Increase teens’ learning & growth with an end-of-semester “wrap up”

How does your teen typically wrap up the end of his or her semester?

If the answer is “drop his or her backpack in a corner, where it will stay — untouched — until the next school year”, then there’s a potentially valuable learning opportunity that’s being missed!

Time To Learn ConceptWe often think about the start of a semester as a time to set goals & think about what we want to do differently this time around. However, the end-of-semester transition can be an equally important opportunity for reflection & growth. In fact, in some ways it’s even better. Since the experiences from the past year are still fresh, it is much easier to identify potential areas for improvement and connect to the costs of bad habits…or the benefits of good ones.

When I was the head teaching assistant for Cornell’s  ‘Introduction to Behavior’ course, I got into a habit of setting aside time at the end of the semester to review & organize all of the information we’d covered in the course, and write out notes about what went well and what I wanted to improve & change for next year. The whole process only took an hour or so, and at the start of the following year I was always so grateful to have this information. I inevitably discovered valuable insights in these notes that had a major impact on the way I ran the class..but that I’d completely forgotten about over the course of the summer!

Even after finishing that class, I’ve found that this is a helpful exercise to do anytime I’m wrapping up a phase of my life and transitioning to something new.  This same approach can be used by students at the end of the semester to capture valuable insights & lessons that will help them in the following semester.

Here are 3 simple steps teens can take to wrap up their semester:

Step 1: Review information from the past semester

The point of this step is to look back over the semester, and identify what went well & what didn’t. For example…

  • Reviewing the final grades from the semester. Are there certain grades that turned out better than expected? Worse than anticipated? If you set goals at the start of the semester, how do these grades compare to your goals?
  • Looking at the breakdowns of % scores from each type of assignment (papers, tests, quizzes, homework assignments, etc.). Are there certain types of assignments that tended to be higher than others?
  • Flipping through class binders and looking over notes, assignments, papers, quizzes, and tests.  How detailed & helpful are your notes?  Are there certain lessons that were harder for you than others?  How did your performance change over the course of the semester?

The point of this step is not to judge or criticize, but simply to notice patterns and get a complete picture of the situation.  Encourage students to treat this like a treasure hunt, where they are looking for clues about strengths & successes, as well as potential areas for improvement.

Step 2: Identify lessons learned
The goal here is to look at the overview from Step 1 and brainstorm ideas for what to do in the future to get even better results. Some questions to consider at this point might include…

Girl reflects on her past semester

• What knowledge do I have now that I didn’t have at the beginning of the school year?
• What am I better at doing now than I used to be?
• What have I learned about myself?
• While reviewing the information from my courses, what am I noticing about how this information was organized & how easy it was to find?  What lessons can I learn from this?

For classes, tests, projects, etc. that went well…
• What did I do to create that outcome?
• What lessons can I take from this experience, and use again in the future?
• Where else in my life could it be useful to apply this same approach I used here?

For experiences that didn’t turn out as well…
• What can I learn from this experience?
• What do I want to change about my approach next time?
• What could I do differently in the future to get better results?

Step 3: Organize & store the information
Reflecting back on what’s been learned over the course of the semester is a great experience.  However, if these lessons aren’t recorded somewhere, they’ll quickly be forgotten.  The idea with this step is for students to make a note of these insights, observations, and plans and set up a reminder for themselves to review them at the start of the following school year.

In addition to recording and storing the insights from the semester, this is also a great time to organize and store all of the papers from the semester.  Now that most of the insights from the semester have

Usually, this will involve…

  • Deciding what to keep and what to throw away. This is going to vary a lot from student to student. Some teens will want to keep all of the papers from their classes, while others would rather toss the whole binder into the trash.  If you don’t have final grades back yet, then keeping all graded assignments is usually a good idea. That way, if a teacher accidentally lost a grade or entered it incorrectly, you would have the original assignment to provide as verification.  Once final grades are in, there’s no rule that says students have to keep any of their work from the class. Personally, I usually choose to keep big exams, papers, projects, and summary notes, and throw out the rest.
  • Finding a good place to store the information. Depending on how much your teen is keeping, this might mean finding a place to keep all of their notes, papers, tests, quizzes and projects for every class…or it could just involve finding a place to store their notes & observations about the semester where they’ll remember to look at it next semester. Here are a couple of storage options that can work well:

1. One folder with the class name & semester (e.g. Algebra II – Spring 2014)
2. One folder per semester (e.g. Spring 2014 Classes)
3. One folder per year (e.g. 2013-14 Classes)

The end-of-semester observations can be clipped to the front of this folder, saved in the class’s folder on their computer, or put inside their binders or backpack so they’ll be there for next semester.  If they’re going to file the observations out of sight, it’s a good idea to also put a reminder on their calendar to review those notes at the start of the next semester.


A few notes to keep in mind during this process…

  • Make sure to get your teen’s permission before diving into this process with them. Otherwise, they may feel like you’re judging and analyzing them.
  • Having a parent or a coach to ask thought-provoking questions can help make this process more effective. However, the goal is for the reflections & observations to come primarily from the teen. This process isn’t just about getting to the solutions – it’s also about helping students to raise their self-awareness and identify how their actions and decisions are related to their results. So, while offering your own solutions might get them there faster, it also eliminates a lot of the benefit of this process.
  • When looking back on things that didn’t go well, it’s easy for students to see these as mistakes & failures, which creates a sense of guilt & shame. So, it can be really helpful for teens to have a parent or coach present during this process who can help re-frame upsetting experiences as positive opportunities for learning & growth.  No matter how the semester went, the goal of this wrap-up is to help the student accept the results, take responsibility for his or her role in the situation, and identify ways to make things better next time.  By the end of the process, the goal is for the student to have shifted from looking back at the past and feeling bad about it, to looking towards the future with hope & confidence.
  • If you think your teen might resist taking the time to do this activity, consider making this a family event and inviting him or her to participate.  In this scenario, everyone would do their own self-evaluation and then share what they’ve learned and what they plan to change in the future.  If everyone else in the family is doing a self-evaluation, this can take some of the pressure off of your teen and make the exercise seem more collaborative and fun.
  • If your teen is creative, you might propose that she find a creative, artistic way to record the lessons & insights from this exercise, rather than just writing down a list on paper. If you have a younger teen, or a child who is very visual, he might enjoy using pictures instead of – or in addition to – words to capture these insights.

What do you think of this idea of the end of semester wrap-up?  Have you done something similar to this in the past?  How do you think this process might work best for your teen?

If you have questions or comments about this article, please POST them below!  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I hope you have a wonderful end-of-semester transition, and a fabulous summer break!

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By |May 30th, 2014|Categories: Mindset|0 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Maggie Wray is an Atlanta-based academic coach who helps high school & college students achieve their academic potential by improving their organization, time management, study skills, and mindset about school. To set up a time to speak with Maggie about how to help YOUR teen develop the skills he or she needs to thrive academically, visit or email

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