We often start each academic year with excitement. Our adrenaline is pumping as we anticipate the growth, learning and opportunity of a new school year. For our students and ourselves, it’s a time of year filled with hope and (more often than not) anxiety, which in turn fills us with energy.
And then the weeks go by. The newness wears off as we encounter challenges and struggles. Time blurs until we must check our phones to find out which day it is. We watch our students’ eyes grow heavy as the work of learning takes its toll. We, and our students, are now in the dreaded midsemester slump.
It happens almost every year, to almost every teacher and student. So how can we treat and/or prevent it?
First Thing: Practice Self-Care
As teachers, our lack of energy or excitement in the middle of the term not only impacts ourselves negatively, but it also impacts our students. Students easily read and react to the energy we emit in class, so it’s important for us to find ways to get past our own midsemester slump. Finding a few moments throughout the day to practice deep breathing, take a walk or listen to calming music can positively impact your mood and bring positive energy to your next class session.
Create Classroom and Pedagogical Strategies That Break Up the Routine
When planning for the semester, the only guarantee is that we will be thrown a curveball at some point that will upset our plans. Snow days, fire alarms, illness or pandemics can’t be planned. The best we can do is come up with a contingency plan to deal with these interruptions as they arise. Similarly, we can create a contingency plan for the midsemester slump. Below are some pedagogical and classroom strategies to help break the routine and spice things up when your class has been hit with a case of the doldrums.
- Alter the flow of your class. If you normally begin with a lecture followed by discussion, change it up. Start the class with a discussion, video or active learning activity. Some easy active learning activities include:
- Think/pair/share: After asking a question, allow students a moment to consider their answer, then a minute to discuss with a peer, followed by a full-class share-out.Minute paper: Provide students time to consider difficult concepts in class by writing for a minute. They can summarize the concepts discussed, write down questions or map out relationships.
- Challenge students: Playing a quizzing game or setting up a Jeopardy!-type PowerPoint slide deck can be loads of fun for students while challenging them on course concepts. Inject even more energy by creating teams and competing for prizes (candy is always a student favorite!).
- Invite one or more guest speakers to provide students a new perspective on the material.
- Engage students early and often during class. Don’t let your students slip into passive listening mode by starting class with discussions and pausing often during lecture. The saying “an object in motion stays in motion” applies here as well … a student talking tends to continue to talk, while a silent student tends to stay silent.
- Challenge students to recall information from previous classes—and encourage good note taking by allowing them to work together to find answers in their class notes. You can make this into a game to see who can find the answer the fastest, to really get them motivated. As a bonus, students’ knowledge is enhanced when they are asked to recall forgotten information.
- “Block” your instruction to minimize waning attention. Spend 10–15 minutes on one topic, then switch to another. Continue switching back and forth between two or three concepts in the same class period. Students will constantly have to refresh their focus and work to reestablish connections to course content. In research conducted by Robert Bjork and others[LL4] , blocking (also known as “interleaving”) has also been shown to enhance students’ retention.
- Create a “you lead” day by opening up a class session to students. Allow them to ask any questions about any concepts covered in the class, share what they know about concepts or work on anything class related. Ask students to submit a minute paper (see above) at the end of class detailing how they used the time.
Connect Directly With Students
The midsemester slump can be caused by many factors, fatigue being only one of them. Some students may be feeling anxious, homesick, lonely or depressed. Identifying the source of the midsemester slump for students can help instructors identify the best strategies for mitigating it. Creating a survey where students can anonymously share how they are feeling can be a useful tool for instructors to plan supportive pedagogical strategies or solicit help from campus resources. A midsemester survey could also provide an opportunity for instructors to receive feedback on the course and teaching strategies.
Ask students questions such as:
- What experiences have/have not helped you learn?
- What do you like best/least?
- What is still unclear?
- What are you curious about?
Their answers can help instructors identify where students may be struggling and what strategies may be causing low energy levels.
The midsemester slump can happen to everyone. It doesn’t reflect on the instructor’s teaching abilities or students’ interest, but it is a consequence of stress and busy schedules. Put these strategies into practice and you can help to prevent or mitigate the impact of the midsemester slump.
Dr. Amy Simolo is a Senior Customer Success Manager at D2L, working with Higher Education clients. Previously, Amy spent over 10 years as a faculty development professional, training faculty teaching within both face-to-face and online environments.
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