It’s about that time of year when some students start to check into summer mode. As teachers, this is a terrifying thought. The end of a school year can actually be one of the most engaging times for your students if we make a few simple adjustments in our classrooms. Here are five secrets to keeping students engaged during May and June:
1. Do a project.
According to a study by Child Trends (2015), there are five critical skills likely to increase the odds of success: social skills, communication skills, higher order thinking skills, self-control, and positive self-concept. A project is an ideal place to practice honing these skills. With project- or problem-based learning:
- Behavior issues decrease
- Students become more empowered and inspired to learn
- Your role becomes more that of a facilitator than a leader
- You must do more planning up front
- Learning becomes contextualized in the bigger picture
- Students are asked to create something or solve a problem
At the end of the school year, group projects prove to be the most engaging and help your class become a community of learners. By now, your students are probably champing at the bit to take some ownership of their learning and step up to the plate.
2. Spice it up with a guest speaker.
The students have been listening to our voices all year. Now is the perfect time to bring in a guest speaker to the room. Having guest speakers in the classroom builds confidence in your students because it sends a message that they are important enough for somebody to visit them. Confident students are happy students, leading to more engaged learners.
3. Try some friendly competition.
Adding friendly competition to a project can motivate a “checked out” student. I’ve found that students who are more vocal become the most engaged in projects that have a competitive aspect.
For a fun twist, let the students know that there will be surprise judges at the end of your competition. I used to invite a class that was two grades lower for my surprise guests to make it a pleasant experience for my class, lower the anxiety level, and boost confidence of both the judges and my students.
4. Take extra care of yourself.
Students deserve a teacher who is healthy and rested. In order for you to take care of your classroom, you have to take care of yourself. This is particularly important at the end of the school year, when we are crossing the finish line. You have to be in tip-top shape to win this race. Here are a few simple yet helpful reminders that are all too easy to forget around this time of the school year:
- Try to go to bed at the same time each night
- Get proper food and exercise
- Prioritize your daunting list of tasks
- Try to respond to emails immediately to avoid the pile up
- Focus on what matters to you in the classroom because you can’t do everything
5. Add elements of surprise to your units or lessons.
Jill Suttie, in her article “Why Humans Need Surprise” (2015), points out that surprises increase the amount of dopamine released in our brains, leading to more vitality in our lives. In turn, surprises lead to more vitality in your classroom engagement. Here are a few ideas for how to add the element of surprise in your classroom:
- Create a trail of hints: Before you read a class novel, have a guest speaker, or start a new unit, let students wonder. Give them little clues each day. Creating a trail of hints will pique interest and get the students talking about your class.
- Offer a mystery prize
- Let them guess: Give students two minutes to predict what is in a box or under the tray or sheet to start a lesson.
Trying these few twists might be the secret to keeping students engaged this time of year. After all, who doesn’t want a class full of raised hands until the very last day of school?
Get more tips for keeping kids engaged in our LIVE Facebook interview with Serena Pariser: