Every fall my students seem a little sluggish from the summer. Over the course of a few weeks in September, I see their brains turn on, and slowly kick into gear. My students finally feel like they’re off the ramp, accelerating toward the highway. But it has me thinking about motivation, and how I can inspire my students to brush off the dust of the, we’ll call it: the year of the screen.
1. Limit screen time.
Our students have had enough of screens for now. They can of course use some of the tech skills they acquired to create fun online work, but I think they need social interaction and good in person conversation. I’ve been mostly using our LMS as a way to set reminders about completing the reading and a place for work students missed from quarantining or staying home with a cold. Our LMS allows us to copy over work from last year, including asynchronous audio and screen recordings.
2. Run fun competitions with little prizes.
It’s the end of my poetry unit right now, so I’ll ask my students to write a poem. I will make the poems anonymous and then ask students to read and vote on their favorite poem using a Google form. The award might be something small like a pencil or book light from the dollar store. A few years ago in my creative writing class, I held a similar competition and I wrapped up the light and printed out a certificate for the winner. They were super excited to be poetry champion.
3. Organize a book club.
This year, I’ll take 15-20 minutes of time in class each week to run book clubs, where students pick a book to read from a list. My list consists of six texts that have a wide range of diverse voices, from Sophocles to Shamsie. These could be texts you read and want to pilot next year, or texts that connect to the literature you study in class. The point is to instill a love of reading. I only offer books that I have read and truly love, so I can have conversations about the books and answer their questions.
4. Assign creative writing.
There’s nothing like asking students to put aside the academic tone. Creative writing allows our students to use their imagination, write from the heart, and be themselves. I like to tell them, you can write about anything. They always have so many questions about what they are supposed to write about. I just asked them to write a poem, and one of my students asked, does it have to rhyme? I said, I don’t care! It’s your poem. Say what you want! They become so obsessed with thesis statements, arguments, and interpreting evidence, that they forget what it means to think for themselves. It’s obviously important to teach logic, cohesion, and structure, but think about how much more fun it is to brainstorm for a story instead of an essay. I especially love asking students to write magical realism, because it forces them to think on the figurative level.
5. More and more group work.
I tried to focus on group work last year since my students had such a limited amount of time to interact. Even if it was virtual, they could laugh and make jokes about life. I feel like they still need the opportunity to get to know each other and have real, lengthy conversations, the foundation of wisdom and an educated mind. We have to get more creative about expectations, time management, and how they report their findings to the class, but I think it’s really important to sit back and let them explore literature in conversations that we can join in on by floating around the class or even sitting down and joining the conversation.
Even with a mask on, I am happy to be back in class. There’s nothing like the wave of energy that flows over you when a bunch of students walk in the door.
English language arts teacher
Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers