You’ve made it through the holiday season. Your classroom functions like a well-oiled machine (most of the time, anyway). All systems go.
But…it’s only midwinter and there’s a lot of school year to come. Getting through the rest of the curriculum without shaking out the metaphorical rug is a mistake. Here are a few ways to rejuvenate, resuscitate, and reinvigorate your already fairly well-functioning classroom.
Say it with music: Tired of saying, “It’s time to clean up”? Of course you are. By now you’ve probably said it more than 150 times, and you’re bound to say it another 300 before the end of the year. Replace your voice with a signal. Instead of speaking, play a song that communicates the message, anything from Mozart to (Bob) Marley. The kids will love the variety, and they’ll try to predict when the cleanup tune is going to be played. Also, you’ll find it’s more effective than using your voice. If you use a song that is about two to three minutes in length, the kids will know how long they have to be ready for the next activity. This effective interlude makes the transitions easier, less stressful, and less tedious.
Bottom-up assessments: Your formal assessments show that you are an effective educator. But how about asking the kids what they think they have learned, what does and doesn’t work for them, and what they would like to see change?
First, pass out chart paper to small groups and tell them they’ll be writing a list of things they’ve learned this year. Then, explain their next task is to assess your teaching. This can be done individually or in small groups through writing letters to you, or even writing letters to themselves about how they feel about the year. If you teach younger kids, let them draw a picture of what has been important to them, what they’ve enjoyed, and what they would like to do differently. You’ll learn more from your students about how to spice up or improve your teaching than from any top-down observation. (Don’t pay too much attention to recommendations of less homework or more recess and in-class parties.)
Add, subtract, and keep what works: Finally, review your management systems, both with and without your students. What is working? Not working? Ask kids to fill in the following: Things would be better in our classroom if only ________. Then review your class rules and see what you can act on to change. Start a discussion about what you should keep, what you can get rid of, and what should be added. Do the same for consequences, to ensure the so-called class constitution is fresh and relevant to where you are now.
Take a few periods during the coming weeks to air out your classroom. It will be well worth your time. You might learn something new about your methods and your students, and they actually might convince you to hold more class parties and extend recess. (But I doubt it.)
Good luck. See you in the spring!
Illustration: John W. Tomac