For many of us, spring break has come and gone, the standardized tests are done, and that can only mean one thing--it's almost summer break! The last few weeks of school go much more smoothly when you maintain a regular routine and keep your students fully engaged. Yet, it feels harder than ever to keep our students' attention! Use these 5 research-based strategies to help your students stay engaged up until the very last day of school.
STAY POSITIVE AND PASSIONATE.
A positive attitude is crucial for maintaining student engagement. We must make our own well-being a priority in these final weeks of school! According to Eric Jensen in Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind (2013), "You can positively affect students' states of mind simply by being in a positive state." Feelings are contagious, which means students can tell when we are stressed and lacking motivation, so keep your emotions and body language in check.
Take ownership of your attitude towards work, ensuring that it stays both positive and passionate. If it is getting harder to stay positive and motivated, start a new or special routine for yourself in the morning to get your mind in the right place before school. Write yourself positive affirmations and stick them on your mirror to read before leaving each morning. Make a playlist of your favorite music and listen during your commute. During the school day, stay active. Move around the room and speak dynamically with hand-gestures. Make eye contact with your kids and smile. In the evening, take time to refresh yourself by pursuing your favorite hobby. Watch a motivating TED Talk in the evening or read a book for enjoyment. The strategies that work best will be unique to you, but the important thing is that you CHOOSE positivity and passion.
One of my favorite TED Talks.
EXPECT STUDENTS TO LEARN AND ACHIEVE.
If students are starting to misbehave more, take some time to self-reflect. Is it possible that you have let your classroom expectations slide? This is so easy to do at the end of the year, but we must stand firm. Our expectations of students are critical for their success. In fact, research shows that teacher expectations have a significant impact on student achievement. Jensen (2013) states, "Students typically live out their own expectations, so effective teachers get students to expect more of themselves."
EXPLORE TOPICS THAT INTEREST YOUR STUDENTS.
Now is the perfect time to set aside the traditional materials and explore topics that truly interest your students. Ask them what they want to learn about, then plan some time to explore that topic together. This will help your students feel like they have more control over what they are learning, which significantly increases their ownership and engagement (Jensen, 2013).
EMBRACE THE TEACHABLE MOMENTS.
Sometimes the best lessons aren’t planned. If a situation arises where you have the opportunity to explore a teachable moment, go for it! By taking the time to explore a teachable moment together, you are communicating to the students that their questions are valued and your class is a family. This helps students feel more safe about taking risks in the classroom. "When all members of the class are working together toward a positive learning effort, they build a collective social power" (Jensen, 2013). One year, one of my students brought in a Luna moth on the second to last day of school. We spent the entire morning researching Luna moths, then took the Luna moth on a little tour to other classrooms. The kids taught other students all they had learned from their research. Afterwards, we set it free outside. It was one of the best days! Exploring teachable moments is an important part of fostering positive relationships between teachers and students.
INCREASE NOVELTY FOR ROUTINE TASKS.
While it is important to keep your routines in place through the end of the school year, you can increase engagement by adding novelty to everyday procedures. Below are a few ideas for ways that you can increase the novelty of common tasks in the classroom. The ideas are geared towards grades 3-5, but can be easily adapted to other grade levels.
Sustained Silent Reading: Make reading special! Go outside. Spread some blankets on the ground under a shade tree. Enjoy the sunshine and fresh air while reading, then have students share with friends about their books.
Graphic Organizers: Make graphic organizers come alive! Use hula hoops (or string) to create Venn Diagrams, then have students complete them with sidewalk chalk.
Content-Area Vocabulary: Go on a scavenger hunt to find content-area vocabulary in the real world. Take students outside to look for fibrous roots under trees or types of clouds. Give them pipe cleaners to collect angles, then follow up with differentiated tasks, such as classifying angles as acute, obtuse, or right.
Math Facts Practice: Take students outside to go on a Math Facts Relay where students work as a team to write all the math facts in a set. They can write them on the asphalt with sidewalk chalk or on big sheets of butcher paper with a marker.
Measurement and Data: Do something fun to collect data from the class. Measure how far paper airplanes fly or how far baking soda and vinegar "rockets" fly. Shoot hoops and record how many people score from different distances. Then have students represent the data in different types of graphs. Have them practice finding mean, median, mode, and range with their real-life data.
Writing: Have your students write for an actual audience -- next year's students! Have them each write a letter to a student in next year's class of their top 10 tips for being successful in your classroom, then share them with students when you come back to school in the fall.
I hope that these ideas help you stay motivated and encouraged as the school year draws to a close. What are some of your favorite ways to keep students engaged until the last day? I'd love to hear more in the comments below.