I’m not going to sugarcoat it: May is one of the absolute most difficult months in the school year. It might even be the most difficult. You see, in May students have been in school for almost eight months. Summer vacation is on the horizon, something they can’t help but think about as they sit in their increasingly warm and uncomfortable (and smelly…..6th grade teachers, you know what I’m talking about) classroom staring out the window at a sunny day. Not only are we battling the appeal of the upcoming break but we’re also facing students who are fatigued after eight months of hard work (and we’re no Energizer Bunny either), along with high-stakes assessments, which can impact the classroom environment even more.
You’re at the end of the race and yes, the last few meters seem to be straight up hill. However, you’ve come too far just to trip at the finish line and watch all that hard work crumble! Here are a few sure-fire ways to keep students interested, engaged, and continuing to learn as you race to the end of the 2016-2017 school year:
1. Don’t Stop Teaching
Usually I save the most important tip for last, but this is not one of those times. I’ve been there and I get it; at the end of a school year, especially during testing season, sometimes the last thing you or your students want to do is continue on with the math chapter or reading unit you’re working on. “But we already took our test, why do we need to learn this?” I know I’m not the only one who’s heard that sentiment. This is where your superpower of making anything and everything exciting to learn about comes in to play big time. As a 6th grade teacher, I use this time to reinforce the fact that the leap between elementary and middle school is a big one, and that every instructional minute is necessary in preparation for that jump. Consider (if you haven’t already) building in more opportunities for collaborative work, accountable student discussions (socratic seminars), and student choice within your learning activities.
2. Try Something New
Several years ago, around this time, my amazing students and I were really dragging. Spring break
was in our rear view mirror, we were in the midst of what seemed like endless assessments, and it was becoming increasingly hard for meaningful learning to take place. I had attended a conference earlier in the school year where I learned about something called Genius Hour. I encourage you to look more into it if you’re not already familiar, but in a nutshell, it’s giving students the opportunity to research and/or learn about something about which they are passionate. When I launched Genius Hour (we called their research Passion Projects) my students brainstormed a list of things they were intrigued by and wanted to know more about. From there they chose one thing and identified some sort of artifact or end-goal that they wanted their research to lead to. At that point, they filmed 30 second pitch videos for me explaining why they were interested in that topic, what their plan was, and how learning about it would benefit them or the world around them. Once all Passion Projects were identified, students voted on the one hour a week they wanted to devote to his time (they chose Monday morning with their rationale being that it would be an invigorating way to start off a school week). The results were amazing and we took time several weeks later for students to present their work to the group (see below for a list of projects my students completed). Not to mention, the wealth of standards that were addressed within this work: RI.6.7, SL.6.2, SL.6.4, SL.6.5, SL.6.6, to name a few.
3. Have Some Fun
My hope is that this would be happening regularly regardless (especially with #2 above), but it’s so incredibly easy to lose that spark of excitement during such a busy and sometimes chaotic time of year. I don’t know about you, but I have a habit of taking myself far too seriously when I’m stressed or feeling under pressure and at times have found that vibe seeping into my classroom, effectively extinguishing any flame of enjoyment. Take this time to pull out that poetry unit with the funny limericks or think about ways to include some visual art activities with the science project your students are working on. Take fun brain breaks with GoNoodle (yes even my 6th graders loved this) or build a fun “All About our Class” quiz on Kahoot! One of my students’ favorite activities was using Kahoot to learn more about each other. Each student would submit two or three facts about themselves that they didn’t think their classmates know. I would then build a multiple choice Kahoot quiz with these facts and students guessed which fact belonged to which classmate (think: this student visits their grandparents in Mexico every December or this student has a brother at UW). We always had a blast and spotlighting each child was a great way to build community.
Although we still have a good handful of days left in our schoo
l year, the stress that May brings is no joke. Both teachers and students are exhausted after a long school year of learning, but we’re too far from the finish line to trip now! What strategies do you use to stay productive during this busy time?