Thursday, December 10, 2015

Keeping Students Engaged Before the Holidays

Remaining the 'Star' of the Show

Don’t Deny It, the Holidays are Here!
  I remember the first few years I taught elementary school. Holidays were always so hectic. There were parties, room moms bringing sugary snacks, and lots of overly-excited kiddos. It was a fun time, but an exhausting time. After our schools consolidated and I was moved to the middle school, I thought wow, so much is going to change! Holidays will most likely be a bit calmer now that I am with older students. Ha! That was not the case. The more I refused to acknowledge Halloween was on the horizon, the more my students tried to remind me. The more I refused to accept the fact that Thanksgiving was soon to arrive, the more my students reminded me. I suppose you can see the pattern and now know what happened when Christmas rolled around. I finally got it. Message received. My middle school students still looked forward to holidays. Instead of denying it, I embraced it. I created ELA  task cards that touch on Common Core Standards while remaining festive. This  helped me stay on track with my instruction and my students engaged. When we were working on independent work, I played quiet instrumental Christmas music, and I had my Advisory students make Christmas cards for the lovely people at the retirement home in our community. Don’t deny it, don’t refuse it, the holidays are here! If possible, focus a lesson or two on upcoming holidays. Take this time to practice textmapping of non-fiction passages by examining holidays across the world.

                                    Christmas Task Cards

Continue Your Daily Routines
While you may not be able to continue with business as usual, still continue the same expectations. Surprisingly, students crave routine and normalcy. Though you may change your instruction a bit to reflect the upcoming holiday, keep the same routine going. If you conference with your students every Monday, be sure to conference with them on Monday. Any additional changes might cause more ruckus.
Let Your Students Move
When winter (in PA at least) rolls around, lethargy sets in. I, even as the teacher, don’t feel like moving and grooving too much. This is the best time, however, for students to get up on their feet and get moving. This might be a great excuse to try a gallery walk, jigsaw activity, or some other type of cooperative learning. If students are already excited and moving around, might as well make it worthwhile!
Do Not Count Down the Days
  Counting down the days until Christmas break was always one of my favorite things to do in elementary school. We would make paper chains and rip off one piece every day leading up to Christmas vacation. As a middle school teacher, I see how that may actually be counterproductive. While I do have some classes that could count down the days and continue working as hard as ever, I have some classes that will basically interpret this as well, what we are doing now doesn’t really matter because our break is almost here! Counting down to Christmas, ok. Counting down until Christmas break, not ok.
Differentiate Your Instruction
  Students might benefit from learning contracts or some other type of instruction that provides choices. While we should be doing this all year long, the holidays prove to be a crucial time to pique student interest. Or, provide your students with a high interest activity such as this Instagram Activity created by our own Caitlin and Jessica over at EB Academic Camps. We all know our students love them some social media! Add some technology to your instruction. Programs such as Kahoot or Quizlet keep students highly engaged. Both are available on a tablet or on a desktop computer. 
Take a Virtual Field Trip
  This might be a great time to ‘leave’ the classroom. Plan a virtual field trip visiting another country, watching bobsled races, or even ‘visiting’ a local attraction. Take a stroll through the Smithsonian. Visit the White House or explore the night's sky
  Remember that not all of your students are looking forward to Christmas vacation. Some students don’t even have a Christmas tree let alone the news gaming system or cell phone under the tree. Many do not have a home life that causes them to look forward to spending the next 10 days out of school. Some may not even have a sufficient amount of food for the long holiday break. Remain aware and sensitive to your kiddos this time of year. That one student who keeps 'acting up' just might be anxious for the upcoming break. 

  Most likely, you are the one handling lots of the holiday business at home as well as at school. Be sure to take even 5 minutes to breathe. Perhaps making lists help you feel in control of what you need to accomplish or maybe you need a cup of coffee, alone, with no interruptions. Make it happen. You need to take care of you. 

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