Ah, springtime in the life of a teacher! For those who have never been there, it might be tempting to imagine us gracefully coasting along until the last day of school. We, of course, know what the spring is actually like. We are just starting our final, crucial modules, units, and marking periods. We are racing the clock to complete curriculum pieces that will ensure that our students are prepared for what’s to come next year. And, whether we like it or not, many of us are called upon to help our students prepare for the high-stress days of state-mandated testing.
I asserted in “There’s Never Been a Better Time to Try a New Strategy, Part 1” that in spite of all of this important spring business, you couldn’t actually pick a better time to try a new instructional strategy. If I didn’t sell you on it last time, then I feel confident that we’ll get there today.
Below, you’ll find four more suggestions for how to use student-centered strategies to be even more effective at this busy time of year.
1. Skills Review Use a daily activity that pulls in skills taught earlier in the year.
An example of this in math is Number of the Day, and Question of the Day. The same goes for vocabulary-building in every subject; teachers can use a word of the day (or word of the week) activity to get students to practice not just the meaning of the words, but the skills to "attack" unknown words. Reading Rockets and TeachThought are two of the best free sites to support all teachers in developing word attack skills.
2. Gamify! Creating a game station can be low-tech, blended, or both.
Free Jeopardy Labs and JeopardyApp allow you to create or use existing Jeopardy templates. Jeopardy is also a great whole-class review activity that lowers the stakes for learners, particularly in the days just prior to a high-stakes assessment. Regular playing cards and some printables can become math learning and practice tools. You can use Quizlet to make or use existing cards, but you can also have a learning activity station where students make cards. Follow Me is the British name for the game we know as I Have, Who Has? and I like their free resource for creating this loop game. There is also I Have Who Has Creator and MathWire—both have generators and provide some free ready-made sets. You can also take gamification up a notch with Breakout Box (not entirely free) or Escape Games (not free).
3. Task-Based Learning Collaborative problem solving tasks are rich, cross-curricular opportunities to engage students in learning.
If you are going to use tasks, make sure to first guide students in how to work collaboratively and to critique and support each other in the work. Some free online resources where you can find tasks:
- Illustrative Practice Standards
- Repurpose the performance tasks found at Inside Mathematics; let students use the rubrics to score each other's work.
- Achieve the Core
- Inquiry in Action
- Exploratorium's Explore, Play, Discover: Websites, Activities, and More
- Science Buddies
- pHET Simulations
- Legends of Learning
English Language Arts
Having students build a website or write a blog post is another student-centered activity that can be used for review, to teach one another, or to demonstrate understanding. In order for them to be successful, students need to know what their work expectations are. Establish the website or blog expectations with students using an exemplar. Make sure to unwrap it to extract the criteria for proficient work. It also helps to provide a daily work reporting/next steps system (Google Forms works great for this but it can be done on a piece of paper) and to discuss an appropriate timeline for completion. This eCourses & PD article on student blogging provides some great tips, and additional links to more resources. Some great free educational sites for website/blogging:
- Adobe Spark for Education (make sure you get the education version)
- Weebly for Education (make sure you get the education version)
4. Videos! Student-made! Have students create videos that explain, review, or demonstrate learning.
Just as with creating a website, use the exemplar/criteria process to establish clear expectations (here's a sample of mine). Give students a sign-up sheet with topics that were covered during the school year. Allow students to work collaboratively. This great article from ISTE provides teaching tips to get students started, as well as an exemplar. There are many free choices for video creation. Adobe Spark for Education (above) provides an in app recording program. Screencastify is a free add on to the Chrome browser. Finally, there are those programs that offer animation, such as PowToon and Animoto.
Here, I rest my case. I hope you found some inspiration in Part 1, Part 2, or both. Remember, it’s important to choose one suggestion as a starting point and to see it through. You’ve worked hard to set your students up for success throughout the year, and—thanks to your efforts—they’re eager and prepared for something new! These suggestions are full of strategies that are designed to increase personalization from student-to-student. This way, you can feel even more confident that your students are ready for all of the important things ahead of them this spring and beyond.