Dear Sarah,

What should I be doing to wrap up things for the calendar year and make sure my students don’t forget everything during winter break?


Winter Break Slump

Dear Winter Break Slump,

I was born and raised in Iowa. (That’s corn, not potatoes.) Which means I know a bit about growing things. Even though I didn’t grow up on a farm, I grew up around a lot of families of farmers. They taught me growing takes time. It takes seasons. It takes care. And soil has to recuperate.

I’ve made plenty of winter break mistakes. I’ve used it to have students catch up on all the reading we didn’t get done as quickly as I’d hoped. Of course, that was counterproductive because they had all these days to read, but not talk or process. I’ve used it to have students review all kinds of content. This was a little better use of time, but often it came down to memorization or accumulating unrelated facts. I’ve used it to prepare students for final exams, which was also pretty useless because they were isolated in their work.

We’d return from break feeling rushed, not refreshed; frustrated, not fulfilled. I wondered: If I was worried about students not being able to retain information for only a week and a half, had they really learned it in the first place? Was my goal to keep their memories piqued or for them to create more meaning?

I reevaluated winter break and the time and resources that were available to my students: unstructured days, long car rides, extended family, and time to breathe. Since then, I’ve tried different approaches.

  • Be available. There have been years when I’ve made myself available for writing conferences. Students could come in and write, talk, conference, revise at their own pace. Amazingly, more than I would have imagined showed up!
  • Talk. There’s great power in having students teach the adults in their lives and I’ve tried to capitalize on it. Whether I asked students to record a conversation with a family member where they explain or “teach” a tough concept we’ve been talking about or interview someone using the questions our most recent reading has provoked. It’s been fascinating to not only hear about how tough students thought it was to “teach” someone else, but how much those conversations added to our work when they returned.
  • Listen and pay attention. What a wonderful time to have students think about application. How can they apply what they’ve been learning to a real-life situation and share that with the class when they return?
  • Read. Ask students to fall into reading something, anything. Make an extra trip to the library before break. Load them up with books from your classroom library before they leave. If you have adventorous readers, wrap up a bunch of them and have a “white elephant” book exchange to keep them excited about words this winter!

So as you’re thinking about winter break and trying to avoid the slump of time away from the classroom, think less about intensity and more about the meaningful. Have your students read, listen, and talk. That’s learning too! Remember, less is more over winter break. Rather than keeping them busy, keep them curious.

Teach openly,

Together with Teacher2Teacher



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