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Everyone feels sapped this time of year, but we can all do better.

The levels of energy and attention often ebb and flow in classrooms as spring arrives and even the best students – and teachers –  can’t help but turn their attention to summer.

Often learning declines as the year wears on, according to research, but experts say there are ways for teachers to pump life into the last month so that they and their students can enjoy work that is satisfying and engaging rather than just bide their time.

 “The wrap up of the school year needs to be as important as the beginning of the year when everyone is filled with the excitement,” says Melissa Bettencourt, a veteran teacher and curriculum specialist with the Tri-Town School Union in Boxford, MA, noting that it is a time to celebrate accomplishments, re-learn material and perhaps promote learning in new ways.

 “As the year winds down, it is natural for everyone's thoughts to turn to summer. Teachers need to make a solid, realistic plan to stay energized to the end. Students who are engaged with meaningful learning will keep putting in their full effort to the end.” 

Apart from it being valuable classroom time, teachers may be the most effective with students at the end of the year since they know their strengths and weaknesses and there may be energy for a different sort of learning, she notes.

Education expert Larry Ferlazzo, who has often written about the value of the end of the year, including a chapter in his book Helping Students Motivate Themselves, agrees that there are a number of reasons it is important for teachers in the spring to “step up the quality and intensity of what is happening in classrooms”. He also notes that research has also shown less successful students show an even greater decline in learning so a lack of engagement with them is a “double whammy”.

Kate Roberts, a child psychologist in Salem, MA, is concerned, too, that lighter work loads and too many changes in class routines, including the freedom to use technology more often or do less rigorous activities, makes it hard for students, especially those who have learning difficulties.

 “They might have pockets of time where they spend excessive amount of time with different behavior and casually using technology, then abruptly they have to withdraw from that and go back to academics,” she says, noting that spring is often a time for long periods of standardized tests.

Some experts believe it is important to get student’s input about what will help the classroom energy at the end of the year, but Ferlazzo also says teachers should talk to students about what is expected of them -- and ask them to respond to two questions:  

  • What are three things you can do to help finish the school year strong academically?
  • What is one thing you can do to help your classmates finish the year strong academically?

He says research has shown that the conclusion of any experience is critical to a participant’s understanding of a topic and, importantly, their attitude about the what they have done.

 “From this perspective, what occurs in the final weeks of our classes will have a huge influence on how students feel about – and make future decisions related to – school, the subject you are teaching, how they might feel about future teachers and other learning issues,” he says.

Chad Lehrmann, a psychology and sociology teacher at College Station, TX, High School, strongly believes that the end of the year affords teachers a chance to remind students about topics they have covered – and use the energy they may have in the spring in a different manner, often letting them help present the information in some form.

“I look at it this way – students have had content poured into them all year and they need to have an outlet for that or their learning becomes stagnant,” he says. “Allowing students time to reflect and then essentially re-teach that content from their perspective not only solidifies their own learning, it opens new potential understanding for their peers.”

According to Christy Tirrell-Corbin, a professor of education at the University of Maryland specializing in early childhood development, the end of the year is a good time to rely on relations with parents that teachers should have built even before the school year.

She notes, too, that teachers know the strengths and weaknesses of students by the end of the year so they can work effectively with a class and can try more individualized instruction with some. She also says they should be certain to pass along their valuable knowledge about the student academically and socio-emotionally with their future teachers and with parents.

“Most schools have a system for sharing information about student performance from one grade level to the next.  Unfortunately, many of those systems are in the form of record sharing and not in the form of discussions about the students as individuals and in the context of their families, which would be ideal.”

Here are some things you can do to improve the end of the year experience for you and your students:

Talk to them. Some experts believe it important to have a “pep talk” with students after spring break, explaining to them what you will be studying, giving them an opportunity to have some input about how work is approached, about what you expect and – particularly – that it will be exciting time. (Some teachers develop a special theme for the end of the year, contests or competitions between classes.)

Atmospherics. Change the look of the classroom (it might be a good time to experiment a bit with flexible seating) or get outside. Plan a field trip, (ideally related it to subject matter) or have a guest speaker. Consider a community service project.

Give them a say. Lehrmann lets his students help develop the manner in which material will be handled, but notes that their involvement should be directed with teacher control and with learning still the priority. Others suggest that students work on group projects and report results.

Project centered. Ferlazzo says students may be more engaged this time of year with real-word or hands-on projects. “The end of the school year is a great time to take the leap and try out more technology integration in your classroom,” he says “Engage students with learning experiences that are a good fit with digital tools and techniques.” Cooperative assignments might be effective too, he says.

Looking back. Re-learning key topics can be important, whether or not it is in preparation for tests. Some experts say students will obviously be more engaged – and perhaps better retain the information if it presented the second time in a fun or interesting way. Teachers may also want to survey students about what they have learned or their approach so they can improve their efforts.

Pass it on. You know these students well after the time you have spent with them, and too often information from teachers about students gets lost at the end of the year. While grade reports and conferences sometimes give teachers an opportunity to build a record about a student, spring is a good time to record more detailed information about a student’s strengths and weaknesses for new teachers and parents.

Written by Jim Paterson

Jim Paterson has been a newspaper and magazine editor and an award-winning writer for The Washington Post, USA Today Weekend, the Christian Science Monitor, Parents magazine, and a number of national and regional publications. During a break from writing he worked as a school counselor for seven years and quickly became head of a counseling department and "Counselor of the Year" in Montgomery County, Md. He now writes about education primarily. More about Jim at