One is the end of an academic year, and the other is finishing school (university, college, refresher course). In my country, there are several traditions which are often observed on such occasions.
First of all, a reflection, a summary, a discussion of homework and future plans are usually done at the last but one lesson. If we are to meet the same students in September, we give them the term results and some recommendations for the summer. Every pupil should be praised, even though with a few it may be a bit difficult to find what to praise them for. But since we spent the term or the year with them, surely we managed to teach them something! A case in point: one of my rather slow teenagers turned out to be a great illustrator. It was obvious that he perceived any new theme in terms of imagery rather than words first. Gradually, I taught him to compose short captions, which turned into lively little essays by the time he finished school.
Secondly, there are always children who missed some days or even weeks due to an illness, and their grades slipped. There are family upheavals, sudden illnesses and losses, new hobbies and young love, to mention but a few. In each such case, we may try to find a few minutes for an individual talk and offer a plan of action if the pupils are willing to receive better grades next year.
Since we have been doing international internet projects with every class for several years, they usually continue e-mail correspondence through the summer; a few students even visit each other’s families. This is extra-curricular work which brings in very good results: all the children desire to communicate with their peers around the globe. Having a keypal is a great incentive for developing one’s language skills outside the classroom. Children of various ages come up with ideas which do not often occur to us adults. For instance, a group of my primary school pupils emailed their keypals in Holland, typing in all the colors of the rainbow, so that every letter was a different colour. They learned all the colours’ correct names, and taught each other how to say those adjectives in their native tongues as well. Fifth graders exchanged their mathematical problems, and compared the curricula. Teens wrote long missives about modern music.
There is a tradition scrupulously observed by children: on the very last day of the academic year, any teacher may be faced with the blackboard which bears the following message in large block letters:
It is the last school day today,
Teacher, let us play!
Some teachers would not pay any attention to the appeal and conduct a normal lesson; others may agree to “just talk” or watch a video or listen to some music. Sadly, there are a few teachers who are never even faced with this message.
Foreign language classes are usually held with half a class, so we have smaller, more manageable groups, and the atmosphere is more relaxed than at any other lesson. “Let’s have a tea-party!” my students of any age would suggest enthusiastically beforehand. Naturally we speak English at our party, be it with the primary school pupils or with a group of teachers who had successfully finished their refresher course. The group brings tea or lemonade. I bake a cake and share the recipe. Here goes:
“1+1+1 cake. Take 1 cup 25% sour cream, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 small teaspoon baking soda, 1 cup flour. You may add some raisins, or walnuts, or cacao, or nothing. Mix thoroughly, pour into a greased shape, and bake 20 minutes at 200C. Poke with a match or tiny stick to see if ready: the batter should not stick”.
Here is the secret ingredient to sharing the recipe in English: some of the words and meanings, like the last verb, “stick”, may be new for the students. So we sit around a table, eating cake, discussing the recipe, with me checking that they know all the words. I always explain the expression “to stick in my mind”, too. When I ask them in September, “Does it stick?” they all remember the meaning of the verb. I am sure there is a name for this memory prompt in psychology.
This type of the last lesson fosters the community spirit, and helps students socialize in English. An informal talk in such a congenial setting may show the teacher some unexpected sides of their students’ nature, and come in useful in the future.
Nina MK, Ph.D.