Don’t take your foot off the gas.

When driving a car, you know that if you take your foot off the gas you won’t be able to coast uphill. Keep teaching students just like you did the previous nine months of the year. They’re in school to learn; the more we expect from our students, the more we’ll get. If we expect June to be a play month, so will the students.

Outline your academic expectations for the month of June. Set them reasonably high so that there’s the expectation of work.

Once you’ve established a routine of academic work, then you can do a few other things as well—vary the routine occasionally. I’ve found that when I vary the routine once in a while, it doesn’t become an expectation that I’ll do it all the time.

Test drive new ideas for next year.

Sometimes I say something to my students like, “Students, I was wondering if doing Math at 9:00 is a better time than at 10:15.  For the next month, we’re going to test drive that idea.” We all know that this is an experiment for next year, so we give it a try. It takes several weeks to test the schedule to see how it’ll work.

Knowing it’s an experiment for next year, students are engaged in a different way. If the idea doesn’t work, they know it’s temporary. Student feedback and input has been always been essential when I test drive ideas. Sometimes, I test drive ideas with just one group, often the older students. They have the experience to give better feedback.

What are two new ideas (big or small) that you can test drive in June for next year? As you read the question, a few ideas may have come to your mind. Try them.

Go for a walk in the morning.

Once the June achievement tests are done, we often go for half-hour walks in the morning. It’s good exercise. We see (and take pictures) of things around us.  If we do this more than four or five times, however, the novelty wears off. No, we aren’t doing this every day next September. You don’t want some things to become an expectation.

Clean the school.

There have been years when the students were an excellent help at going through the books and materials to make sure everything is put back where it should be. We also often find things that came up missing through the year.

Caution: Students must be engaged, or this becomes a disaster. Know your group—and, if necessary, choose those who can be helpers while the others do some deskwork.

Re-live the highlights of the year.

If you have pictures, scrapbook them. Review novels you’ve read. I try to have on hand all the novels we have read. We then play a quiz game: I read a portion of a novel, and students have to guess which book it was.

Every year we also vote on the favourite novel we’ve read as a class. Subcategories include best part, scariest part, and biggest surprise.

Keep something special for the final week(s).

This year, we’re going to create a school yearbook, starting in June. I have the pictures and ideas ready to go. The yearbook will a novelty as we spend a couple of weeks with it.

Have fun outside.

Organize a scavenger hunt. Hold a mini-Olympics. Blow bubbles (put a washcloth over the mouth of a margarine container—bubbles go everywhere). Kids both young and old love bubbles.

Caution: Don’t plan on a half-day of soccer or baseball. While that sounds like a nice idea, attention spans aren’t that long. A marathon game usually doesn’t usually take up the time we think it’s going to.

Go with what’s working.

One year, going for a walk can be a routine for an entire week with no problem; the next year, it doesn’t engage the group, but they’re willing to collect garbage.

Keep track of what you do each June.

It’s easy to forget what worked a year or two ago. If you have a list, your old ideas can be recycled and become new again.

Have your best novel ready.

Every year, I save my best novel for the last weeks of June. When students are engaged in a novel, they learn without realizing they’re even doing it. A June novel has to be a home run, so plan ahead. Following are some of the June novels I’ve used:

  • Owls in the Family: This Farley Mowatt novel was a home run! A colleague suggested it for a June novel—I did it on his say so, and it worked. Most of the time, though, I know the novel well ahead of time because you don’t generally want to take the chance of striking out with a June novel.
  • Where the Red Fern Grows: Use this book any time you need to add energy to your class. After fourteen years at my colony, I had all past and present students vote on their favourite novel—Where the Red Fern Grows was #1.
  • Strange Companion: Strange Companion is a story about a young boy who survives a plane crash in the Northwest Territories. After living a few months at the crash site, he realizes that no one is coming to save him. He sets off across the barren land to find civilization before winter comes. When June ended, we were only half way through this novel. When September came, we started up where we left off. After a two-month gap in reading, I pointed out that David had spent that long at the crash site waiting for rescue. Two month sounds like a long time, and it sounds like a short time. On this occasion, the students had just experienced two months of waiting (for school to start), just like David had waited for rescue.
  • The Cay: This is the June novel I’m using this year. It’s the story of a young boy who gets stranded on a deserted island during World War II. I love the story—which usually means my students will love it as well. The two main characters—Timothy (a black crewman) and Philip (a 10-year-old boy)—are engaging to all students.

This post is a part our Colony Educators series, written by Rob Ficiur. Rob Ficiur has taught in colony schools in Alberta for over a quarter-century. In his tenure, he’s attended many conferences in addition to contributing to various newsletters and publications. Learn more about Lesson Planning & Colony Resources here.

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