Down in her room on the first floor at Benjamin Banneker Middle School, Clara McDonald might be speedily tossing a bean bag around with her sixth-graders over the next few weeks. And they’ll probably be shouting out author names and parts of speech.
Over the 19 years she’s been teaching reading, McDonald, who is known as “Pete” at the Burtonsville, Md., school, has learned a few important lessons about how spring visits her classroom: Sometimes students need to learn in a different way.
McDonald might start class at this time of year with “silent speed ball/bean bag” (questions about past lessons are tossed out to each student, too) if she senses they might struggle to sit down and start reading in her windowless classroom.
“It helps them burn some of that excess energy and review some of what we’ve covered,” she says. “Sometimes you have to do something a little different toward the end of the year.”
The only thing as potent as the first-day excitement that bubbles through schools in the fall is the malaise and distraction and general goofiness that can set in during the warm days of spring, typically attributed to students and teachers weary from a busy year together and a span of brain-numbing spring testing and prep.
Jacquelynne Eccles, an educational psychologist at the University of California at Irvine and one of the leading researchers in student motivation, says the end-of-year slump probably isn’t from mental or physical fatigue.
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