I’ve been teaching senior English classes for seventeen years, in the form of British literature. My students are usually wonderful for the first semester. They know they have to pass my class in order to graduate, so most are focused and diligent. Somehow, however, over Christmas break, these young people go through some strange metamorphosis. By March, I often wonder if these are the same students I began the school year with. What happened? Senioritis!
By the time most students reach their last couple of months of public school, they’re tired of sitting in a classroom. They’ve been in school for almost thirteen years – fourteen if they attended pre-K. That’s practically their whole lives. They can almost taste graduation. Heck, they can practically already smell the grass on the field they’ll soon walk! Keeping them focused these last few weeks is almost an art form. So, what to do? How do we keep their interest?
I really try to make my classes interesting and unique all year, but especially my second semester classes. For example, we have class outside one day a week, weather permitting. I try to do this on days when we’re reading poetry. It works even better with nature poems. What better place to reflect than in the great outdoors? Someone will read a poem aloud, then we’ll analyze and discuss it. The students are outside, where they want to be, yet they’re still learning.
Also, I always save a few videos for this time of year. I’ve purchased several movies based on our literary selections. If you just play the video and think all of the students will watch it, you’re wrong. Some will sleep, some will daydream, and some will talk to their friends. You have to give them a reason to pay attention. Try giving them questions to answer while they watch, or assign a writing topic prior to viewing. That will encourage them to really look for ideas for their papers.
We do several creative projects this time of year, too. When we study Macbeth, for example, groups of students each teach an act to the rest of the class. I’ve been amazed at some of these presentations, like “Macbeth Does the Jerry Springer Show” and “Macbeth Does Survivor.” I try to incorporate several projects of this type near the end of the year.
Another strategy I use is a scavenger hunt. I make a long list of information they have to find. Questions might be about the college they’re planning to attend, a career that interests them, or authors we studied throughout the year. I usually include a few pertinent tips to help them prepare for adulthood, like questions about voting, buying a car, rent/lease agreements, and buying a home. We go to the media center or the computer lab for a day or two. I usually offer a prize for the first correct paper turned in. My seniors really love this activity.
Also, I try to incorporate a few games into my lesson plans. It’s fairly simple to turn Jeopardy or Pictionary into a lesson. There are even software programs and websites that offer instructions on the use of classroom games. These activities are fun, and they’re great for reviewing. I usually use games like these on the day before an exam. Students are actually preparing for the test by playing.
To keep seniors focused and interested in learning can prove to be quite a challenge. I just try to be flexible and to use strategies that encourage student participation in ways that teens will enjoy. This might require a little more preparation on the teacher’s part,but trust me, it will certainly be worth the effort.