There aren’t many sensory reminders that rush you back to your childhood days quite like the smell of fresh cut grass. I was at my son’s baseball game the other day, and as I sat there, hotdog in hand, listening to the sound of a ball hitting a bat, and smelling the fresh cut grass – I could have been 12 again. I remember the absolute thrill of counting down those last weeks of school and how days seemed to alternate between flying by and moving at a slow crawl. I remember sitting at my school desk and daydreaming about all of the fun of summer. There would be swimming and cookouts and baseball and friends and staying up late and sleeping in. There were many days my body was sitting at that desk but my heart, mind, and spirit were running through some field chasing my dog. Now, 33 years later I still catch myself sitting at my desk thinking about running through those fields and chasing my dog and playing ball again. Summer is almost here and, despite what the song says, it is the happiest season of all!
So, with summer quickly approaching let’s talk about a couple of things you can do to help your students transition into the summer mindset without them completely disengaging from your class.
Some of you might be scratching your head right now and asking yourself what good could come from helping your students transition into a summer mindset... when it seems they already took a hard left turn and checked out for the summer a week or so ago. The reason it is important for you as an educator to help your students transition into a summer mindset is because you need to control how that transition affects your classroom. Many teachers make the mistake of letting spring fever and summer anxiety control their students’ attention span, attitude, and effort. On the other hand, some teachers really struggle with trying to over-control spring fever and summer anxiety, and they end up with students rebelling against it. Here are some simple classroom hints for helping your kids get ready for the summer while still making sure they are contributors to your classroom.
Summer is so fun because it is a time that is very real for kids.
Learning and academics occur in the mind of the students, and much of it is conceptual and purely intellectual. Summer is real. It is hot and it is meant for running and playing and working. Summer brings about an urge to get your hands dirty and sweat and live as real in the physical world as possible. This is why some kids have such a hard time maintaining their focus in the classroom as summer approaches, because they are ready for tangible, tangential, and real things. They are ready for something that lays in their hands not just their minds. Use this knowledge to your advantage. Now is the time to make lessons as tactile and interactive as possible. Kids are already subconsciously transitioning into a mindset so use it with lessons that have the kids up and moving. Teach a lesson outside. Have them act out a lesson rather than lecturing them. Make the lessons based on real time and real life examples. In other words, move your lessons from being concentrated solely on their minds and also engage their bodies. Kids are ready for the physicality of summer. Use that as a learning tool in your class!
Challenge yourself to think back across the school year for lessons that were difficult and lessons that were a great success.
We tend to remember the highs and the lows. Challenge yourself to re-engage those lessons and to do so using with as much hands-on application as possible. In fact, this would be a great time to engage in a teaching philosophy called “Contract Teaching”. We can learn by listening. We will learn even more by doing. However, we learn the most when we are responsible for teaching. Think back on some of the difficult lessons and contract with your students to teach them. Have groups of your students responsible for different lessons and put them in charge of the classroom presentation, homework assignments, grading strategies, and overall pedagogy. The reason to do this is much like the reasons for #1 above. It makes the lesson hands on and challenging. It moves the lesson from digestive or passive knowledge procurement to application and interactive. It also provides a new challenge to your students and lets them know you are still engaged, and you are still motivated to motivate them. Try Contract Teaching and you might be surprised how much your students will engage when they are in charge.
Some teachers do themselves and their students an injustice by trying to ignore the fact that summer is almost here. There is a mindset that business as usual is the proper marching order. The problem with that is that everything around the student, and you, is changing. The flowers are back and the grass is green and the days are longer and life has a feeling of renewed energy. Don’t ignore that newfound zest for life. Embrace it! Make the transition time to summer one that you are engaging in and a time that you are excited about. Talk about it with your students. Sacrifice a little instruction time for some interactive time. Listen to what your students want to do over the summer and share with them your plans. Use this time to stoke their excitement, and then use your skills as an educator to have them invest that excitement into a lesson that is both intellectually and tactically stimulating.
Spring is here and summer is just around the corner.
Embrace the season and engage in the energy it brings.
Make it a special time for your students and yourself.
It is the most wonderful time of the year!