8th grade "Word Expression" painting

Middle school + teen hormones + spring + drama + upcoming holiday = more gray hair 

Do you have a survival plan for the week or two before Spring Break?

This has been one of the toughest times of the year for my middle school students to behave. 
The natives are getting restless......... 
For three days in a row, one student has openly and quietly defied my authority, despite my best efforts. There have been several fights at school (none of which were near my room, thank goodness).  I disciplined thirteen 6th graders (today) for their failure to follow classroom procedures. It is a "mucho grande" labor of love to be consistent right now!

This seems to be hands down the worst time of year for middle school students to maintain self-control: what are some of your ideas to survive it without losing your cool? 

We recently started an "*email help line" here in Alabama for middle school art teachers through which I asked my colleagues about their Spring Break Survival Plans:

Lisa Phipps:  "You can offer to have a game day on Friday if they cooperate and behave. A few decks of cards, UNO cards, or board games gives them ‘motivation’ to behave.  Students who do not finish their project, or do not behave will not participate in game day. They will finish their work, or complete extra work assigned to them.
This also helps you get your room cleaned up and organized before the break!  (The students who don’t like to play games are always great help when it comes to cleaning & organizing!!)"

Larry Gibson:  "I don't change up a great deal before Spring Break. Usually at this time of the year we're doing Empty Bowls and Found Object Sculpture. After all the chaos of the "snow days" things have actually calmed down quite a bit (knock on wood. :)"
Trenton White: "I have always done newspaper sculptures this week.  I used to do a clay project - something to keep their hands busy.  I have found the newspaper to work well because it is cheap, easy to clean up, and can be never ending. I have them build the structure for 3 days then paint them the last 2 days."

Beau Brown:  "I just have them always do a simple project and encourage them to get done early  (not to be around the last days of the week). Then, I'll put a movie on for that Thursday and Friday." 

Beau also set up a management system this year using one-liter soda bottles and paper confetti: each class receives some confetti in their container for doing well: 

"I started to award them with a Free Friday every two weeks if they got enough points: points are awarded by doing work, following rules, not being loud, etc. Points are taken away for doing the opposite. Those are soda bottles I cut to make tubes and velcroed to the wall and I fill them with pieces of paper confetti."

One of the best pieces of advice I ever read was to use more incentives during times like these than you do consequences. All my classes are painting right now, which I have learned is one of the best ways to calm the wild-child tendencies. Next week I am getting out the prize box! My Survival Plan "A" right now is called “The Alternative Assignment” and it lives permanently on the board. Anybody who chooses to be foolish (being disrespectful, irresponsible, or unsafe after being warned) gets to do The Alternative Assignment instead of getting to use the art supplies. Survival Plan "B" = Tootsie Rolls :)

Finally, Michael Linsin and Jessica Balsley address this issue in the following superb articles:

"At a time when you should be most enjoying your students, when rapport is at its apex, it becomes one battle after another. And unless you’re careful, it’s easy to lose your cool. It’s easy to take misbehavior personally and fall into harmful methods that cause resentment and threaten to sully a joyous, memorable end to the school year. Combined with an emboldened group of students more determined than ever to dig in their heels, the last few weeks can deteriorate into a grinding, scraping claw to the finish line. But it’s all avoidable."

"Surviving Middle School Until Spring Break" article by Mrs. Anna Nichols

Editor's note: the series of articles addressing the issue of poverty and classroom management will be continued next week.

*We would like to extend an invitation to any Alabama middle school art teacher to join the "email help" group. Please contact me at artteacherhelp4al@gmail.com for more information. If you are interested in joining a similar group for high school or elementary school art teachers, please let me know!


Wendy Gilbert said...

I don't offer fun days or incentives for good behavior. To me, it is business as usual. The key is to keep them busy. There is no downtime in my class. Don't make it easy, make it challenging. I plan my units so they are in the middle of a project as the break occurs.

My challenging days are State Testing Days, these effect the classes I see and when I see them. The kids are also burnt out by the time they make it to my room. On those days I will have a artistic creativity challenge or allow them to pull out an old project to finish or they can work on a drawing of their choice.

Even the last day of school is an art making day. It's the "Draw Ms. Gilbert" art contest. They can win prizes for the most realistic, most symbolic and most silly.


Hi, Wendy!
I am interested to know if you see an increase in misbehavior this time of year. Also, you made a great point about keeping the classes challenging! Rigorous coursework is a good idea, but right before Spring Break my students tend to rebel against any seriously intellectual activities. They are "done" so to speak!
Thank you for your ideas!

Wendy Gilbert said...

Our spring break is in early March so I don't really see burn out then. Our challenge is April and May due to the testing.

When you need a day that's different: Artistic games can be good - we will do the exquisite corpse and other collaborative drawing games. We will also do drawing challenges such as incorporating a series of random words into a drawing. Shrinky Dinks are a fantastic way to break the monotony. Last year, our kids made mini-versions of themselves. Artist Trading Cards - make a card, blind trade at the end of class. You can create a prompt or promote a particular medium. When absolutely desperate I have a few Dover Publishing coloring books. I will make copies of particularly difficult pages and have them practice coloring - something kids don't get enough of when they are little.

In the Spring we focus much more on creativity, imagination, 3D projects. I say we because I am 1 of 2 art teachers on my campus. We do all our planning together. We try do do projects that are flexible because we never know when kids are going to be pulled for last minute tutoring. We try our best to create that art studio environment.

I hear about more fights taking place but don't generally see it in my room. A certain level of apathy sets in but that's also why we try to keep things different. When a kid does act up, I have perfected the silent stare.

Spring is not the time to focus on drawing realistically. Spring is the time to pull out a bunch of scrap and recycled materials and have them make masks.

Currently we are doing a sewing project (something I've never done before) with our 7th and 8th graders. They LOVE it.

We also alternate between short mini-exercises and longer projects. This year we are going to finish off the last three weeks with a stop-motion animation project with all grade levels.

Back when I started teaching I had a kid accuse me of being crazy about art. At the time I didn't know how to react. Now I make it a point to tell my kids and demonstrate to my kids that I am CRAZY about art and while I understand that they may not be as excited, I just need them to try. I stole an idea off of Instagram and now have a sign over my clock that says, "There is only time for Art!"