Can you please share some of your ways of dealing with the growing discipline problems that arise near the end of the school year? I am finding that this year my old tricks are not working and I need some new ideas.
For the last month of school, I try to find things that are more engaging for the kids. I push hard to get the "heavy" stuff done at the start of the year so we can coast toward the end. This way we've established a classroom identity and the kids know each other well, and me. I save more group work, projects that can be done in the library over two or three days, showing a video of a novel we have read (like "Mockingbird"). For these things, the students are engaged and I can be packing books, returning papers, grading last minute makeup work, etc. When a movie is over, we compare and contrast the novel to the movie, and discuss which tells the story in a more "valuable" way. Sometimes the kids will do sonnets, or find poems to share in class. Everyone is really beat about this time, so I try to find things that are valuable (even a short play) where we learn, but where the students are able to enjoy each other's company a little more before we split (because most of the time, it's like a small family going off to new territory). It's much more entertaining for all of us, and I don't feel as if that last month is wasted.
You better remember to believe that whatever you assign counts and make sure your students believe it also. Do not give out fluff instead of real assignments because the kids will pick up on it. I use the end of term to creatively review for finals or regents exams. I use the end of term to go above and beyond my curriculum and do things that excite and interest both myself and my students. For instance, I had my students observe and dissect fetal pigs, which was engrossing and helped to gel all of the ideas they learned about in living environment this year. Just remember, if you seem serious and focused, the students will not act out.
I always like giving a group project or repeating something that we have studied during the year previously. My seniors worked on powerpoints for group presentations and my juniors worked on poetry books. Both groups really enjoyed the projects given they were not restricted in any way regarding how to complete the projects. I found that by not setting too many limits, the students' engagement was amazing. (And some of these students were ones who began to suffer from Senior-itis in January!)
The further we get into the year, I like to include more and more physical activities for my students--still relevant to the standards for English Literature and Language Arts, but focused on kinesthetic instruction. This seems to help with their fidgeting and lack of focus. I also integrate music, outdoor instruction, and definitely projects that focus on the students individually. This seems to be extremely helpful, especially for my middle schoolers.
I like to let them choose a large project to finish the year as well, separating it into various steps, with multiple standard components--a scrapbook, poetry compilation, short story, video and script, series of advertisements, etc. Letting them have choice in a project is key in keeping them invested, and having them prove their capability with the standards is a great end-of-year assessment.
I also tend to promote more incentives this time of year--turn your work in on time, you earn a bag of Hot Cheetos, a lunch, and so forth. This seems to help with behavior as well!
This might not be as helpful now, but something to consider for future years... I plan my entire semester around student behavioral patterns. This means the first half of the semester is when I do all my most difficult unit studies, I have the tightest boundaries with discipline, and I very rarely take a "break" by showing a movie or "doing something fun."
Basically, I work very hard to mold my students to know my expectations so that at the end of the semester when they are going crazy in everyone else's classes, they are only going mildly nuts in mine. I save my most fun novels for the end of the year, or the units that historically have received the most student interest. Like others, I assign in-class short term projects that allow students more freedom to talk and be out of their seats, but I consistently verbally reinforce that things will be more relaxed and fun as long as my students can "handle it." I set short term goals (like, if you can work hard M-Th, we'll watch this relevant movie on Friday and I'll provide breakfast). In my high school classes, they welcome the rewards they haven't been receiving all year for mediocre behavior. Another thing I do is call out the bad behavior I see in other classes and talk about why they still won't get away with it in mine.
One huge help for me has been my unwavering demand that students are seated when the bell rings or they are tardy, and that everyone is seated before the final bell. Once they are in the habit I'm not dealing with the lingering by the door and in the hallways that is so prevalent in the spring. Hope that helps!
What a collection of creative ideas! In the end, what they all have in common is keeping students engaged and perhaps not expecting as much from them outside of class. I will sometimes even make my students a deal: if they will work full throttle during class, I will take it a little easier on them regarding out-of-class work. It generally works.
As others have said, some aspect of the practical and/or physical is where I tend to go at the end of the year. I try to do practical activities like drawing around each other on wallpaper and writing descriptions and notes on these 'character silhouettes' . We also have yes/no, stand up/sit down quizzes to get us all moving and thinking. We keep activities short and sweet, plenty of youtube clips of the educational variety, and lots of music (preferably classical). Student involvement in what revision they would like to do, and their ideas on activities are also valuable and help to keep them motivated and lessons fresh.
I can't pretend to have the magic activity or policies, and I think end-of-the-year-itis is terminal no matter what age the student. I do try to mix it up a little towards the end, changing from the normal instruction/test pattern to an interview project or something along those lines.
Whatever your subject area, you can also have them produce 30 second commercials for an election campaign, advertising a play or novel, a news broadcast or recreated interview with a famous person. You have to screen them, of course, but the kids are way better than I am at video production. They can post them on YouTube and you can watch them in class, or record them from YouTube at home (most recorder programs are free) and save them to a jump drive to play at school.
Like #4 suggested, I normally try to keep something like a play up my sleeve to engage students and give them lots of practical activities. Likewise lots of games come out and different activities. I actually find that the closer a student gets to graduation, the shorter their attention span (I used to think it was the other way round) but now I work to do lots of games etc towards the end of the time of the seniors.
I like to do projects that are ABOUT the students -- such as portfolio evaluation and reflection, personal reflections, connections between themselves and characters we have read about this year, "This I Believe" essays modeled after the NPR series, 6-word obituaries, map of the journey of their lives so far (like a story map for a novel or short story we have read, such as Siddhartha, Huck Finn, A Worn Path. If they are thinking about themselves they usually care a little more. I like to loosen the classroom atmosphere as well with more pair/group work and small group-share with various activities listed above. I also tell them that I am as anxious for summer break as they are!
More hands-on activities are necessary here. I usually save the plays that require getting up and role-playing. We really get into directing (usually playing with some shoebox stages first) and then add different effects such as lighting, music, delivery to really get at the author's purpose. Often, we will record these performances to critique later, or with another class studying the same things.
Poetry is also a good option. If the weather is good, have them go outside. Collect items to put in a bag--pass the bags around, and students can TOUCH, but not LOOK at the item in the bag. Have them then create different types of poetry--haikus, cinquains, others that follow particular patterns or free verse.
You could also just take a walk in the neighborhood around your school and then assign three different writing assignments: poetry (record the images you saw), persuasive letter about the neighborhood, and narrative (tell a story of your experiences).
Middle and high school students alike have their problems staying focused during the final weeks. I try to keep them busy--with more in-class work if necessary. I generally save a video and/or a movie or two for viewing during the final days. These sometimes, but not ALWAYS, keeps them a bit quieter than usual.
I've taught college students rather than high school students for a number of years now, but I remember well the last few weeks of the semester dealing with high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors who had decided the year was already over. As their motivation decreased, their behavior in the classroom was often less than desirable. My strategy always was to convince them that we still had work to do and to keep them engaged through student-centered activities. I talked less and made them do more. Frequently, I would have them choose and complete an independent study project that interested them and offered components to address multiple intelligences. As often as possible, I would book them into the computer lab to work on their projects. Keeping them busy with interesting, hands-on activities avoided discipline problems.
Also, by the end of the year my students were often just tired--physically tired or tired of routine. Sometimes I would introduce team activities that allowed them to sit together and work together. This allowed them a constructive way to talk to each other and to help each other with the work while staying engaged. Even moving their desks into and out of group settings was beneficial because it allowed them some physical activity in class, again breaking the routine.
Finally, as often as possible to enhance lessons, I would include music and videos and come up with some unusual, even "goofy" activities. Keeping kids busily engaged avoids a lot of discipline problems. I guess idle hands really are the devil's workshop!