It’s understandable that some teachers take it personally when students say they “can’t wait” for summer. But truth be told, teachers often share the same sentiment.
Consider the cliché of school doors bursting open on the last day of school as shrieks of joy can be heard around the country. Summer holds a special place in our hearts. But loving summer doesn’t mean we don’t love school, too. It just highlights that there are some hallmarks of summer that are really sweet. This year, try bringing some of the summer magic back to school. Many of the things we love about those few precious months can be adapted to fit into a successful, engaging, and energetic classroom.
Test anxiety is real. Even if a student doesn’t feel particular anxiety around testing, that age-old question, “Is this going to be on the test?” looms throughout the school year. Learning for fun is really important, and you can still assess student progress. Consider introducing some lessons that you start with the explicit statement: “This will not be tested.” Face – and test – the fear that kids will immediately check out; they may surprise you, especially if the topic is interesting and the activities are compelling.
Here are three ways to assess without a formal test:
- Host a Socratic Seminar to encourage students to discuss their evidence-based opinions.
- Invite students to create music and videos to share their learning with each other, younger students, or the community.
- Have students test you by having them create and score assessments for you about a topic they’ve studied.
Freedom to Do Whatever You Want
While “whatever you want” might not be realistic for the classroom, for some kids the best part of summer is that they can drive their own activities. Whether it’s heading to the park, riding a bike, or hanging out in their room reading, they get to decide. Letting students make decisions about their activities helps them develop agency, which will serve them well in school and beyond.
Try allocating a small chunk of class time to a “free” exercise: free writing, free Internet exploration, free discussion around topics of common interests (yes, even if the topic is the latest blockbuster movie). Even 10 minutes can feel refreshing, and students learn a lot by writing, exploring, and talking. If your schedule allows, you may consider allocating one day a week or month to free exploration of any topic related to your studies. Feel free to provide some parameters: the idea isn’t freedom to goof off, it’s freedom to follow one’s own interests.
For a generation that can be overscheduled, the alarms, bus pickup times, school bells, and homework hours can be draining. And even though many students have jobs or camp or clubs during the summer, their daily schedules are generally much looser than they are during the school year. Reliable classroom routines are an important classroom management tool but, within a stable framework, experimenting with your in-class schedule may bring a fresh energy to your room.
Think about your daily routines. Although some parts of a lesson must be scaffolded and scheduled carefully, other parts of your routine may be malleable. Is there any part of your daily routine that could be shaken up? Could you empower students to set some parts of the schedule or surprise them from time to time by ending with a cool-down activity rather than starting with a warm-up? What about an occasional dance break or an improvisational game adapted to your topic of study?
Try GoNoodle for creative video activity breaks designed to help students re-engage. Predictability can be reassuring but can also foster a rote approach to learning. Keep your routine fresh for maximum engagement.
Summer can bring us so much. Breaks, changes in our environment, and new faces foster learning and growth for all of us. Hopefully, you and your students have been enjoying time off from school even as you’ve been reading, thinking, and exploring.
So, savor those last days of summer, but don’t fret: We can keep the best of summer with us throughout the year!
Jeanette Edelstein is an educator dedicated to making learning more engaging for students of all ages. She has been a classroom teacher, curriculum designer, and program developer. She was a founding teacher and the gifted and talented coordinator at Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts. Her curriculum projects include Hive Alive!, a collection of teaching resources about honey bees, Animal Planet Rescue, a disaster relief and educational vehicle that rescued over 1,000 animals, and CapsinSchool, an elementary curriculum based on the math and science of hockey.