Heading into the second half of the school year is challenging. As teachers, not only do we have to muster up enthusiasm within ourselves, but also we need to be mindful of reinvigorating student energy and persistence toward reaching the finish line.
Maintaining productivity—physically and mentally—can be an arduous task. We can’t expect students to realize what they need to do to get back into a productive mindset. Therefore, offering them social and emotional learning (SEL) strategies for being observant of their productivity as they inch toward the halfway marker in the school year should be a whole learning piece in itself.
A key starting point for engaging students in the second half of the school year is to focus on being observant. Begin by having a conversation with students about monitoring themselves. Rather than observing to judge, encourage them just to pay attention to what’s happening in the present moment. In the case of finishing the second half of the school year, this might be viewing goals, building motivation, planning, understanding emotions, recognizing brain capacity, incorporating growth conferences, and setting themselves up for success.
Below are some strategies to support students in becoming more observant and productive during the second half of the year.
6 Ways for Students to Boost Productivity
1. Rewire and reengage the brain. Get students to be more brain-based in their thinking, motivation, and observation of themselves. One way to do this is by using analogies. Researcher Matt Slocombe says this method “can be a very powerful teaching and learning strategy in the classroom, since analogies allow children to rapidly learn new knowledge by seeing how something new is similar to something they already know about.”
When students understand the neurological basis of their thoughts, feelings, and actions, they are more likely to believe in the significance of these connections and may approach their own experiences with greater understanding and agency. It’s pretty cool when a student can think of this as a mechanism being produced inside their head. These three parts of the brain can help support students in becoming more observant of their productivity.
- Amygdala: This part of the brain controls our reaction to situations. It’s our “threat detection system.” When things get chaotic and stressful, students can relate to ways to calm themselves.
- Prefrontal cortex: This is the decision-making, planning, and self-awareness part of the brain. It is our “control tower.” The control tower is where students think ahead of the game and make executive decisions to get them focused and motivated toward completing the school year with success.
- Hippocampus: This is the place where we recall stories, facts, and information. It is our “scrapbook.” In the scrapbook, students use reflection as a way to move forward by using lessons learned.
2. Schedule 30-second productivity conferences. These quick meetings can be held on Mondays before you start class, in the middle of a class period, or after class. Keep them straightforward by asking three questions:
- How can you be more productive this week?
- What will your productivity look and feel like?
- What is the most important task or assignment you need to focus on this week?
Keeping these questions consistent and intentional allows students to build a mindset of being productive and focused for the week ahead. You could also have students write their reflections in a journal, on a note card, or as an entry pass to the classroom or exit ticket every Monday, if time does not allow for individual 30-second conferences.
3. Utilize the letter-to-future-self strategy. In this strategy, students write a letter to themselves about the goals they want to accomplish. In a month, students revisit this letter and reflect. In addition, students can add more information about what goals they want to change or revise. Each month thereafter, students can visit the letter again and do the same thing. This strategy is impactful in that it allows students to monitor, assess, and observe their productivity.
4. Have students write daily notes to themselves. In the 1-2-3 note-to-self strategy, students have an opportunity to write out three notes to be used as reminders for them before the next class.
The notes are not just limited to things they need to accomplish or complete. Instead, students will have the opportunity to make a list of three tips that might help them learn, three reminders about what they learned for the day, three motivational statements to refer back to the next class, or whatever they find important. The idea is for students to revisit this strategy daily to reflect and move them forward in achieving success toward the end of the school year.
5. Incorporate temptation building. One way to make pursuing a goal or completing an assignment easier is to combine it with something enjoyable. For instance, when you find that students are struggling to complete an assignment or project, offer the opportunity to pair their work with listening to music, or allow for a few minutes of screen time after they finish their work.
In addition, share with students some enjoyable pairings they can do at home when working on out-of-school assignments. For example, completing math homework might be more enjoyable with a cup of chocolate milk. Or, reading a chapter from a novel might be more fun sitting in a beanbag chair.
6. Utilize “cues” in your classroom. Trying to keep routines and times with certain daily events in the classroom can be beneficial for being productive. One way to implement this in class is by identifying where and when. For example, a cue for the class could be, "Each day after the bell rings, we will all sit in our seats and journal about the question of the day.” This strategy is a great way for students to identify with consistency, meet goals, and be more productive.
One way to entice students to use cues is by offering incentives such as giving students autonomy to choose the types of cues that work best for them. Allowing students to personalize their cueing methods increases their sense of ownership and motivation to use cues effectively.