Teachers always know when its close to Christmas. Even if they’ve somehow managed to avoid being carpet-bombed with seasonal adverts, they can sense the change in air pressure around school. The machine is slowly grinding to a halt, ready to power down for the holidays.
In such a climate of school plays, Christmas jumper days and summative assemblies it seems appropriate to handle lessons differently. That’s why its become such an embedded institution in so many schools that the last weeks of term often involve showing videos, Christmas quizzes and general ‘fun’ lessons. Plenty of teachers and students look forward to it and have done for decades.
But the fact that something is the way its been for a while is not an argument for it carrying on. A lively debate has emerged in recent years as to whether this decision to give the end of term over to lessons of arguably limited learning is justified.
Should schools permit ‘fun’ lessons at the end of term? Here are two teachers sharing their opposing views on the subject.
“Light end of term lessons are necessary – for students and teachers”
Just like a detective in a cop drama, its often useful to ask Cui Bono – who benefits – about an action. Who benefits from having more leisurely lessons at the end of term?
For one, the students. Having spent a whole term being systematically overworked, they’re not in right head space to learn anything new. Findings in both psychology and neuroscience support the idea that students need breaks in their learning to help them retain and effectively retrieve information, as well as to develop motor and cognitive skills. The end of term seems like a timely opportunity for this break.
Secondly, its obvious that teachers benefit too. End of first term is full of KS4 and 5 fretting, report-writing and other administrative triage. All of this in the heart of bleak midwinter when wellbeing levels generally tend to be at an annual low. Sparing teachers the redundant toil of crafting and executing typical lessons can help them catch up with all of this work, increasing the probability of them having a restful work-free holiday and coming back to perform effectively in January. We are owed this at least.
I can see why some may take issue with this, but its worth repeating our manta, Cui Bono, about the insistence on learning-heavy lessons. Students don’t benefit – they’re unable to engage properly with any of the material. Teachers don’t benefit because they’re not contributing to their students’ educational achievement in any significant way and are only elevating their personal stress levels by burdening themselves with extra work. Sometimes we need to stand still in order to move forward.
“Students can’t afford to lose any learning – especially in some of our most deprived communities”
I’ve heard it said before that of course there’s no point teaching at the end of term – staff and students have already checked out mentally. But this isn’t some natural pattern, compelled by lunar cycles. It’s the result of culture in schools. If your culture is that everyone starts to check out in the last week then that’s of course how everyone will behave.
As a matter of fact, lots of school don’t do this and insist on high quality lessons until the end of term. Such schools appreciate the brute mathematics of the situations – a week or so of lost learning at the end of each term works out to a month lost every year. That’s six months or more at the end of a secondary school career alone, depriving students of nearly half a year’s worth of good learning. For many schools, that’s too big a price to pay for a softer ending to a term. That’s particularly the case if you work in a school where students come from deprived backgrounds, where students often have much larger academic deficits. We already know that summer holidays put students from such backgrounds behind their peers due to the lost learning time, why would we want to deepen the problem?
If like many educators you believe that routines are indispensable in behaviour for learning and school management, then you’ll want to avoid disruption to those routines as much as possible. And there’s no way of getting around the fact that a learning-free end of term is one of the biggest disruptions possible. What you’re implicitly (sometimes explicitly) communicating to students is that these lessons don’t matter; they may as well not be here. And just like that you’ve undermined the whole institution of school – and we can all imagine how grave the consequences might be.
What do you think?