Practical Strategies to for Teachers to Boost Student Motivation and Engagement in the Final Stretch of the School Year
As the end of the school year approaches, many students may start to feel disengaged and unmotivated, especially in history class. This can be a challenging time for teachers, but there are several strategies you can use to keep your students engaged and motivated.
Tip 1: Increase Student Choice
One effective way to engage disengaged students is to give them more ownership over their learning. Consider using one-pagers or choice boards to give students more options on how they demonstrate their understanding of a particular concept. When students feel like they have a say in their learning, they are more likely to be invested in the process.
Maybe you get a little crazy and ditch the worksheets and instead, introduce a concept, generate students questions, record them on the board, and then have them choose some to investigate and answer. This could lead to a great discussion and really empowers them.
Another tip to increase student choice in the classroom is simply to allow students where to sit. Maybe you made seating charts all year, but now is a time for students to show they can choose their own seat, partners, and still be productive.
Student choice could be as simple as saying, "We have two things to do today, X and Y. X will be more challenging, and Y should be more fun. Which do you want to do first?" Its a small act, but can be motivating for students!
Tip 2: One Awesome, Student-Led Project
Empower students to create projects that are both challenging and interesting. Within your topic or unit, allow them to choose the topic and type of project they want to create. This could get students excited to come to class wondering, “do we get to work on our project today!?” A great way to boost motivation in May and June!
Students might need some flexible deadlines along the way to keep them accountable and on tract to finish. But allowing students to choose different types of projects (podcasts, video projects, essays, storyboards, etc) means they will be on different tracts. Thats okay!
With a student led project, you should have more time to be meeting one-on-one with students or with student groups to give them feedback in real-time and help them make adjustments or guide them to be be successful.
Tip 3: Pull the Richness Out of the Content
Look for the most interesting and empowering content within the standards you teach. Look for stories that students will enjoy, share art or music from the time periods (so much can be learned from both and many students love it!). Focus on topics that are empowering and inspiring. In my final unit on the Holocaust, I make sure to focus on “Those that Resisted” because it is empowering, especially the “White Rose” because they were students fighting back and what student doesn’t get excited about that?
Maybe showing a bit more video clips so students get pulled into the content would be helpful. With so much free and assessable content, a quick 5 minute video could interest students more and make the reading they have to do more understandable and even exciting.
Tip 4: The Times Call For Flexibility!
For many students, this is a crazy time of year. They may be dealing with finals, waiting to hear from colleges, or just have high-stakes tests that are making them more anxious and stressed than normal. Keep pushing them to do their best and hold a high standard but also make sure to show empathy for students' stresses and pressures during this busy time of year. Being understanding and flexible will help them feel supported and motivated.
At this time of year its important we don't give into to student apathy, but still understand and relate to students struggles.
Tip 5: Real-World Writing Tasks
If there was ever a better time to move beyond the five-paragraph essay, it's at the end of the school year! Incorporate authentic writing tasks that students find interesting, such as writing a travel blog about the historical place and culture they are studying, or writing movie scripts for a scene in a dramatic historical event. I have templates for travel blogs, brochures, and historical post cards here.
Or maybe after studying the death of a famous person they write up a medical report. How about a business proposal for a famous invention or innovation?
You can also never go wrong with poetry, raps, or song lyrics. A poetry cafe could be a great touch at this time of year! Or they can write up a policy memo advocating for a piece of legislation they learned about or better yet they develop their own policy to solve an issue you're studying. Thats skill-building, real world application, and awesome history all wrapped into one!
To ensure the tasks are still content-rich and to provide students with some guardrails, provide a term-bank of 10-20 vocabulary words and make them use a percentage of them.
Fourth Quarter Goes Quick: Enjoy it!
By incorporating these strategies, you can boost student engagement and motivation, and reach disengaged students in history class. Remember to be creative, flexible, and student-centered as you implement these ideas. Soon, you'll have a class full of motivated and engaged students, even in the final stretch of the school year.
Engaging students in history class can be a challenge all year long, but with these tips, I hope you find some way to keep them interested and motivated up through the last day of class!
Have some fun with them. Make memories and take some photos. Soon you'll be missing those little rascals. Yes, even the ones that are giving you headaches right now.