Students are excited about returning to school after a long and sometimes uneventful summer. Though they walk about the campus with energy in their step from day one, this energy is more likely to be released on non-academic matters. Talking, for example, is incredibly difficult for a classroom teacher to get students to do the first week of school. Students are nervous, distracted by the unfamiliar environment they are in, and afraid to take risks to avoid an embarrassing situation in front of new peers. Meanwhile, outside of the classroom setting, during breaks and lunch, they are chatter boxes. Socializing, it seems, is immune to the summer doldrums.
If you want to smoothly transition your students from being on summer mode, a relaxed state where mental energy use is secondary to either physical or quotidian energy, your best bet as a teacher is to consider doing the following suggestions:
- Progressively raise the focus of your lessons. What this means is that you want to be as general as possible at the beginning and slowly shift the learning toward the deeper layers. Students aren’t ready mentally on week one or two to tackle thinking challenges at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning (e.g. analyzing, evaluating, and creating). For many of them, there has been a tremendous loss of learning and skill-set from the previous school year.
- Get them up. Be mindful of the fact that students have not been forced to sit for hours during the summer months. They have been able to get up and move at will. Preparing lessons for week one and two that involve copious note-taking is a surefire way of getting your students to begin presenting your teaching. Instead plan activities that involve group work and collaboration, and encourage them to stand. Setting up stations around your room will force students to walk about the classroom.
- Take the learning outside. Being cooped up in a room (or several rooms) all day is the initial reminder for students that their freedom has once again been taken away. Do not mistake your students’ abilities to lock themselves up in their rooms for hours at home with being able to do the same in your classroom. In the comfort of their rooms, they have soft furniture, technology in their hands the way they want to use it, and food. With you all they get is a hard desk to sit in. Why not go out and do a Socratic seminar while sitting within the shade of a big tree? Science teachers can go on a nature walk with their kids and explore the flora of the school.
- Make assessments informal. While I worked as an Assistant Principal, it upset me to see teachers giving tests and quizzes on week one or the start of week two. Students are in no condition to be formally assessed at this point. They barely know you! This doesn’t mean you leave out assessment from your lessons. On the contrary, make assessment a daily part of your teaching protocol; however, to avoid giving your students test anxiety at the beginning of the year, and possibly shaking their confidence for the remainder of the semester, it is best to do informal assessments. These are non-graded, self-checks for the most part, where you give students the answers to specific questions immediately following their individual effort to respond, and let them evaluate their learning. If you must do an introductory assessment to gauge what your students know, inform students that the results are simply for your preparation and planning of future lessons.
- Prepare lessons that include arts and crafts. Many students are placed in summer programs at the YMCA or other paid venues, for example, that involve kids in doing arts and crafts activities. Why not mimic these learning modalities and make schooling match what students have had their hands on all summer?
Remember that the school year is not a race. Though as teachers we are always pressed for time, we can do more harm to our flow when we press the gas pedal too early with our students. As teachers, we ourselves struggle to return back to work and get into teaching mode. It is hard for us to break away from the inertia of the summer break, and we must be cognizant that the same inertia has a deep grasp of our students. Transitioning as I have suggested above will surely make the road up ahead smooth for you and your students!