Prevent the end-of-year student slump with a students-as-teachers final project
As a first year teacher, I struggled with student misbehavior all year long, but I especially did not know how to survive the final months of school. I looked up every single way to prevent teacher burnout and the end-of-year student slump. Nothing improved student engagement and nothing reduced the disruptive off-task behavior of students.
Finally, I decided that I would give students exactly what they were already doing, the opportunity to run my class. I had already lost control so why not give them full control? Instead of fighting for student attention during mini lessons, and struggling to maintain order during transitions between the traditional I do, we do, you do lesson plan protocol, I would finally give in and let students take over. I didn’t give up. I simply turned my students into teachers.
At the end of the school year, there are no new concepts or skills to teach. Teachers spiral skills and review the same material in new ways. Since my students already had the groundwork, already completed end of year state testing, and no longer had any motivation to learn, why not make them teach each other?
At the time, my New York City Title I classroom contained thirty-two restless thirteen-year-olds. I broke them up into eight groups of four students. Each group was responsible for teaching four days of instruction. This way each individual student was in charge of creating the lesson plan and materials for their day, while the entire group worked together as teachers. I assigned students the following topics:
- Figurative language and theme in music lyrics
- Figurative language and theme in rap lyrics
- Comparing and contrasting song and rap lyrics
- Characterization, conflict and plot development in film clips
- Symbolism, motif and theme in film clips
- Setting, imagery and figurative language in film clips
- Allusion in film
- Comparing and contrasting film clips
Each group had the option to actively present mini lessons and lead a guided practice discussion like a “real” teacher. I also allowed students who feared public speaking to create a student-led handout that their peers could complete independently as they watched film clips, listened to music videos, or read rap lyrics. In this scenario, the group leading the lesson could greet their peers at the door with the student-led independent practice handout and simply press play on their video clips.
Assigning students specific, high-interest topics, and allowing flexibility with how students “presented” their lessons was essential to the success of this student-led experiment. If students with severe public speaking anxiety were forced to lead four days of hour-long presentations, then my classroom would have derailed quickly. I also gave students two full weeks to plan their lessons, and provided a simple lesson plan template and daily deliverables:
- Choose and assign four lesson topics, videos/lyrics and presentation style
- Draft agenda, mini lesson and guided practice lesson plan and find video links or printable lyrics
- Draft independent practice and exit slip assessment lesson plan and find video links or printable lyrics
- Draft agenda, mini lesson and guided practice materials (presentation and handout)
- Draft independent practice and exit slip assessment materials (presentation and handout)
- Finalize agenda, mini lesson and guided practice lesson and materials (presentation and handout)
- Finalize independent practice and exit slip assessment lesson and materials (presentation and handout)
- Practice lesson 1 and 2
- Practice lesson 3 and 4
- Final rehearsals and material printing, saving and preparation
Students were required to turn in each daily deliverable throughout the two week planning period, and were allowed to move ahead of schedule. My 42 day student-led unit was the most engaged I ever saw my students. They planned and presented high-interest academically aligned lessons for the last two months of the school year.
While I taught English, you can adapt this final student-led project for any subject and any number of weeks or days. If you cannot find a solution to the end of year student slump and have lost control of your classroom, give students full control with this students-as-teachers culminating project.