By Genevieve Laucher, 6th grade teacher in San Jose, CA
Summer: that time of year to recharge, a time that teachers look forward to as much as (if not more than) their students do. However, as a brand new teacher who just started teaching full-time midway through the year this February, I felt that I hadn’t quite earned my break yet and wanted to keep my momentum going for a bit longer. I decided to teach summer school; specifically, Speech & Debate and Creative Writing for incoming sixth through eighth graders. Although a part of me envied my teacher friends who were taking trips and sleeping in, teaching summer school turned out to be a very enjoyable learning experience.
Having never taught these subjects before, I set out to do my research on the internet. There are so many resources out there that can be helpful for new teachers, but the challenge was sifting through and making my own tweaks to fit the needs of my eleven to thirteen-year-old audience. Finding lesson plans is great, but every group of students is different, and our lessons should reflect that. Throughout the planning process, I kept in mind that it was summer—my students wanted to have fun in their learning and so did I!
In my Creative Writing class, one of our favorite lessons was having my students create a “Fictional Facebook” for a character they were working on. They drew out a “profile picture” of their character, listed his or her hobbies, interests, birthday, relationship status, and more, and even wrote “status update” posts from the character and posts from the character’s friends and family members. As we know, students are on social media younger and younger, so why not take note of this interest and use it as an educational activity? My students were fully engaged, laughing and being creative as they developed fictional personas. At the end of the activity, they better understood the importance of character development and were excited to write their characters into a story.
For the Speech & Debate class, one of our most successful debate activities was a simple one: the Four Corners Debate. I made signs that read Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree and put one in each corner of the room. I then wrote a statement on the whiteboard and students moved to the corner that best matched their opinion. There, they talked with other students in their same corner and put together an argument to persuade the students in other corners of their position. Each corner got a turn to share their reasoning and finally students could switch corners if hearing other arguments had changed their mind. Some interesting topics included “Schools should require students to wear uniforms,” and “Homework is beneficial for students.” I had an opinionated group of students, so they were excited to share their thoughts. This activity encouraged them to take sharing a step further and explain not just what their views are, but why they disagree or agree with the given issues. The ability to reason and persuade others will help them throughout middle school, high school, and beyond! One of the more controversial topics, given the 2017 trends that teachers love to hate, was “Fidget spinners help kids focus.” Surprisingly, this issue was evenly divided! What this means for the future of fidget spinners in the classroom, we will have to wait and see in the fall…
Overall, teaching summer school gave me more insights and experience with lesson planning, something I’m getting used to as I begin my teaching career. Throughout the regular school year, my goal is to provide variety in my lessons and keep them engaging. The first step is to know our students and plan activities that will best fit their learning needs while also appealing to their interests. Something else that I always want to keep in mind is that learning can and should be fun—both for the students and the teacher!