The end of the school year is upon us! For those of you with a week or two left to go, you’ll be in our thoughts and prayers. At this point you feel a little like you are herding cats, talking to a brick wall, or playing whack-a-mole. Kids at the end of the year are the hardest bunch to get to pay attention. But there are still ways to grab their attention to finish the school year strong.
Incorporate these strategies this year (and next) and squeeze in as much learning as possible those last few moments of school.
Just Add Music: Music is a powerful memory tool. You can incorporate music into your classroom no matter your grade level or subject matter. Calming music at the beginning of the day sets the tone and helps excited children settle and focus. If music is playing during work time, choose soft, classical music with no words. Also, use pop music to teach with. Singing times tables, for example, is easier to attend to and much easier to remember than rote memorization.
Break It Down: Kids not following all of your directions? Try breaking them up into smaller chunks. This is especially helpful for kids with ADHD. Try posting directions with picture prompts so students can refer to them later. Give a direction, wait. Give another direction, wait. For some kids, all they can handle is one, maybe two steps at a time.
Get Students Moving: Kids need to move to sit still and focus. Recess should be a vital part of school.
Many studies have shown that kids with regular recess concentrate better than those that don’t. Even giving students the chance to move more in the classroom can help increase focus.1
Many schools are reducing or even eliminating recesses, but this is counterproductive. Minutes gained in class will result in lost time with students not paying attention. Of course, you may not have a choice on recess times. Your school or district may mandate a specific time for recess, and you have to follow the guidelines. You can still give your students plenty of opportunities for movement in the classroom. Quick ‘brain breaks’ such as a song with movement or some quick exercises can help reset students, so they are better able to focus.
Deadlines: Have you ever experienced the phenomena that when you are busy you tend to get more done and when you aren’t as busy you tend to not accomplish much? Kids are the same way. When they have a deadline or need to achieve something in a certain amount of time they are much more likely to stay focused.
Beat the Clock: Timers are an essential tool in the classroom. For kids with ADHD, being told they must sit and work for an undetermined amount of time feels like torture. Set a timer, so they have to work for a specific timeframe and get a short break before getting back to work. Visual timers that show more than just a number countdown are especially helpful.
Tailor to Student Interests: Sometimes kids don’t seem to remember a simple lesson but know all the ins and outs of Minecraft. You know they are capable, but why aren’t they attending to the important stuff? Interest level has a lot to do with how well kids pay attention. Incorporate student interests when possible to increase student engagement.
Choices: Obviously students cannot choose every aspect of their learning. We are tied to core requirements, and there are just some things that kids need to know and that we have to teach. Still, structured choices can increase a student’s motivation. For example, your student may not get to pick their spelling words, but they can choose from a couple of different activities to practice those spelling words.
Structure: As the end of the year approaches, it’s easy to let the structure and rules of the classroom slowly lax up. Try, as best you can, among all the assemblies and end of year activities, to keep your classroom structure in place. Follow the same routines you have every day since the beginning of school. Many times, students will view your expectations the same way as they do the routines. If the ‘business’ of school is the same, they assume that your expectations of them are too. The same goes for consequences. The consequences should be the same as they have been all year.
You’re in the home stretch! Hang in there. The end of the year will be here before you know it and you can kick back, relax, and get ready for next year!
By: Amy Curletto
Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.