At this time of year, teaching becomes more difficult because students tend to be less engaged than they were just a few months, or even weeks, ago.
Fatigue (on both sides) can be a major cause, as can the improving weather, which means that classrooms become increasingly less comfortable. And there are a number of other possible factors that cause students to disengage with their learning.
Some of these factors are out of the control of teachers. However, a lot of them aren’t. No teacher enters the classroom thinking about the best ways to disengage their students (I hope!) but inevitably, we can disengage pupils without meaning to.
Here are some things we can do to save the last few weeks of summer learning.
With exams over (or nearly over) and tiredness spreading across the school, it can be easy to lift your foot off the pedal and/or become more irritable than usual. That can often mean you are less positive in how you drive students on than you could be. Analyse closely what you are saying to students, particularly when dealing with behaviour or trying to motivate them. One of the most effective ways to maintain a positive atmosphere is being positive in your speech.
Too much pressure and negativity leads to disengagement which, in turn, will lead to distraction. By maintaining a positivity to negativity ratio of 5:1, you can ensure the summer lethargy is not compounded by your driving everyone down further.
It’s an age-old question that we’ve all come across: “What’s the point in this, Sir?”
You get asked that much more when motivation is lagging in the summer months, so it’s worth making an extra effort to contextualise students’ learning.
There are two main ways of doing this: linking learning to the real world or linking learning to the exams that the students are going to be sitting.
Both have the same outcome – you remind the students why their learning is so valuable. Making connections between learning and outcomes is one of the most powerful tools we have as teachers. By explicitly showing the reason for learning, we play our most valuable chip and most learners respond more positively when they see the point.
Be clear with instructions
So much disengagement comes from poor instruction, so if you and your students are not as on the ball as you could be, trouble will brew. Reiterate your expectations, hone your explanations and be more explicit than you might be normally.
For example, setting (and keeping to) timings can help with engagement. And chunking lessons into different parts may help keep attention focused on you.
Adapt your speaking for learners
Language is a real barrier when it comes to learning. I don’t mean different languages, I mean academic language. Numerous times, I have observed lessons where the teacher is phenomenally intelligent but the students haven’t learnt a thing because of the inaccessibility of the language used.
In these summer months, the students will be less inclined to work hard in trying to follow your explanation than they may have been previously, so simplifying your language a little more, or allowing time for additional explanation, can be really useful.
Respond to work
There is nothing less motivating than feeling unappreciated. Having consistent, regular and effective feedback makes students feel valued and can be an excellent way to help them progress and to keep them engaged in their learning. So, don’t start letting in-class feedback and marking slip.
In addition to assisting students to overcome misconceptions, encouraging learners to respond to the feedback makes the process a two-way activity. It also shows that you’re still engaged, so they should be, too.
Keep on testing
Yes, the school has been awash with assessments. But that does not mean that testing should end with the last GCSE or Sats exam.
In my experience, as long as the students get something of value from an assessment, it’s worthwhile. Keep in mind that varying the style of test can mean that pupils are more willing to engage with them.
Breaking units down and building up to exam-style questions means that you can reassure students about how to tackle intimidating questions so they can complete them with more confidence.
Adam Riches is lead teacher in English at the Paradigm Trust chain of schools