The Year Is Almost Over. Don’t Miss The Opportunities.
by Rachelle Dene Poth
As the final grading period sets in, it’s hard to not look forward to summer vacation, having days where we don’t have any particular place to be or tasks to attend to, but we have to remind ourselves to keep our focus, stay motivated, and keep up that momentum until the finish. Too many days can be lost as a result of changes in schedules, standardized testing or any number of things that can take away from the valuable class time at the end of the year. There are many factors that can lead students and teachers to lose momentum such as: nicer weather, school sports, school musicals and activities and the rounds of standardized tests.
Classes, teachers and students can be pulled into many different directions and finding ways to stay engaged, motivated and working right up until the end can be a challenge. I am not saying that I have all of the right answers but I decided to do things a little bit differently for the end of this school year. I decided to take some risks. I wanted to try some new things, give the students more control in the classroom, and see what happened.
What brought about this change of mind, change of plans and new perspective?
Lots of things. A combination of finishing out a two-and-a-half-year graduate program for a Master’s in instructional technology, getting involved at education/technology conferences and edcamps, and interacting with people having various roles in these areas and hearing some really great ideas. A lot of my inspiration came from seeing my students involved in a technology showcase and the pride that I felt while watching them taking the lead, advocating for technology use, interested in more opportunities, and my desire to make things better, more interesting and meaningful for them.
So taking a bit of time over the recent spring break, I thought about what had not been going so well, things I might like to try to change or improve upon. I referred to my list of different ideas and tools that I’ve wanted to try in my classroom, but did not have enough time. I wanted to try different ways of doing things I had always done, to see if it made an impact in the classroom. I figured that now was as good a time as any to integrate some new ideas, to seek student input and to change things up a bit.
I thought that the end of the year seemed like a decent time to do this because it could lead to creative and innovative way of trying things, different from how we had done things throughout the year. And it would provide an opportunity for reflecting over the summer break.
Sometimes change is good and the benefits are seen quickly and sometimes they are not. Worst case scenario in my mind was that the changes I would make and the different methods for enhancing student learning and interactions in class would not end up as I or the students hoped, but in the end, it’s all about learning and growing. And then figuring out what the next steps should be and starting from there. It is about taking risks, evaluating, reflecting and then moving forward. But there has to be a first step.
So if you find yourself feeling like this. If you are seeking a way to help the students hang in there for the final stretch of the school year or to keep yourself going as well, think about trying something different, that has been on your list. Maybe it is a new classroom setup, or trying a different tool, or some other activity, that will give you just enough time to get some experience, involve the students in the decisions and get their feedback.
Having this information at the end the year can provide some really valuable information, leading you to reflect over the summer. Perhaps you will start off the new school year with these ideas. Worst case scenario is that it doesn’t go as you or the students had planned, and so you use that information to reflect and grow and plan something different or better for the future.
Starting with change number one.
I had a day to think about where I wanted to start. Was it a specific activity? Or should I try a new tool in class? After some thought, it ended up being the same way I started the school year, creating a new learning space.
I am always trying new ideas, activities, tools and more now with my classes than I have never done before. In some cases it’s trying out a new idea that I just thought up right before they came in, and in other cases it’s integrating a tool that we had used before, but because of lack of time, did not have opportunities to use recently. Regardless of what you decide, it will be something new and different and just might be that extra spark that you and your students need to stay strong to the finish.
I can give you some examples that have been working for me but again, it’s what you need and what’s best for your students. I will share some additional ideas and how they went in my next post but here are a few simple ideas to consider if the learning space is an area you would like to change.
Can you change around your learning space? Can students be paired up and then rotate seats every so many days so they have a new partner to work with? Does your classroom lend itself to movement and flexibility?
I changed the arrangement of my classroom so students would be seated across from each other. I wrote numbers on cards and the day they came to class, I gave each student a number written in Spanish. They had to put themselves in numerical order and then starting with one, were able to go in and select their seat. It was a fun activity and the students were really excited about the opportunity to choose their seat and the different setup. I was nervous because I was not sure how it would all work, but I was willing to give it a try.
So, what happened?
I used the new arrangement as a way to have students work with peers more in cooperative learning activities during class. This has had many benefits. I am still working through it, but my students like the arrangement and sharing the role of teacher and having opportunities to collaborate more in class. I had them take on various roles and complete different activities with their partners over the first week. Sometimes it was seated in their group, others it was combining with another group, and a few times we did gallery walks with activities and stations in the classroom.
These are just the first in a series of changes/new ideas that I started with and I will admit, I was a bit hesitant and nervous at first because I did not feel as in control. I can tell you that each class reacted differently and some reactions initially to the new seats, new methods were not all positive.
So I took this as an opportunity to ask my students for their input, whether in conversations, in writing, or surveys. I had to set up some expectations and let them know that it was a risk and that it might need adjustments along the way. After a few days, it worked out and the students have said how much they are enjoying this new experience. And I’ve noticed less students looking at the clock and less counting down the days to the end of school.
As a facilitator more with this arrangement, I have been able to interact more with them, answer individual questions, assess their needs more regularly, and continue to work on the relationships. So I take these as good signs and what’s even better is that they seem to be making more progress with the material which is an area that is quite difficult for students in Spanish II to master.
So this is an evolving process and I would love to keep you up-to-date to where it goes for the rest of the year. So I leave you with this: think of a class or classes that you have, in which it seems like students need a little something extra. Find a spark. Ask them what could help them to learn better, make things more exciting, and then just try something.
Get them up and moving, mix it up, whatever you do it will be new and different and hopefully keep everyone going strong. And don’t give up too soon, give it some time and see what happens.
The Year Is Almost Over. Don’t Miss The Opportunities.; image attribution flickr user vexrobotics