It’s the end of November and my students, my co-teacher, and I have hit the hump. The structure and routines we have established in our English class are becoming monotonous and our students are pushing the limits with us. Are you feeling this now too?
The end of the semester brings more stress, more anxiety, and more challenges for both students and teachers. For our freshmen, this uncertainty causes students to act in ways outside their norm. Just the other day, the word “finals” was mentioned in class and that led to many panicked faces and questions about the end of the semester. At that moment, I realized that my students have never taken finals before and have no idea what they are, why teachers keep stressing that they are coming up, and how they will affect their grades.
These moments remind me that we need to slow down. Our content does not matter if the students aren’t in a place to perform. They need to know that we believe in them and that they can be successful in and outside of our class. We need to let them know we hear them and care.
Tips to get through the end of the semester struggle with your students:
Gather feedback from your students: Google Forms are my favorite tool for gathering quick feedback from students. Keep them short and simple to get the best results. We don’t use them often but when we do, we take their feedback and make changes right away.
Take time to answer their questions: When the bell rings at the beginning of class, we spend three to five minutes a few days a week just answering their questions. As teachers we are used to the ever changing schedules in our schools; we know the content and how we want students to perform; we understand the routines like finals. But, our students don’t and we need to relieve their fears.
Talk individually with students: Every day we meet with students during independent reading and writing workshop to talk to them. Some talks are more academic like reading comprehension or fluency checks or standards checks. Others times we are pulling students aside to check on their mental health – noticing those moments when they are zoning off or are bouncing off the walls when they normally are focused. When we show we care about them more than our content, they do step up and give us their best effort.
Have students set goals: Our standards based gradebook is complicated and not easy for students to navigate. These quick standards check-ins lead to goal setting. We keep the bar high and constantly verbalize our belief that they all have the potential to earn an “A” in our class. We ask them what their goal is for the end of the semester and what they are going to do to achieve that goal. Sometimes this an informal conversation and sometimes they write it down on a notecard or on paper and commit to achieving it.
Increase movement during class: Our class structure is fairly simple: they read, we do a mini-lesson, and they read or write some more. They sit a lot and even during our first period class, we notice such a difference in attitudes and behaviors when they get brain breaks or we add movement to our normal lesson. Even a simple thing like taking a 30 second stand and stretch break after independent reading and before writing workshop begins, wakes them up. Instead of having students just turn and talk, we ask them to stand up and turn and talk with a neighbor to get them blood flowing as they share.
These are just a few ways we are fighting the end of the semester struggle and trying to relieve some of our students’ anxiety and stress. How are you keeping students motivated these last few weeks of school?
Melissa Sethna has been a high school instructional coach in Mundelein, IL for the past ten years. While coaching is her passion, she missed the students and is so grateful to have the opportunity to co-teach one freshman English class this year.