Those jingle bells are ringing, the holiday lights are twinkling, and if you are a teacher then those students’ minds are wandering! Especially at the secondary level, often times before a break in classes, (winter break, spring break, summer) we see a definitive lapse in student attendance and participation in classes. It is almost as though they’ve headed to the airport days (or even weeks) before their flight is set to depart. In elementary, they like to bring their holiday excitement to class; whereas in secondary they would prefer to celebrate anywhere but! Seasonal excitement is a real speed bump in education, and how you approach it can make your final few days or weeks prior to a break more production, and even dare I say it, educational!
Don’t give in to the desire of students to slack-off or go crazy leading up to the break! Movies (though when relevant can be useful), worksheets and other simple distractions may save your sanity but they aren’t going to help your students learn or you to teach. Instead, find ways to spice up your classes that fit into student desires to do something “celebratory” in those days or weeks leading up to the holiday. Planning ahead in this respect is always a good idea. For example, we typically utilize December as the month we introduce programming our Sphero robotics with our junior computer science students. Some science classes may “save” more involved labs for later in the year or close to these breaks. English classes may find ways to encourage group work or class discussions versus seat work, channeling excited chatter into something educationally productive.
All that being said, there are times and places for celebration, typically the last few days before a break (depending on what kind of break it is) and certainly don’t completely shut down the opportunity to build community within your classes. No matter the age, students love to celebrate and encouraging it (and even the planning of it) can help to hone those excited feelings into something more productive. Obviously, making sure all students are involved in one way or another is important. Another way to focus student excitement is to work together with your classes towards a common goal, be it to complete a project on time or perhaps even contribute philanthropically to a local cause. Although most charities are thought of to be in greatest need during the winter holidays, in fact they are always in need. Make it an incentive for something perhaps, like a movie on the last day or treat.
While the break itself will be needed by all, those days leading up to it can be exhausting–so embrace the excitement, channel the energy and plan accordingly!