How Do You Close the School Year During Distance Learning?

Last Updated: May 15, 2020

Schools across the northern hemisphere are approaching summer break, but because of physical distancing measures, students are missing many of the rituals that usually mark the end of the school year, such as class field trips, graduation ceremonies, or simply the opportunity to say goodbye to friends and teachers in person. End of year rituals are not only rites of passage, but manifestations of community. During this time of upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it is especially important for students to have opportunities to experience community, connect, and feel a sense of closure before heading off for the summer. This Teaching Idea contains six activities that can help students reflect on the past school year, celebrate their school community, and look ahead to what comes next. Each activity can be used on its own, so choose any combination that will work well for your class.


Activity 1: Final Journal Reflection

Education theorist John Dewey wrote, “We don’t learn from experience . . . we learn from reflecting on experience.” Journaling is an important method for students to process their experiences and connect what they learn to their own lives. Right now, journaling can be especially helpful for students to process their thoughts, feelings, or uncertainties around the changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ask your students to write a final journal reflection as a way to process the events and learning of the past year. They can choose from the following list of prompts or write their own prompt:

  • I used to think . . . but now I think . . .
  • In this class, I was challenged by . . .
  • One thing I learned about myself this year was . . .
  • One thing I learned about the world this year was . . .
  • One question I am carrying with me is . . .

If your students have kept a journal for your class throughout the year, ask them to read through all of their entries before they write their final journal reflection. As they read, they should mark passages that will help them with their final reflection. Finally, ask students to send their journal reflections to you or to share excerpts from them with the class.

Note: Our tool Student Journaling During the Coronavirus contains journaling tips and a collection of journal prompts you can use with your students.

Activity 2: Digital Portfolio

To help students reflect on what they have accomplished this year, ask them to choose three assignments they completed for your class that helped them learn something about themselves or about the world. Remind them that what they learned through the assignment is more important than the grade they received. If they have copies of the assignments, they should take a photograph of each.

Then, ask your students to write a reflection on why they chose each assignment. The following prompts can help guide students’ reflections:

  • What did you learn about yourself through this assignment?
  • How did this assignment change how you see the world?
  • How can what you learned through this assignment change the way you act or change the way you learn in the future?

Finally, ask students to assemble their portfolios by placing the photos of their assignments and their reflections into one document, along with a title page. Students can include illustrations or images on the title page that connect to the class.


Activity 3: Notes of Appreciation

Ask your students to create notes of appreciation for members of their class and school community. You might ask each student to write three notes: one for a classmate, one for a teacher, and one for a staff member. This is a chance for students to thank mentors and members of their school community whom they may not have seen in person since distance learning began.

Randomly assign each student one of their classmates, and ask them to write that person a note that expresses something they appreciate about them, a positive contribution they made to class, a time they helped the writer, etc.

Ask students to choose a teacher to thank in writing, maybe for reaching out to them during this time of distance learning or helping them learn something important about themself or their world.

Send your students a list of staff members and ask them to choose someone who is a mentor to them or who helps the school function. Staff members may have had limited opportunities to connect with students since distance learning began, making it meaningful for them to hear from students. Remember to consider coaches, nurses, counselors, maintenance and custodial staff, cafeteria staff, librarians, the registrar, and security team.

Finally, either ask students to send you their notes to distribute or provide them with school email addresses for the recipients so that they can send their notes directly.

Activity 4: Goodbye Graffiti Board

Create a virtual Goodbye Graffiti Board with memories, stories, and reflections from the year. Students can use Padlet, Flipgrid, Google Docs, or any other application they are familiar with for this activity. Brainstorm a list of prompts as a class or send out a list to your students. Some potential prompts include:

  • In this class, I appreciated it when . . .
  • This class helped me think about . . .
  • One thing I learned how to do well this year was . . .
  • I enjoyed learning about . . .
  • This group helped me overcome . . .
  • Thanks for . . .

Encourage students to download a copy of the Goodbye Graffiti Board when you are finished to keep as a memento of the community you built together. If you offer synchronous sessions, devote one session to reading the items on the board and commenting on what you notice.

Look Ahead

Activity 5: Hopes and Fears

This summer will likely be very different for students than past summers, and many students will face additional challenges as summer jobs, programs, or trips are canceled. Ask students to write two lists, one with what they feel hopeful for this summer and one with what they feel fearful about this summer.

Then, ask students to reflect:

  • What strategies can you use to help manage the challenges the summer may bring? What are things that you can do that help you feel calm or connected to other people?
  • What can you do during the summer to help your community?
  • What can you do to make sure you notice and celebrate the good moments?
  • How can you create more good moments for the people you care about?

Activity 6: Email to Self

For students who are returning to school next year, ask them to write an encouraging email to themselves to read before they start the next year. Many email applications (such as Gmail) will allow users to schedule an email to send on a different date. If students are able to use this function, ask them to schedule the send date of the email for the day before the next school year begins.

Students can use the following questions to help them write their emails:

  • What is something you learned about yourself during your time of remote learning that you want to remember?
  • If you have periods of remote learning during the upcoming school year, how do you plan to take care of yourself and others?
  • When you return to in-person learning, what aspects of your school would you like to change?

Additional Resources

Use our Teaching Idea Where Do We Get Our News and Why Does it Matter? to help your students plan healthy news habits for the summer.

Teach students about the common good during the coronavirus outbreak using the Teaching Idea COVID-19: How Can We Make Choices that Promote the Common Good? Then, ask students to reflect on how they can continue to promote the common good through the summer.

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