Marypat from Just Add Students here.
Like Caitlin, I taught in a private school, so statewide tests weren't an issue; however, I think squirrely middle school students are universal! And the last quarter of the school year is always a challenge.
Here are three ways to smooth out your last quarter of school and actually have fun!
1. Tap into the passion. You know how each class has something they are passionate about? One year, my students loved to play "Cherry Pie" (8th graders! no kidding!). Another year, I had students who wanted to have an art activity attached to every writing assignment. Then, there was the year my students loved to put together news shows (we all knew these middle schoolers were an interesting group!).
By this time in the school year, you know your class (sometimes too well!), and you know what projects they've enjoyed. Create a meaningful small group project that will showcase what they love.
Drama day was a huge hit with my students. One year students were tasked with creating a dramatic performance of "The Jabberwocky." We had everything from a musical rendition to a puppet show!
Don't forget to give them the opportunity to share their project with the rest of the school and parents.
2. It's all fun and games... A quick game can get students out of their chairs for a few minutes and recharged for whatever task is at hand. Even my eighth graders loved a goofy games like "Four Corners" or charades (have charade cards that you've created of characters from books and stories you've read this year).
One year I implemented Fun & Games Friday during the last quarter. Students who had completed their work could participate in the game on Friday. This built in a reward for those who weren't motivated by grades (and by April, that was just about everyone!).
You can choose a different game each week (Bingo, Scattergories, Scrabble), or hold a tournament. I chose the game since I wanted it to be somewhat educational!
A favorite was an annual Scrabble tournament the last few days of school. This became an 8th grade tradition -- even former students would come back to help at the end of the year!
To get students ready for the tournament, we played quick games on Fridays; this way students could learn the rules and strategies before the tournament. Students played with a partner and only two teams were at each board. That way the game moved quickly. Using a timer, an official dictionary, and the real rules are also critical!
No matter what game you choose, a successful game day means you'll need to be organized and have enough of the same game for everyone to play. Bored kids can ruin the experience!
The key to playing games is to stop while the students are still having fun! You want this to be a reward they look forward to.
3. Sample size. I always loved to try something new the last quarter of the school year. It was a great way to test something out to see if I wanted to add it the next year. If I'd heard or read about something and wondered if it would work in my classroom, I tried it in the last part of the school year.
Introduce your students to something fun and creative like Storybird or have them create podcasts of themselves reading books for younger students. Just make sure you don't try out too many new things at a time since that can confuse your students.
By stirring up what is happening in your classroom at the end of the year, you'll keep your students guessing and interested...and it will be fun for you as well!