The 4th Quarter Plateau - Tapping into Student Energy to Keep Moving Down the Trail

This week we’re headed back into The Engagement Zone.  No, this is not a creepy rom-com Twilight Zone rip off.  This is point on your climb when you’ve built those relationships, you’ve found inspiration from your passions, and you know what your students need to be successful & what you are willing to do to achieve it.  Now it’s time to implement it and get them excited about learning!

The problem is that by the time 4th quarter rolls around, we’re often tired.  Let’s be honest: Teaching is an exhausting job. It’s a full-body workout day-in and day-out on the best days, and for those of us who teach middle school, it can often be a mental workout as well.  Whether you are an elementary school, middle school, or high school teacher, kids are demanding, energetic, and frustrating, but we also must remember that they are people (#StartWithHeart). This time of year, many of us are right in the heart of, or wrapping up, testing season, which adds another layer of frustration and exhaustion on our students.  They are often sitting for extensive periods of time, with limited opportunities to get that coiled spring of energy out. If you are a teacher who doesn’t administer standardized tests, you might notice students are either dragging through your class or have so much energy you’re struggling to get them to focus. Instead of trying to fight uphill against all of that, we need to tap into it.

4th Quarter can be viewed like a plateau after a long climb.  You’re close to the top, you’ve overcome boulders, downed trees, turned ankles, and steep ascents, and now you’re in this smooth, straight section, getting close to being able to see all of your progress.  It’s easy to get sucked into the “let’s just keep the kids busy with work and we’ll finish out the year nice and relaxed.” Unfortunately, our kids are humans with WAY more energy than most of us and there’s more of them!  My alternative: Use that energy they have and amp up your class at the end!

If you’ve gamified your year or final unit, this is a great chance to have some closing ceremonies and have students honor each other for their work, present the ultimate winners and high achievers with their awards, and celebrate everyone’s hard work and accomplishments.  It’s also a great time to bring out some fun games for review and challenges for your students. One of my favorites is a game called Superfight. This is a card game of, as the company calls it, “absurd arguments.” It is similar in style to a Cards Against Humanity (but WAY more school appropriate) or Apples to Apples (but funnier).  There are a lot of variations, but the basic game is as follows: Players are dealt 2 character cards (white cards), and 4 attribute cards (black cards). The first two players select one character card and one attribute card from their hand and set them face down on the table for all to see. I find it is best to have them lay them down on the count of 3 to avoid giving one player an advantage.  Both then must draw an additional attribute card from the top of the draw pile and play it face down. Each player then gets a limited amount of time (30 seconds to 1 minute is best) to make their best argument why their fighter would win. The remaining players listen and then vote for who they believe would win based on the arguments. The winner keeps playing (but with a new fighter & attributes) against the next player to the left.  The ultimate winner is the person who won the most fights. (Check out this video for a quick version of how this game is played)

The best part of this game is the way it teaches students how to make arguments on the fly given a limited set of evidence and information.  It forces quick thinking and interpretation of evidence; skills that we know students will need to develop and master. In my class, my students LOVE this game, and we often will play it for our Daily Warm Up using sticky notes on the white board.  For our final project, students are researching a person from the Gilded Age and will have to make several arguments in tournament-style (1 round robin day, 2 knockout days) why their person is the BEST example of what the Gilded Age was all about, so we’re using Superfight to help reinforce the argumentative skills.

There are lots of ways to tap into this energy students have right now, so I challenge you dig out your favorite games you’ve used in the past.  If you haven’t used games in the classroom, there are TONS of teachers on Twitter who share them out. Check out the hashtags: #XPLAP, #EDrenalineRush #games4ed for ideas.

I would also encourage you to try out ideas you were thinking about for next year.  Michael Matera has a great video about this, where he calls this time the “Incubator” of our ideas.  Right now your students are bought in to your style and class. Use that to test out those plans for next year and get immediate feedback as to how effective they are.  If you have students who’ve loved your class, ask them if you can record a quick testimonial or endorsement of them to show to next year’s class to hype it up.

Make this final push a magical and enjoyable time.  You’ve done the hard climbing, don’t ease back during this plateau.  Get a surge of energy from your students and get to the top of the summit, so you can soak in the maximum time reflecting from the top over all you’ve accomplished.

Summit Seeker(s) of the Week: This week I’m shouting out another amazing educator I’ve met on Twitter: Melissa Pilakowski. Melissa is a high school english teacher in Nebraska who might have one of the biggest collections of games for the classroom I have ever seen!  I had the chance to hear her speak at Summer Spark this past year and came away with a ton of ideas, including my idea for Superfight! She is clearly a passionate educator who knows how to tap into that student energy to get them excited about reading and learning.  She hosts #games4ed chat on Thursday nights on Twitter at 7 PM Central and is a regular on #XPLAP chat on Tuesday nights at 9 PM Central. Melissa is amazingly helpful in her advice on how to incorporate games into your classroom, so please follow her on Twitter @mpilakow.