The final stretch of the school year between spring break and the last day of class presents unique challenges. The sunshine and spring weather impacts the students’ ability to focus. Teachers and students are exhausted and ready for a break. Despite the distractions of springtime and the general fatigue we all experience this time of year, teachers know it is critical for students to push themselves to finish the year strong in these final weeks. So, how can we keep students engaged, working hard, and following expectations for behavior as the end of the school year approaches?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. I believe a focus on metacognitive skill-building can be a powerful way to combat student apathy. We need to help students take an active role in thinking about their learning. They need to take responsibility for their actions, work, and behavior. Below are some strategies I encouraged my graduate students to explore, modify, and use with their students.
#1 Short-term Goal Setting
As the end of the year approaches, asking students to set short-term goals can help them identify things they care about achieving personally, academically, and behaviorally. Teachers can begin the week with a short-term goal-setting exercise and then end the week by asking students to revisit those short-term goals to reflect on the progress they’ve made working towards them.
In the mad dash to finish the school year, it is easy for students to feel overwhelmed by the volume of work they have to do. Students are likely juggling various performance tasks and final projects for their classes while preparing for final exams and end-of-the-year assessments. Goal setting can help them frame and focus their energy and effort in directions that make this work more manageable.
#2 Safe Space Reflection Form
Students make mistakes. Missteps in a classroom happen. Teachers can handle these moments to position the learner to pause and reflect on what happened, why it happened, and how it impacted other people in the class. Instead of simply receiving a consequence, students should have to engage in a reflective practice so they understand themselves and provide their teachers with a more accurate understanding of what happened and why it happened. Often negative behaviors in a class have less to do with what is happening in the room and more to do with students’ lives beyond the classroom.
Below is a simple safe space reflection form that teachers can copy, modify, and use to encourage a reflective practice in moments when a student violates an established expectation for behavior. Read this blog for more on classroom management and creating a positive and productive learning community.
#3 Weekly Family Updates
Keeping families informed about their student’s progress in a class is a herculean effort that falls almost exclusively on the teacher. As the end of the school year approaches, we do not want families to be surprised by their student’s grades in a class.
One way to keep families informed and provide a powerful incentive for students to maintain focus is to dedicate class time each week to having students write their families an update on their progress. Depending on the age of the students, this update can take the form of an email, an audio recording, or a shared digital slide.
Below is an example of an email template or audio script.
Hello [name of the person receiving the email or audio update],
In the last two weeks, my high has been [insert a description of an assignment, task, behavior, interaction, routine, or self-management skill that reflects significant improvement or development]. This high makes me feel [insert an explanation of the impact].
A low, or an area where I feel like I need to spend more time growing and developing, is [insert a description of an assignment, task, behavior, interaction, routine, or self-management skill that needs additional work, practice, or development]. To continue making progress in this area, I will need to [action plan for continued improvement and/or request support].
If you have any questions or comments, please [insert directions for how parents can reply].
Alternatively, teachers can ask students to complete a digital slide and share it with parents giving them viewing or commenting access.
These routines shift the responsibility of thinking about academic performance and behavior from teachers to students. It is essential that students identify goals they care about, reflect on missteps in the classroom, and communicate regularly with their families about their progress. These routines can help them assume a higher degree of accountability for their academic performance and behavior in the final weeks of the school year.