5 Tips to Engage Students at the End of the Year
By Rachelle Dene Poth
Most schools have reached that somewhat chaotic or challenging time of the school year. Spring is in full swing with schedules packed with academic events, sports activities, high school musicals and of course, the testing season is upon us. For some, when April hits it can feel like the school year is nearly over and for some, the countdown begins. The month flies by and before you know it, May arrives and passes by quickly. For me, it’s a sign that I’m running out of time to try new ideas with my students. We can use these last few weeks of school to do some really cool things. If you notice that students are kind of drained or their motivation or engagement seems to be lacking, then I think it’s the perfect opportunity to try something that you’ve had on your mind but never quite found the time.
The time is now to go for it in class, reach out to your PLN and find out if there’s something someone is using that has made a difference. When all of the testing happens, it can be challenging to keep students excited for learning and in my experience, trying some different activities in the classroom, making room for some fun and of course taking risks and letting students know that you are taking some risks, helps to re-engage everyone, including teachers.
Here are 5 things that I think are worth trying out, and of course there are many more ideas out there. But I think with these five, because time is always a factor, educators can feel comfortable knowing that there are plenty of resources ready to go that might only need minor tweaking before getting started with them in the classroom. Once you try out one or all five, either create your own new activity or variation of one, ask students for ideas, or reach out to your PLN for five more. Even better, share your experience and the impact these ideas had on your students. See how many ideas you can come up with together to keep moving forward and finish strong at the end of the year. Get that excitement for learning and motivation high so everybody is counting down the days until the next school year begins again.
Realistically does that happen? Maybe for some. When I hear students counting down the days, my response is always “ you know we’re just that much closer to the start of a new school year.” Followed with a big smile and my excitement for learning which is genuine!
Five (perhaps new) ideas to try in your classroom:
1) Flexible Learning Spaces: One thing that has worked well over the past two years since I broke away from the traditional setup of my classroom, has been being more flexible with my lesson plans each day and more open to student ideas. I’ve become comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling of breaking away from the lesson plan, not having so much structure and letting students decide some of our activities. I’ve decided that the worst that could happen is that it doesn’t go well, or together we decide that what we thought might be a good idea didn’t turn out to be so great after all. But even if that does happen, it’s not a loss. There is still learning involved, just at a different level. Risk-taking and learning from mistakes is a good way to help students focus on the process of learning.
Take a chance by either creating stations in your classroom and having students rotate to complete different activities or simply divide the class into small groups, having all students work on the same activities, but instead of you leading the lesson, you facilitate more and work with each group. Take time at the end of the year especially to work with each student one-on-one, to better understand where they are on their learning journey and end the year with relationships strong and students feeling confident as they leave your class. It’s important to make time for those connections
If the physical space of the classroom doesn’t lend itself to a lot of changes, try to offer more choices for students than what you typically might. With likely only a few more weeks remaining, it’s as good a time as any to try something different and then use it for your reflection over the summer. Who knows, you just might find the best strategy for that one lesson that you just couldn’t make engaging enough.
2) No Tech: Make time to have students engage in conversations. Developing their collaborative skills, broadening their perspectives is important for their future. Taking time to talk about different content area topics, come up with their own ways to practice that vocabulary, create new problems to solve, or discuss a book they are reading, will be a different and more authentic way to practice. We all benefit by learning from different perspectives and it pushes our thinking.
3) Game: How about a game using one of the game based learning tools? Some to try include Quizlet Live, Quizizz, Quizalize, Gimkit and Kahoot. Students can certainly play as a whole group but they can also play within small groups rotating throughout the class, if using stations. The benefit of this is that it gives students a progressive way to learn and apply the content and it gives you the chance to move around the classroom and work with each group or each student as needed. No tech? Have students play traditional games and adjust them to meet the content area needs, or make up their own games.
4) Genius Hour: Genius hour is a great opportunity for students to explore their passions through inquiry-based and student-driven learning. Teachers can promote student choice and foster student agency by providing time for students to explore their interests. It promotes student curiosity, encourages collaboration, helps to develop social skills and increases student confidence and comfort. Genius hour offers students a chance to share something that they know about, they are passionate about, in a learning environment where student choice is promoted. Similar to Genius Hour, try Project-based Learning or even design-thinking!
5) Podcast/Vlog/Blog: It is important to give students time to share their ideas with classmates, but for some, it may be an uncomfortable experience. Using these different tools, students can record a short podcast using Synth, post a video response on Flipgrid, or even simply use something like Kidblog or Padlet to jot down some ideas and share links. Students will build confidence using any of these methods for sharing ideas and expressing what they have learned. The conversations can continue into the summer!
There will always be a lot of tools to choose from, of course it depends on accessibility and whether digital tools are blocked by the network, which is why having non-tech plans works well. If the number of devices available is an issue, using station rotations and being more flexible with the types of tools and strategies used will make a huge difference for students.
If you do use stations with these activities, I think it’s always good to have one station that offers a traditional classroom activity, whether something from a book, a worksheet or just something hands on that you or the students come up with. It might be a station of direct instruction where you stay and learn with the students throughout the period as they rotate, or it might just be one station among four or five other ones and you move around and work with each group. Regardless of what you ultimately decide, getting started can be easy and showing that you are willing to take some risks, to keep moving forward strong, will be a better learning experience for your students.