Antidotes to Mid-semester Malaise
This has been an unusually stressful semester so far: a major hurricane and the upcoming election, on top of all the challenges of balancing work and life in academia… and even in the best of times, it’s common to hit a slump in the middle of a semester.
Students get weighed down, too: “Every semester, there comes a time when I feel drained, all of my courses seem dull, work seems rote and I barely manage to drag myself to class (much less study),” says Rob Cobb. “I see the same glazed expression on the faces of friends and classmates semester after semester, year after year.”
Since we could all use a little boost, here are some suggestions to re-energize your class:
Get everyone moving. As Doyle (2011) points out, “Students’ brains evolved to work best when moving, not sitting,” and movement can help students (and you) feel refreshed and reinvigorated. You can’t make your exhausted students go for a jog (though you can recommend it) but you can get them moving around in the classroom.
A quick way to break things up is to insist that everyone move to sit in a new part of the room. Students tend to return to the same seats all semester, but even physically putting a new perspective on things can help refresh our thinking.
You might also try a four corners exercise, where students have to move to the corner of the room representing “strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree” when you read out statements about the material. They then need to discuss and articulate their positions, explaining their reasoning or evidence. You might also hold a “poster session” where students move around the room investigating different resources or arguments.
Help them meet and support each other. Social cohesion enhances both learning and motivation. Many students feel isolated and anonymous; especially in large classes, they can feel lost in a crowd of strangers. Studying with classmates—discussing the material, asking questions, quizzing each other, giving feedback—is far more effective than re-reading notes alone, but many students report not having a single acquaintance in class, even eight weeks in. You can give students a quick in-class assignment to meet three people, exchanging names and contact information; or better yet, you can assign them to groups and give them a challenging problem to solve together.
Identify your sense of purpose. Our students, like students across the country, report that their professors’ enthusiasm is contagious; our passion for our work, and for their learning, motivates them to persist.
When we’re exhausted by our day-to-day demands, though, we can lose our sense of purpose—our reasons for choosing this work in the first place—so it’s important to remind yourself that you’re creating knowledge and helping your students to create knowledge. We’re working with and for the future. Stephen Brookfield puts it this way: “We teach to change the world. The hope that undergirds our efforts to help students learn is that doing this, will help them act towards each other, and to their environment, with compassion, understanding and fairness.”
We’d love to collect your perspectives, too, and share them at this time next semester. What makes your course content meaningful? What gives you a sense of purpose in your teaching? What makes your work gratifying? If you have a moment, please reply and let us know.
Students in Need:
Did you know that FSU has a food pantry for students in need? The Dean of Students Food for Thought Pantry gave away all their supplies in the two days after Hurricane Michael, and are urgently requesting donations. They especially need these items: Canned meat (tuna, chicken), pasta, pasta sauce, cereal/oatmeal single packs, granola bars, canned soups, rice, beans, mac and cheese, peanut butter, and instant potatoes.
You can drop off donations at University Center A, 4100, Monday – Friday, 8:00am-5:00pm. You can call 850-644-2428 when you arrive and they can send someone down to help you bring the food in to the office. The food pantry also has a wish list on amazon so you can have your donations delivered.