class of brats I’ve had to put up with all year?! They don’t deserve a happy ending! I can’t reward them for their terrible behaviour!”
Well nor will writing lines for the last few lessons encourage them to change their attitudes next academic year. Think of it as an investment: the more positive the finish, the more likely the students are to have a positive memory of the whole experience of studying English as they look back over the summer holidays, and the more likely they are to return with a sunnier attitude in the Autumn (but not guaranteed of course!)
This ‘trick’ can also help you (the teacher) have a slightly fonder memory towards a group, for your overall professional-psychological well-being and in case you have to teach them again next year!
A few ideas
1. Class awards
You can decide, or students can collaborate in committees to award each student with a certificate for their unique contribution to the class. It doesn’t have to be academic, as marks and reports already deal with that, but rather what they as people bring to the group ecosystem: ‘funniest joke teller’, ‘most generous classmate’ etc.
2. End of class party
Again, students can collaborate (see ‘Performing’ phase of group dynamics) to plan how this should go: location, food, drink, music, other entertainment/party games. There’s plenty of language generated here!
3. Look back, look forward
The end of term is the perfect time to review what progress has been made, and this is more simple if compared to stated objectives from the start of term if these were set (see SMART goal setting). How close are students to their goals? Did these goals change as the year progressed? Which learning strategies/activities were successful? What could be improved? Are students who they want to be in English yet (a confident tourist, a coherent international business contact, a communicative online gamer etc.)?
With this in mind, it could be useful to discuss how students will maintain (or even upgrade!) their English skills during the summer break, and what they might hope to achieve next academic year.
4. Tour guides
Weather-permitting, this is what I’m planning to do with a few of my classes over the next fortnight or so (adults and teens), as we’re lucky to have Riga’s beautiful Old Town just down the road from IH Riga. Each student/pair/group will choose a site/monument to prepare a short presentation on (at home or in the previous lesson), then we’ll stroll around, stopping at each of these for the presentation and extra questions. The adult tour could well finish at a bar; with the kids we might get ice cream instead :-).
5. Park Games* #1 40/40 Catch (with prepositions of place!)
*Thanks to my colleague Kelly for these!
Take it outside! There are a ton of fun games you can play in an outdoor space if the weather permits and parents agree. Take 40/40 catch, for instance: one student stands against the ‘base’ (usually a tree) with their eyes closed and counts to 40; everyone else scatters and hides. After 40 seconds, the catcher opens their eyes, and the others’ objective is to touch the base without being seen. The catcher can eliminate a classmate by shouting out where they are, as long as it contains a preposition of place e.g. “I SEE VLAD BEHIND THE BUSH!”…”I SEE KATE BETWEEN THE BIN AND THE SWING”. You could invent a points system for reaching the base/eliminating students as the catcher.
6. Park Games #2 Photo challenges
Equipment needed – smart phone with a camera. A couple of ideas: 1) Alphabet challenge: Have students snap pics of as many things they can beginning with different letters i.e. A – Ant. B – Bench etc. 2) Give them a list of things to take a selfie with e.g. 5 different types of flower; something flying; something purple. This is solid vocab work on objects around them.
There are countless other ideas, and you know what your class would appreciate better than anyone else! The important thing is to try to end on a high!
Please share your thoughts and/or ideas below!