It’s cold and raining outside and my bed is a warm utopia of sheets and blankets. My loving wife breathes softly next to me. And then it happens. My radio blares to life and my Gevalia coffee maker starts brewing, signifying the start of the week. I plug my disturbed ears with blankets. Another Monday. Another school session.
For most, it is the third marking quarter in the wonderful world of education. Students start to produce a fish-eyed stare and teachers struggle to find the right lesson plan to maintain the ever-elusive interest levels that students first produced in the beginning of the year. Getting out of bed is a struggle, warming up the car in the driveway is a chore, and even the long trudge from parking lot to school, supplies in hand, seems to be an arduous task. The light at the end of the tunnel, AKA summer break, seems to be 200 years into the future as upcoming state and federally mandated tests lurk ominously close.
But seriously, what can be done to defend against the third marking quarter slump? Teachers know this is not the time to lie down and throw in a movie for students to vacantly stare at (or through). Time is always the critical factor for any educator and only now should educator and student alike redouble their efforts. So what is a concerned teacher to do?
1.) Talk it out
Depending on age level, sometimes it is best to discuss the third marking quarter and the slump it involves with your students. Level with them, particularly if they are middle or high school level. Explain that you, too, feel the laziness bug trying to seep into your open pores and arrest your brain of any thinking activity. Discussing that low-down feeling on their level will show that you are human and humane, on their side, and are willing to plod forward with them to conquer any slump.
2.) Be creative with your lesson plan ideas.
“OK, class, turn to page 305 and complete exercise 23. Write out the answers to your questions in complete sentences. Punctuate properly. And blah, blah, blah…” Let’s face the facts, educators. Nothing in the third quarter says, “I want to torture you” more than assignments out of the basal reader. While they remain practical and important, now is the time to mix it up and breathe life into drab lessons. Read an intriguing story and create a debate based on the characters in it! Act out a scene! Have students create their own conclusions in small group settings! Take vocabulary words and instruct students to draw them instead of just defining them! And for once, ignore the comprehension questions at the end of the chapter or story. Would you like a passive learner who is slipping into a coma or an active learner who, although embattled from loads of schoolwork, is still in the game?
3.) Praise is good, even for the little things
You know that one student that you cannot reach because he is thinking about his Nintendo Wii, the WWE, or his life-altering break-up with the semi-popular girl that he has been going out with for three whole weeks? Well, during the third marking quarter, those other thoughts have pushed out reading, writing, and arithmetic. In fact, he has sent these, and other school subjects to Out-of-school suspension a month or so ago. And this is also the student who’s parent you have attempted to reach about this approximately 843 times. Well, even a little bit of praise can go a long way with this one! Catch him doing something, ANYTHING that is good! Compliment him (or her, of course…no need to be sexually biased here), but make it genuine. A middle or high school student will be able to call your bluff if it is fake! The more praise, the more he will slowly come out of his haze, and who knows? Maybe he will show that spark he first had in the beginning of the year!
OK, I know what you are thinking. Yuppers, this educator is telling me it is as easy as 1-2-3. Nothing can be further from the truth. Because during the time you are trying to re-engage your lost students, you need to re-engage yourself as well. Remember those warm sheets on a Monday morning? The difficult march to your classroom from the parking lot? Those politically-mandated state and federal assessments? The student slump is only half the battle to win. Now what can we do about the great purveyors of knowledge who are feeling whipped by the third marking quarter? How do we tackle those inner demons and put them to rest (until, at very least, spring break)? Fear not educators! I will do what I can to help you as well. But trust me, it will not be Candyland. More like Chutes ‘N Ladders. We will play the game as we always have. With grit, integrity, and our hearts on our sleeves.
Tune in next time, dear educator…