All teachers face an educational opportunity at the end of the school year that is often perceived as a dilemma. We spend our school year diligently pacing our instruction to complete all of the required standards before mandatory state tests in the spring. What happens, though, when the laser focus on state testing disappears? What do you teach and how do you keep your students engaged when all of the tested standards have been taught and there are still 28 days before summer vacation?
Students must understand that the 7 hours of school each day following state tests are meaningful and valuable. Tell them and then engage them through thoughtful and carefully planned activities! There are so many untapped learning opportunities at the end of the school year plus the freedom to experiment with new teaching methods or topics. I used to love this time of the school year. My students knew that as long as we were in school, we were going to engage in educational opportunities. A bonus was that our day remained structured and predictable for the students.
- Explore a topic in more detail. There were always times during the year when I had to transition to new topics even when my students were still soaking in new information. The post-test school days allow teachers to revisit a topic or combine topics for deeper learning. This could be done through activities focused on a particular subject such as interest-based book clubs or through cross-curricular activities such as student-led performances.
- Extend a standard. At the end of the school year, I always taught elements of the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods. The uses of medieval herbs was not an integral part of the curriculum but I always found that the students enjoyed learning about the culinary, medicinal and household uses of herbs, and connecting those uses to modern times. Thanks to help from our PTA, we even planted a Medieval herb garden a few years and then harvested herbs for our discussions.
- Enrich a subject. Let’s face it, as a teacher, we need to prioritize our teaching. Some topics are perceived as more “valuable” so there is greater emphasis on delivery of instruction. However, there are many foundational skills that are important to a well-rounded education that may not be tested or even required within your standards. Do your students know how to read and write cursive? Learning to write in cursive improves brain development in several areas including working memory. Do your students know the concept of a budget? Consider enriching the study of math through an economics simulation where students create a budget and manage a sum of money. Geography, once a “core” subject and required for all citizens, is another topic that is often short-changed during the academic year. The post-testing school days are an ideal time to focus on important foundational skills. (If you are interested in U.S. geography, LearningPlunge has a 10-day game-based unit using GeoPlunge that teaches geography for 45-60 minutes per day that will keep students engaged and active. Contact us for a FREE copy of this unit.)
- Explore a new model or curriculum. The end of the year is a time to think ahead. Will there be a new emphasis on a content area or delivery method next year? If you know that your Principal’s focus for the next year is on guided math, project based learning, or a push to integrate social-emotional learning into the school day, then get started now! The post-testing school days provide a laboratory to test new curricula and methods. Planning ahead also saves time in the fall.
- Expand your classroom. Spring is a great time for outdoor learning. Take your students outside to read, go on a nature scavenger hunt, or work on math skills using chalk. You can even learn poetry by jumping rope or geography by creating maps. The outdoor learning classroom provides a different perspective and opportunity for learning in all subject areas.
Those state tests will be done soon and there is time for valuable learning before the start of summer. Don’t miss out on the opportunities to try something new and to keep your students engaged through the end of the school year.
Barb Bailey is the Director of Learning at LearningPlunge, Inc. She has a Master of Education degree and 15 years of teaching experience. Barb is committed to providing high quality educational resources for all children. Reach out to her at Bailey@learningplunge.org.