Antidotes to Mid-semester Malaise
Students report that the excitement of the new semester has worn off, and “exam season” is well underway. Most students have at least one major exam or project due each week, until the end of the term. They’re starting to look exhausted. Faculty are looking weary, too: the deadlines and grading are piling up. So it it’s time to revisit suggestions we made last fall, for energizing your class during the midterm doldrums.
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 students 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 during class time.
Identify your sense of purpose. Our students, like students across the country, report that their professors’ enthusiasm is contagious; your passion for your 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. It’s important to remind yourself that you’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 toward their environment, with compassion, understanding and fairness.”