Are we there yet?

Stones, close-up --- Image by © Ocean/Corbis

My students have finished summer exams and we are now in the half term of trips, collapsed timetables, university visits and various other extracurricular activities. This means that contact time with my classes becomes increasingly sporadic and random. Additionally, the lack of any impending assessment and the distraction of warm, sunny days (on occasion!) has meant that I have had to think carefully about how to keep students motivated in the last half term of the year.

Getting students to work independently and offering them an element of choice in their learning has been the main idea behind my planning for this term. This is an excellent time to include two important components of enquiry learning that can often be forgotten s teachers prepare students for exams or plough through a constricting scheme of work.

With my year 8 classes, we are working on entries for the Royal Geographical Society’s Young Geographer of the Year competition. This year’s topic is ‘How is Britain changing?’ and asks pupils to produce an informative A3 poster which explores geographical change, locally or nationally. After introducing the competition and providing my class with laptops and lots of coloured paper, they are now spending each lesson creating unique, creative and independent pieces of work on a multitude of different topics. It has been great to see my students’ levels of enthusiasm and engagement increase as they investigate issues that interest them and raise awareness of geography in the real world. Some are exploring physical, social and demographic changes in their local area and others are considering Britain’s changing relationships with a country of their choice. The competitive element is really motivating my students to work hard on their entries. Although we will only send a small selection off to the RGS, we will hold a school based competition too.

My year 7 classes have been set an independent learning project to complete. In the first week of this half term, I introduced them to the basic concepts of geology, including rock types and the rock cycle. I made the subject come alive with rock samples and an excellent array of Youtube videos. I’ve now set them an independent learning project on a rock of their choice. While researching rocks may not be everyone’s cup of tea (I am definitely a human geographer!), they have relished the opportunity to choose their own rock type and presentation style and this has been a key motivating factor for them. This task naturally differentiates and enables students to put in as much effort as their own personal time pressures allow for their project. Some have even been out searching for their own rock samples!

I have noticed a number of benefits to these activities. It has made it easier to cope with the intermittent nature of lessons; my students know what to do if I am out on a trip; and if they miss a lesson, the activity is easy to pick back up again. The independence, freedom of choice and competitive nature of these activities has inspired my students to make good use of the final weeks of term. Do you struggle with motivation levels in the summer term? And if so, what have you done to increase them?

Rebecca Priest photoRebecca Priest is a Geography Teacher at King Edward VI High School for Girls in Birmingham. She is currently studying for a MA in Geography Education at the Institute of Education and presented a session on ISM at the GA’s 2015 Annual Conference.