Looking Back Looking Forward Essay Examples

Looking Back, Looking Forward

March 31, 2001 Categories: Classroom Management & Discipline / Special Times in the Year


The end of the school year offers a unique opportunity for students and teachers to reflect on their year of learning together. It’s a time to recognize efforts, celebrate achievements, acknowledge challenges, and look forward to the year ahead. We asked several teachers, from kindergarten to eighth grade, to talk about ways of bringing closure to the school year. Here are their ideas.

A: The first three activities below are ones I use at the end of every year; the final two are ones I use to bring closure to a group’s second year together. Strong bonds develop when a class spends two years together, often making it difficult for children to say good-bye. These activities help prepare them.

  • We review our list of hopes and dreams for the year. We talk about the goals we’ve met and make a list of all the things we’ve learned during the year.
  • Students re-read the journals they’ve kept all year and take turns sharing favorite or interesting entries. Students enjoy reading entries from earlier in the year and it’s a great way to reminisce about their time together.
  • We create a bulletin board titled “It’s Been a Great Year!” displaying many of the photographs I take throughout the year. Students write the captions and attach the photos to the bulletin board.
  • At the end of second grade, we put on a talent show. Students sing, dance, recite poetry, lip-sync, perform gymnastics or karate routines, or even fold paper airplanes! Students who are not comfortable on stage become part of the stage crew. We invite parents and the rest of the school to share in this celebration of our talents and skills.
  • Finally, the second graders write letters to the incoming first graders to let them know what to expect They write about what they’ll be learning, what their teacher is like, and how the classroom operates. This activity helps the outgoing class to reflect on their time together and helps the incoming class to feel more at ease.

Cindy Rissmiller is a first/second grade looping teacher at Rockland Elementary School in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania. She has been teaching for 14 years.

A: My favorite activity for bringing closure to the school year with kindergartners was to create a yearbook with the students. I used old wallpaper books which home decorating stores are happy to give away.

All year long, I took snapshots celebrating both ordinary moments and special events. Starting in early May, the children and I organized the photos, month-by-month, beginning with September. Next, we stripped the wallpaper book of unnecessary pages (picture displays, fabric, etc.), covered the book with contact paper, and pasted construction paper over pages where the wallpaper was too busy to serve as a good backdrop for our photos. We then spent hours working in small groups to mount and caption the photos, reminiscing all the while about our year together.

In addition to the month-by-month photo album, there were four pages reserved for each child. These pages featured two close-up photographs (one from September and one from May), an interview with the child detailing interests and history, a self-portrait, a hand print, and the child’s drawing of a special memory from the year (see illustration).

Once the yearbook was complete, each child took it home for an evening to share with his or her family. The yearbook was then kept in the school library until the class graduated from sixth grade. At that point I took the yearbook apart and gave children their individual pages, along with a personal note wishing them well in their next school experience.

Eileen Mariani has over 25 years of experience as a kindergarten and early childhood educator. She currently works as a consulting teacher for Northeast Foundation for Children.

A: As the end of the school year approaches, I ask students to reflect on their academic and personal growth in several ways. During the final month of school, students share their favorite and not-so-favorite moments of the year as part of our daily Morning Meeting. In writing, they reflect on their proudest moments of the year, on the friendships they’ve made, and on their hopes and dreams for the coming year.

During the last week of school, students bring to class an object which represents their greatest accomplishment of the year. These objects can range from writing pieces to science fair projects to soccer trophies, and are not limited to school accomplishments. Students take turns sharing their accomplishments with classmates, who ask questions and offer positive comments.

Finally, we celebrate our successes on the last day of school with a party. During our last hour together, we write special good-bye notes to one another. These activities, as a whole, bring closure to the school year and leave us all with a positive feeling about our time together.

Jen Knake teaches fifth grade at Maddux Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio. She has been teaching for 8 years.

A: Every day at B.F. Brown begins with a 45-minute homeroom period. Students gather in small groups to build a sense of community, plan community service projects, and offer academic and social support to one another. In recent years, I’ve incorporated the following activities into homeroom period to bring closure to the school year. My goal is to help students focus on their academic achievements and personal growth.

  • Students reflect in writing on a variety of topics including their most significant learning experience, the funniest moments of the year, their biggest challenges of the year, and something they’ve learned in each subject. During the last weeks of school, students share these reflections with the group.
  • Students write one positive trait about each of their classmates. This gives each student the chance to gather 25 compliments.
  • I write a personal letter to each student thanking him or her for taking risks and making our community stronger. I also thank students for the opportunity to get to know and learn from them. Students put this letter in a spiral binder along with the goals that the student and family set during the first weeks of school, the student’s end-of-the-year written reflections, and a few photographs. It’s a great scrapbook for students to keep!

Lourdes Mercado teaches eighth grade Spanish at B.F. Brown Arts Vision School in Fitchburg, MA. She is in the process of becoming a certified trainer in The Responsive Classroom approach.

Tags: Last Weeks of School


Last winter I gathered more than 60 years of my children’s book texts, illustrations, note-books, galleys, color separations, etc., both published and unpublished, to send to the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.

Some of the many books I illustrated have been forgotten, including by myself, some not, and one—The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink—has become a longtime favorite. My drawings for the book’s first edition were recently reprinted in an article published in Buildings and Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, on the lasting effect of mid-century children’s books and illustrations.

In 1956, just out of college, I took my portfolio of drawings to show Russell Lynes at Harper’s Magazine. He offered me an article to illustrate and sent me over to see Ursula Nordstrom in children’s books. Before it was Harper and Row or HarperCollins, both the book and magazine offices were housed in a building on East 33rd Street, an elevator ride apart. Susan Carr, now Hirschman, offered me a book of children’s poetry to illustrate. It was an amazing day, and though I never had another like it, it changed my life.

For 15 years I illustrated books, both for children and adults, written by other authors. Then with the encouragement of Ann Diven, an editor at Grosset and Dunlap, I began to write the books I illustrated. Over the years I have illustrated many books of other authors and 30 of my own, including young adult novels, pictures books and early chapter books, the Rosy Cole series among them. The Rosy Cole books, edited by Melanie Kroupa, not only gave me the opportunity to create humor and character by juxtaposing text with illustrations, but allowed me to vent opinions on competition, sexual precocity, materialism, conformity to peer pressure, and more.

I have been privileged to work with some of the finest editors of their time: Melanie Kroupa, Linda Zuckerman, the late Frances Foster, and, for one of my two most recent books, Bonnie Bader. Along with my agents, Harriet Wasserman and Jennifer Unter, these editors believed in my work, and with insight and talent they helped to shape and refine manuscripts, making them into stories I wished to tell.


At times an editor not only shaped a manuscript, but inspired it. When Melanie suggested I write a Rosy Cole book with a New York City theme, it became the 10th in the series. Years before, when Melanie left Little, Brown and her replacement let me know the Rosy manuscript we were working on was “the last,” I was inspired to write four more.

The changes in trends and content were fast-moving. One year my agent urged me to try my hand at a new genre called “Young Adult.” A few years later she said YA was “a glut on the market” and hard to sell. Soon after, the glut ended and YA was back, suddenly popular again. My agent and friend Harriet Wasserman was fond of saying, “Everybody wants what everybody wants and nobody wants what nobody wants.”

In 1956, as an illustrator I was told “children like three strong colors.” As a writer I was told “fantasy and stories in rhyme are hard to sell.”

Now I wonder if there’s a “sell by” date on vampires, zombies, and robots.

Soon enough, when technology made it possible to dispense with awkward pre-separated color, pastel shades were popular, along with gremlins, witches, elves, and little people. It seems to me the pendulum has swung with dizzying speed. Readers clamored for Sweet Valley High and then Gossip Girl. Suddenly word went out: editors and agents were all looking for ”edgy,” which I assume is material that goes right up to but does not cross the line of acceptable.

Along with fads and fashions that came and went, due to the efforts of courageous authors and publishers, books with new subjects—sex, illness, and memoir—were published. Minorities, long invisible in children’s books, have begun to take their place on the shelves of bookstores and libraries.

Since I never worked in a publishing house, my observations of changes in them over the years are those of an outsider. When I started in 1956, children’s books did not go out of print. “There are always new generations of children to read the books,” we cheerfully assured ourselves.

Was it because books for children were found to be profitable that in the mid-1990s so many more books were published that warehousing older books became too costly and, like running shoes, new models were needed every season and old ones tossed?

Was it because children’s books were found to make money that they began to be “launched” with the kind of hype and fanfare reserved for the adult market? Was it because of the rise of the chain bookstore that series targeting specific age groups and grade levels, the better to shelve, became popular and numerous? Was it for these reasons there were calls for author appearances and interaction with readers?

Though book packaging (The Baby Sitters Club, Gossip Girl, etc.) goes back to the Stratemeyer Syndicate (The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, et al.), I worry that today’s packagers—some of whom refer to illustrations and text as “product,” illustrators and authors as “product producers,” and the books they produce as “merchandise”—have affected the way an individual author’s work is dealt with. How would the books I love have evolved in the hands of packagers and merchandisers?

Among the magazines for which I illustrated, a favorite was Gourmet. I loved the old offices in the attic of the Plaza Hotel, permeated with delicious cooking smells emanating from the test kitchen. A few years ago, just before the printed magazine folded, an editor, Jane Lear, asked permission to reprint my drawings along with the article they illustrated. At lunch we talked about the unhealthy eating habits of American children. It was a subject close to both our hearts. I asked if she could write a children’s book to express her thoughts. When she said she didn’t write for children, I remembered that I did.

While discussing the book that resulted, Bossy Flossie: Biz Whiz, I was told by the editors that the situation I’d created, in which an older brother uses his rats in a science experiment to show that the rat eating high fructose corn syrup blows up to twice the size of the one eating plain sugar, had to be tempered lest it give children the impression that they can use their pets for experimentation. In the second book, Bossy Flossie’s Secret to Success, editors felt a class effort to raise money to help pay for a child’s surgery was unacceptable due to HIPAA (patient privacy) laws. Neither of these considerations would have occurred to me in the past.

I chose the title character of these books (Flossie) having noted the popularity of rhymed titles such as Fancy Nancy and Judy Moody. I wanted a bossy character, hence, Flossie. Now I wonder how far this goes. Ditsy Mitzie, Crazy Maisie, anyone?

In the ’50s, along with taboos on profanity, sex, and provocative ideas, I was told not to draw a mother wearing slacks. Now mothers in illustrations can wear whatever they like, but one needs to be sensitive to scores of issues lest they give offense to any and all groups, known or unknown. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, would the grandparents who lay in bed all day be considered ageist? Would the Brothers Grimm with their tales of evil stepmothers and girls awaiting princes to save them have made it through the door?

A few years ago Linda Zuckerman gathered a group of writers and publishers she had worked with over a long career. Two of us, poet Mary Ann Hoberman and I, reminisced about a dinner we attended for P.L. Travers given by Harriet Wasserman. Harriet told us we could bring our old tattered copies of Mary Poppins, but not to ask Pamela to sign them until she gave us a signal to do so. Ms. Travers was not a fan of book signing. At an event arranged by her agent and publisher to test her interaction with children before a planned book tour, she told a boy his question was “the stupidest” she had ever heard. Needless to say the book tour was scrapped. I don’t think anyone loved Mary Poppins the less for it. The era of author websites, blogs, visits, workshops, and intense interaction with readers had not yet dawned. As a child I never wanted to know about or see photos of authors of the books I loved. The books themselves were what I found real. A person pulling the strings behind the scenes made them less so.

The cozy book-lined mid-century children’s book department has been replaced by cool corporate spaces. Lunches, letters, and long conversations with editors are replaced by email. In the archive I sent to de Grummond, letters between editor and author included family and vacation news. We knew one another. An editor worked with one assistant, not a team overseen by another team, overseen in some cases by someone unnamed “further up the corporate ladder.” When did sales determine the fate of a manuscript? When did the corporate model that has infused every aspect of our society achieve such a profound effect on the publishing of books for children?

In 1986, when Texas schools were flush with money to spend on author visits, I was invited to a school district outside Houston. With no background in teaching or public speaking I had little idea of how to address groups of children. Every morning at seven, a mother or teacher would pick me up and drive me to schools where I stood awkward and bleary eyed in large auditoria and small classrooms without a clue about what to say. At the end of the day, I was dropped back at the clammy, vacant-seeming Hilton or Marriott for dinner and hopes of sleep.

On the last night of my stay, the event hosts gave a dinner with The Two Other Authors staying at the hotel. After our hosts departed, the three of us couldn’t wait to commiserate. “Why didn’t they tell us about each other?” Sid Fleischman wondered. “We could have had dinner together. We could have talked about the day. Why do we do this in the first place? It’s grueling. Thank goodness I’m a trained magician and can put on a show. Otherwise it would be impossible.”

“A show?” I asked.

“We’re performing,” Sid said.

After I got home, I called my good friend Karla Kuskin, who was often on the road giving presentations and conducting workshops. When I asked her how to make a show, she responded, “You can draw, dummy. Get a pad, an easel and magic markers.”

With a pad, easel and magic markers I would become a performer myself, starting to draw a wordless story about blowing bubbles for children to complete. I showed an animated film based on my series of bubble pieces that had been published in Cricket Magazine, along with the flipbook made from my animated drawings. I took my show on the road.

Whether shared on the road or at home, on a screen, paper or tape, over time, imaginative tales well told will endure, if not on the shelf, in the hearts and minds of young readers who experience them.

Fingers crossed.

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