Engaging Every Student
May 19, 2021
Celebrating Student Success at the End of the Year
This guest blog post was written by former Pear Deck Editorial Board member Christina Ramsay, a special education teacher in Brooklyn, New York. She is passionate about teaching and social justice, and seeks to empower her students as well as to help them discover their strengths and talents.
To help educators and students reflect on and celebrate success this year, we’ve collaborated with Christina to create a set of Pear Deck templates available for free in the Pear Deck Orchard.
Much of the discussion about education in the last two years has included the phrases “learning loss,” “children’s education is suffering,” and “online school means students are behind.” These phrases can bring with them a sense of despair — in educators and our students.
Imagine you're a student overhearing these discussions. Would you feel like a success or a failure? Would you feel ready for the next school year?
We owe it to our students to help them recognize their resilience and growth. Instead of talking to kids about learning loss, why don’t we discuss how they’ve lived through a lot of uncertainty and new situations — and survived! Our students have done the unimaginable and we should shower them with praise. In the final weeks of this school year, let’s help our students focus on all their learning gains!
What are these learning gains you speak of?
Celebrate a child who started off the school year thinking he was bad at math, whose anxiety about math and learning new concepts would trigger a breakdown. Celebrate him because he is now the first to raise his hand to share a math strategy and his solution to the class.
Celebrate a child who started the school year with a fixed mindset, saying, "I'm not going to learn anything this year. I'm not good at using computers." Celebrate her because she now says, “Let me try it on my own. I remember how to do it,” or, “Can we do one more question together? Then I want to try the next one on my own.”
These may seem like small things, but they are worthy of celebration! Our students have learned more than academics the past few years. They’ve learned habits that will help them be successful in whatever life puts before them. They’ve learned how to solve problems, how to be flexible, and more importantly — how to persist!
These are the messages that our students should hear as they close out the school year. Messages of victory: “You should be proud of yourself. Look at all you have accomplished this year!”
How can we celebrate learning gains?
#1: Celebrate daily. Small victories count!
Find moments throughout the day to praise students for the effort they put into a task, for their attentiveness, and so on. One way I’ve done this is by pausing the lesson or independent work time to call out what I’m noticing students are doing well. Then I have the students join me in celebrating themselves. We clap our hands three times, we do spirit fingers, and we say, “We are amazing!” I know that sounds corny — the kids think it is, too — but after a couple of times, they get into it. Now, after I give my fifth graders a compliment, they’ll ask, “Are we amazing? Are we going to clap?”
Another way I’ve celebrated little successes is by having the students pat themselves on the back and give themselves a compliment. This has become such a habit that recently while making student-created teaching charts, several students had as their final step, “Give yourself a pat on the back!”
These small ways of celebrating students can be used for anything, whether students quickly join a Pear Deck, share a connection they made to a previous lesson, or build off each other’s comments in a discussion.
#2: Celebrate progress.
It’s easy to remember to celebrate when a child passes a test or completes an assignment, but all of that is at the end of the process. It’s also important to celebrate the little steps that helped them get to that final task. For example, celebrate the child who gets started right away.
One of the features of Pear Deck that I enjoy using is the Teacher Feedback feature. I can share a compliment when I see a student has gotten started. In person, I will whisper that compliment to the student or make a class-wide announcement, acknowledging students who started right away. Another example is celebrating a child who asks a clarifying question. Think about it: A student who asks questions for clarification is actively evaluating her learning and advocating for herself. Those are two skills worth celebrating because they will help that student in many situations throughout her life.
Some other ways to celebrate progress include:
- Calling or messaging a parent or caregiver
- Reflection activities for students, in which they compare how they felt about a skill at the beginning with how they are currently feeling. Students can even compare their own work samples to help reflect on their growth.
#3: Conduct celebration chats.
One of my favorite ways to celebrate students is to meet with them individually. During these celebration chats, I share something that I’ve noticed the student doing well, but I also ask the student how they feel about their progress. For instance, I might say, “I have noticed you doing some amazing things this past week! What is something that you think you are doing well?”
#4: Give some shout-outs!
Students love being recognized. Giving shout-outs can help boost a student’s self-esteem. As I’ve shared before, one way that I do shout-outs is by sharing a compliment about a student with the whole class. Other ways include having slips of paper accessible to the class that students can use to write a shout-out for a peer about something they are proud of their peer for doing. For instance, one of my students gave a shout-out to a peer who self-proclaimed that she was the worst at math. He complimented her because on this particular day, she had a breakthrough moment in front of the class and shared her understanding of a math concept that she had been struggling with.
A third way I shout out students is by sharing their academic work for their classmates to see and inviting students to share what they noticed the student doing well. Positively sharing student work is a big confidence booster, and it also provides students with the opportunity to learn from each other.
#5: Host whole-class celebrations.
I am known for celebrating by decorating the classroom and having a themed morning meeting or snack (usually the theme is one of my students’ interests). During these celebrations, students reflect and share something that they are proud of. Last year, I taught remotely, so I had to figure out how to continue having those whole-class celebrations. Pear Deck was a big help. One celebration we had was at the end of a unit. It involved the students decorating a trophy and then sharing their screens in breakout rooms. During their share, they read their trophy name and explained why they were giving themselves that trophy. This activity helped students reflect and name something they felt successful accomplishing.
Another class celebration that my class participated in last school year involved celebrating each other toward the end of the school. Each day, we chose a few students to celebrate. Students gave a compliment to a peer as well as shared appreciations. (Pear Deck has a celebration slide that is great for this activity.) Another way to do this activity virtually is to waterfall the compliments, meaning students will type their compliment or appreciation for the chosen students in the chat, but wait to press enter until you give them the go-ahead. The chosen student will then see a waterfall of compliments in the chat just for them. One way that I have done this in person is to have students write their names on a paper plate or a photo frame; then the kids take turns writing on each other’s plate/frame.
Why celebrating success matters
Educating students is more than teaching them how to read and write. I believe that the heart of teaching is empowering students, helping them to feel confident and prepared for the world. Students need to feel empowered now more than ever. As this school year comes to a close, we can help our students feel confident and strong. Let’s help them walk confidently into the next chapter of their education careers with a sense of accomplishment.
We’ve collaborated with Christina to create a set of templates for facilitating celebrations in your class at the end of the year. Get your copy !
Special Education Teacher
New York City
Christina is a third grade special education teacher in New York City. She is passionate about teaching and social justice, and seeks to empower her students, as well as to help them discover their strengths and talents.