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  • Writer's pictureScott Cameron

7 Methods to Finish the Year Strong

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

If you have been teaching remote or hybrid you know that students don’t turn in as much work as they usually do. You’re not alone – there was a national trend of students failing at higher rates back in the fall. Even my neighbor, who teaches middle school English language arts in a different district, said even though he kept assigning less and less work, about half of his students were failing.

We have students picking up jobs to help their family make ends meet, students sharing a bedroom and working there because they have no other free space in their home, students whose parents are out working or work from home, students struggling with mental health issues that perhaps no one knows exist, students with spotty internet connections, students dealing with family conflicts that interrupt their learning, students insecure about seeing their image on a screen all day, students struggling to navigate a bunch of new websites, and … the list goes on. Let’s not forget they don’t get to walk around a room to write on the board, create a poster, work at learning stations, complete a lab, or move seating arrangements. Breakout rooms will never replace all the ways we physically organize group work. A classroom makes learning fun and exciting. Even when I’m exhausted, I walk into my classroom and feel a wave of energy crash over me and I completely forget how tired I am.

We have to remember that there’s only so much we can do to help students, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to adjust to the challenges of this year. It’s almost over, so we’ll soon have to look at a bunch of final grades and determine what’s fair given the difficult circumstances of this year.

Here’s what we can do to help students finish strong:

1. Assign less work and give more time to complete it.

This year, mostly because we have less time in class, I’m assigning a lot less work. This makes it easier for a student to catch up and makes it easier for them to keep track of due dates. Students would rather spend a lot of time on a few assignments instead of a small amount of time on a bunch of assignments.

2. Set only a few hard deadlines.

I’m usually not flexible with due dates because I want students to find ways to manage their time in class. But this year, they can spend more time on an assignment if they need it because they are not in class. In the end, getting the work is more important than the deadline. They may have a large project due or a test in another class, and just need some extra time to complete quality work.

3. Group small assignments together.

I normally collect a few handouts and enter grades separately. Students submit handouts with their essay because they contain the evidence that students use to write. Now I give one grade for all the work. It eliminates the long list of grades online and for a student that falls behind, it makes it look possible to catch up. I also avoid zeroes this way, which can make it feel mathematically impossible to pass.

4. Shorten assignments.

Because I normally give students about an hour in class to write an essay, I want to encourage them to spend the same amount of time on their own at home, so I usually ask for one single-spaced page. This is not all about making everything easier – it’s about getting students to prioritize their strongest arguments and tighten up their writing.

5. Create breaks between units.

In between units, we’ve been working on fun projects that allow students to catch up on reading or complete other coursework. These can be activities that allow students to create meaning out of the literature they study, or students can conduct interviews, create a podcast, present on something interesting, or write short stories or personal narratives.

6. Give options.

I’ve been trying as hard as I can to make it impossible to not want to complete assignments. When students have choices, they pick the option that works best for them. This is especially true when it comes to technology. When I allow students to use whatever technology they are comfortable with, I always get assignments completed in a variety of online formats.

7. Ask students to give themselves a grade.

At the end of every quarter, I allow students to reflect on their progress and set goals. I also ask them to give themselves the grade they think they deserve. Most students will give an honest answer and it helps me look at the big picture. Even though a grade usually reflects a student’s ability and work ethic, a grade does sometimes feel like a random number created by an arbitrary mathematical formula. In their reflection, a student will usually reveal why they struggled and devise a game plan for success.

I plan on ending the year with a few creative projects that will help me get to know my students. I’m hoping to make the end of the year as memorable as possible because they already missed out on so much.

Scott Cameron

English language arts teacher

Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers


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