7 strategies to THRIVE at the end of the semester


Teaching | Tuesday, November 28, 2017

7 strategies to THRIVE at the end of the semester

The end of the semester can be full of challenges. But it also creates unique opportunities, too. Here are some ways to seize them. (Photo by Eric Rothermel via Unsplash.com)

When the semester winds down, it brings its own unique list of challenges. 

Special programs cut into class time. Absences seem to go up (at least here in Indiana, when cold weather sets in and sickness takes off). Our attention is fragmented and we're thinking about time off.

Opportunity runs high, though, too. 

It's the perfect time for reflecting on everything students have learned. They can look back on the skills they've honed for months.

We have a short amount of time with students before the term ends.

How can we make the most of it?

Here are some strategies to consider to ramp up these final weeks of the semester.

Use brain-friendly strategies to practice

Often, students have information they need to know -- to remember -- at the end of the semester. There are final exams, but there's that core knowledge students need to create and apply at higher levels.

Ever feel like information leaks out students' ears the moment they walk out the door?

Try practicing in the way the brain craves. Here are two ways:

First, there's retrieval practice, an effective remembering technique rooted in cognitive science. It's extremely helpful at this time of year.

Retrieval practice teaches students to remember by retrieving information from their memory instead of putting more and more into it. It's kind of like a dress rehearsal for a quiz or a test.

No: Reading and re-reading and re-reading notes and chapters out of a book.

Yes: Studying for a bit, stopping, and asking yourself, "Can I restate what I just learned in my own words?"

Second, there's spaced repetition. It suggests that we shouldn't study over and over while we still remember new information.

We should wait until we get rusty at it -- until we start to forget it -- before we practice with it again. Practicing at what you're already good at has diminishing returns.

These are just two ways we can tap into more of the brain's full potential to help students remember and learn.

Diversify end-of-semester projects

So often, I'll hear teachers talk about summative projects -- the kind that assess students' full understanding at the end of a unit or term.

They'll say, "We'll do a PowerPoint about ..." or "I'll have the students create a poster about ...". 

I'm not here today to rail against PowerPoint or posters.

I'll rail instead against making all of the decisions for students on how they demonstrate learning.

It doesn't take the uniqueness of each student into consideration. Each student has his/her own unique strengths, curiosities, interests.

Cookie cutter projects don't honor that. 

Thankfully, that can easily be changed (to some degree). A few quick ideas:

  • Brainstorm with students about ways they can demonstrate their learning. Talk about what needs to be demonstrated, what they think is important, and how they can show it.
  • Give students a few project options to choose from -- or ways they can deviate to make the project their own.
  • Make an option, "If you have an idea, please ask me about it and we'll try to make it happen!" (Make sure to include the exclamation point there. They want to know you're excited about them trying new things!)

Let students share their voice to reflect

Like I mentioned earlier, the end of the year is a great time for reflection.

Students have learned a lot. They have new skills. They've thought about things they never have before.

Learning is limited when students can't put it in the big picture. Let students reflect.

Learning is limited when students can't put it in the big picture. Let students reflect. #DitchBook

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One of my favorite digital tools to empower students to do that is Flipgrid. I know many educators have caught #FlipgridFever!

In short, Flipgrid lets teachers provide students with a discussion prompt or a question. Students record short videos to respond, and then they can view each other's videos.

Use Flipgrid. Use face-to-face discussion time in class. Use writing journal time.

No matter how you do it, this lets students make sense of what they've learned. It shapes decisions they'll make in the future.

It's powerful when we let knowledge settle into the mind long-term.

What I love about Flipgrid for this is that it encourages students to develop their speaking voice -- both the aesthetic quality of speaking but also their identity when they speak. This is crucial if we want to develop strong leaders for the future.

And we need strong, responsible leaders now more than ever.

Review students' progress for motivation

This doesn't mean printing out progress reports and going over students' grades. (Well, not necessarily ...)

This means helping students see how much they've grown this school year. Because seeing solid progress is great motivation for progressing even further.

Compare student writing to the beginning of the year.

Have them look at how they solved a math or science problem months ago. 

Ask them to debate and discuss an issue to see how much more deeply they think about it now.

No matter what your grade level or content area is, students like to see that they have progressed ... and it gives them confidence to keep going.

Share student work with a bigger audience

When students turn work in to the teacher to be graded, they're creating for an audience of one.

When their work is posted for the class to see, that audience is increased by dozens.

When the audience extends beyond the classroom walls -- and the school walls -- students are often motivated to do their best work.

If students are creating online already, this is made much easier. Create a home base (a Weebly website or a Google Sites website work great). Link to their work. Add images of their work.

Share the link to the home base for your students' work through a school newsletter. Share it on the #Comments4Kids Twitter hashtag to get comments from around the country -- and world. 

Add a "C" to refresh old activities

This was a simple idea that Alice Keeler added to our book, Ditch That Homework.

Take your current activity as it is. Find one of the four C's -- creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking. Find a way to add it to your activity.

You may be surprised at the new spin it puts on an activity you've done for a long time.

Include self assessment and peer assessment

The end of the semester can be a time when we drown in grading. 

There can be more assignments. There's incomplete work from absences. And, if you're like me, there can be catch-up grading. (I hate that this is reality, but it is reality!)

At the end of the term, we don't have to provide all of the feedback! Students can do it, too!

Self assessment and peer assessment can give students a sense of responsibility and ownership to learning. It includes them in the process and encourages lifelong learning.

Plus, it can lessen the immense load of grading on us at a crucial time in the school year.

What are your best strategies for thriving at the end of the term? Please share them in a comment below!

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