Helping Students Reflect on the Year That Was . . with Paint?

This week's guest post is by Gary G. Abud, Jr., Michigan's 2014 Teacher of the Year


It's springtime, and that means another school year is coming to a close. For some, the time flew by while for others the wrap-up couldn't come soon enough. What did you learn? What were the best parts? What challenges did you face, and how did you respond to them?

Whether this was the best year ever, just an okay one, or a school year that challenged you in ways you couldn't imagine, reflecting on what took places is key to moving forward and improving as educators. Come to think of it, it's not just important for educators to reflect, it can be quite valuable for students to look back on all that happened as well.

With so many different ways and opportunities to reflect, what can give you the best feedback as an educator and also help students celebrate what was memorable about the school year? Chances are, you reflect regularly throughout the year on how things are going, but In addition to the quiet internal conversations or journaling you might do, engaging students in an open discussion about the school year can benefit everyone and provide you key ideas to inform your preparations for the next year.

That's why I recommend the paint swatch feedback loop. It's fun, easy, organized, and generates great conversations! As a bonus, it provides an artifact for teachers to use student feedback to develop action steps going forward.

Here's how it works:

Get some four-color paint swatches from your local painting supply store. The samples are free from the paint companies, but it can feel funny grabbing enough for all your students; so, if you let them know you're a teacher using them for class, they typically won't call security on you when you take several of each color!

Distribute the paint swatches to students, either randomly, or let them choose their own colors. Provide your students with a template (modeled after the one below) for reflecting on the school year. As they look back on class, It asks them to write a little about four different aspects of what they recall:

Paint Swatch Reflection

Note: You can choose to focus this on the content of your class, the way your class was organized or run, or some combination of process and content.

After students write down their ideas, have them form groups with other students whose swatches are in the same color family, e.g., all the reddish swatches together, and discuss their responses. Bring the activity home with a whole class discussion that summarizes some of the most stand-out comments that arose during the activity. You can collect the swatches (anonymously created, of course) to review more thoroughly on your own later to inform your own further reflection on the year.

You'll be pleasantly surprised at the things that students notice about your class and the conversation that stems from this activity. We all want to reflect, and this is a great way to close the school year and help everyone look back in a productive manner on class.

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