Get a Jump on Summer Slump: Engage Your Students Post Test Season
Standardized test season can be an exhausting milestone for students, particularly high school juniors and seniors fretting about AP credits or college-entrance exams. Even for younger students, there's still a very systemic vibe in preparing for standardized assessments, so once those come and go, what should you do with the remaining part of the school year?
The short answer is this: engage their minds– all parts of it.
Standardized assessments have a very defined workflow and scope. This can make students focused in an almost mechanical way. The post-test period is a way to revive the more creative aspects of learning while focusing on key aspects of the year's curriculum goals. Of course, student needs -- both academic and logistical -- are different based on age group and grade. Depending on the age of your students, consider these options:
For younger students where a teacher oversees an entire classroom, many creative outlets can be introduced that span half the school day, or even the whole one. Field trips are one obvious route, especially if the school is within walking distance to nature areas or interesting civic opportunities such as a fire station or a city hall. Grade school teachers can also look at integrating cross-curricular activities. For example, teachers can introduce the idea that math is an essential part of music. Another example is taking natural science, such as leaves and rocks, and combining them with visual arts, such as painting. Other simpler ideas can be to play educational board games in groups, writing and creating their own short plays, or examining entertainment from other countries to discuss cultural differences.
Once students move on to middle school, projects can increase in complexity. This is where more difficult concepts involving STEM or the arts can be explored with less rigidity. Basics of coding and programming can be introduced as middle schoolers make their own websites or games, or if your school has access to a 3D printer, students can explore drafting and design. Depending on resources available, more sophisticated forms of expression can be integrated and combined into further final reports. For example, host a career fair and integrate cross-curricular aspects with the planning, poll the class on the professions of their parents or other family members and explore the data with graphs and charts, have students write letters to someone who is in a profession they are interested in.
High school students, particularly juniors and seniors, can engage in unique projects that help them prepare for both a college experience and a stronger real-world understanding. Because the focus of the material won’t necessarily be on strict curriculum guidelines, the topics and the scope of projects can be flexible. For example, an English teacher can invite students to integrate traditional analytical reports on modern films, TV shows, graphic novels, or books that wouldn’t normally be part of the curriculum. A history or civics teacher might involve the class in a simulation of the branches of government or a mock trial with prosecutors, jurors, judge, and media. A math or science teacher might invite exploration and research of real-world applications or interviews with people in the workforce. Whatever the subject, the goal is to get creative in a way that doesn’t involve the linear structure of the traditional classroom.
Some activities work for students regardless of grade. The following ideas each offer a starting point for fun and engaging projects that can be scaled up or down depending on your class size and student ages:
Invite speakers on different topics to discuss their life or career experiences.
Have students record podcasts or create a blog reviewing or analyzing a recent book they have read or film they have watched.
Spark a spirit of community by volunteering as a class in the surrounding neighborhood with a street clean up or gardening project.
Divide the class into two (or more) opposing viewpoints and host a debate that fosters discussion and analysis from different perspectives.
Engagement: The Most Important Element
Students and teachers alike feel burnout during the post-test period and are eager for summer to arrive. Teachers can help maintain student engagement during this time by appealing to the personality of students, both as individuals and as a group. Are they mostly quiet? Do they bring the best out in each other? The worst? Select and structure the activities to meet them where they are most comfortable and willing to engage.
Knowing what makes your students tick can help you take these ideas and implement them in a way that maximizes opportunities for your class. Projects may be the right way to challenge their assumptions and bad habits, or it may further disengage them, making field trips the right call. Consider recording your top ideas for end-of-the-year class activities as part of your back-to-school planning so that you have the time to tweak and customize for your students’ personalities throughout the year and ensure maximum engagement.
The ultimate goal of your year-end activities should be to spark curiosity and your students’ love of learning so that they can continue to challenge their minds outside of the classroom. The grind of assessment season can put a strain on this. By finding the right mix of activities that truly inspire and engage your students in a pressure-free environment, you’ll be helping to foster a love of learning that will take them through the summer and beyond.
Nanda Krish is the CEO of Wisewire, an edtech company focused on enabling access to high-quality digital learning materials and technology-enhanced assessments. He aims to combine his 12 years of executive experience and expertise to grow a true edtech market leader, one that pushes technology boundaries while fulfilling the needs of educators and students worldwide.