The change in semesters is always a challenging time for classes in our school. School provides a island of stability for our students in a life that might have a lot of instability, and any kind of change in routine has the potential to be disruptive. Even though a student might just change one (or none) classes in their schedule, it can nevertheless — in their mind — be a significant change in their life. Combine that with the typical addition of new students to classes that occurs at the semester change, and who are often (though not always) because they are coming from a particularly unstable situation, and things can get a bit dicey in class.

And that’s been the case in my mainstream ninth-grade English class for the past month since the change in semesters.

It hasn’t been terrible, but, as the title of this post says, it’s certainly been more “endurable” than “enjoyable” for both the students and for me.

So I decided to make some changes to highlight what I think are two important attributes of any successful classroom — fun and reflection.

For fun, we’ve begun playing a simple game a few minutes before the end of class using “sentence scrambles.” It’s just a sentence with the words out of order. The scrambles relate to our topic of study (which is now Nelson Mandela). I put one or two under the document camera, and the first five students or groups of students get some extra credit points –if they work in pairs they split the reward. Everybody has plenty of opportunities to get extra credit in my class, so it’s a fair process (and I figure now and then I’ll secretly drop a few clues to students who aren’t winning). Most students, though not all, choose to work in pairs. Students enjoy it; they’re gaining content knowledge and becoming a better reader; and it takes a minute of preparation and only a few minutes of classtime and, most importantly, it’s helped lighten-up the class atmosphere.

For reflection, after the game, I’ve begun having students complete a daily reflection, which you can download here.

It’s designed to help students think about what they learned in class and, more importantly, think about what a good learner does or does not do (. It only takes a few minutes for them to complete. I collect them at the end of each day.

I’m using them in two ways:

1. I can have a brief conversation with them the next day to both reinforce an example of their being a good learner that they wrote about; and I can look for patterns in the examples they’ve shared when they feel they haven’t been a good learner. I can use that information to help students see their own patterns and triggers, and encourage them to think through ways to change them.

2. I’m also going to start handing back each Friday the four evaluations students have completed during the week and ask them to see if they can identify any patterns as well. We’ll see how that goes.

Students seem to be responding positively. As I expected, though, a lot of modeling is needed about how to answer the questions thoughtfully and to realized that, no matter how well one does, there’s always something that we can do a little bit better.

I’m using the concept attainment instructional strategy and using student examples of how best answer, and how not to answer, the questions. Concept attainment is a great tool, and I describe it in detail in my book, English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work.

Have you ever been in a situation where you and your students have been more “enduring” than “enjoying” your class. What have you done to turn the tide?