A Fresh Start for Second Semester (for year-long or new classes)

Second semester is a dividing point in many secondary classrooms.  More so if the second semester class is separate from first semester.  Maybe you have new students from schedule changes or adjustments around semester-based classes.  Maybe it’s a whole new class– which is what I’ve dealt with all my years.  (With frequently transient populations, making even ‘year long’ classes set up on a semester-basis helps juggle the changing schedules.)

In some ways, second semester is like a new first day of class.  But, not really.  It’s very different in that students have already established themselves for the school year.  They’re not fresh from the growth and changes of summer.  They’re not necessarily clean, focused, and sober– ready to tackle the new year with optimism and eagerness.  (Or some teenage-tempered version thereof.)

But, I find that the breaking point between terms (semesters, or even trimesters) provides a nice chance for a clean start.  And more so, that students often appreciate a chance to start fresh.


So, there a some things to consider for making a fresh start in second semester:

Start fresh with students.  Even if there is overlap, make it clear that this is a new semester, a new class.  This allows students a chance to turn over a new leaf, without grades or even choices from the previous semester affecting them.  I find this is important in supporting students who want to try again or make improvements, to give them another chance. High expectations from a teacher— such as expecting a change, rather than expecting more of the same– can be motivating for students.  I’ve certainly seen it work where, finally, that student turns over a new leaf– though it does happen that they turned over the same old leaf instead!  (In my experience with at-risk learners, sometimes that second, or even third chance, is so important.  Because sometimes, that’s the one the ‘sticks’ and results in lasting change!)

Take some time to do beginning of the year and getting to know you activities.  But keep them brief, and really try to tie them into the content.  Concept review or jumping into a short story are good ideas so the time is more meaningful.  Students are generally already into the swing of things, and if you have overlap the get-to-know you’s may not reveal much about students.  Content-based or personal writing, however, can pull double-duty, and may even tie into the first text(s) for the class.  I’d skip “ice-breakers” though (I mean, even aside from the fact that I refuse to use them anyway!)

Take a bit of time to focus on specific class rules and routines, though students may feel that they already “know the drill.”  However, it can be useful to instead take the time to review routines and procedures as needed, rather than the first day.  Another benefit here is  a chance to discuss with the class what you, as a teacher, found didn’t work well.  This is a great opportunity to improve any particular procedure or routine, as well as admit that you made a mistake or even that you’ve just reflected on ways to improve.

Start the grade book fresh (if possible).  If it’s not possible to start fresh in the grade book– policy, perhaps– consider ways to not further penalize students for mistakes in first semester.  Weight first semester less, perhaps.  Or allow late submission of first semester projects (possibly only accepting work of a certain caliber to avoid shoddy, last minute work).

While it can be a little stressful to face a room full of students, again, like the first day of class, again, it’s also a possibility for a fresh start, which doesn’t just have to come with a new school year.

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