In a Rut?

by Arlene Birt


“Time for Heggerty!” I say cheerfully even though I am tired of Heggerty*. Moans and groans come from the first graders. We are all tired of Heggerty!

In math class, I look around and see several children sitting listlessly, some with their heads down on their desks. In other classes I notice that the writing and coloring is not as neat as it had been earlier in the year.

Are we as teachers stuck in a rut? Where is our motivation to teach and learn and do our best? It has been a challenging winter, with a long stretch of no breaks since we didn’t have snow days or any scheduled days off. Easter is late this year, so we are still looking forward to that break. The weather was not exciting. We’ve had a lot of hard things to deal with.

How can I motivate my students? How can I motivate myself? Sometimes I feel like I am just shoving papers at the class—here’s your math fact page, here’s your math page, here’s a seatwork page. I think of a teacher I had in high school. This teacher handed out English worksheets, then dusted the counters, sat at her desk and filed her nails and balanced her checkbook while we worked on the worksheets!

I believe my students are tired. I think, do we have to do every worksheet? (No.) What can we do for independent work that is different than just worksheets? What can we do during group times?

I am tired. I think, do I have to grade every worksheet? (No.) What can I do to motivate myself and my students?

For myself, I can go out and take a walk before I start grading or lesson planning. I should get some fresh air and enjoy the flowers beginning to bloom. I can take a break in my work and enjoy that beautiful sunset. I don’t have to grade every paper. Someone advised me to give myself grace.

For my students, I can find activities other than worksheets. They can type their spelling words, write them with chalk, paint them, or illustrate them. Our morning work time (or independent work time) might be to read, or do XtraMath, or make a card for someone. We can do learning activities and not just busy work.

One day the electricity went off at school and the report was that it wouldn’t be back on for hours. We put the blinds all the way up and moved our desks over to the windows so we could see better. This was an unexpected event, but it turned out to be rather fun and was a nice break to our routine. (And the children cooperated very well!)

Recently I complimented my class for not groaning about Heggerty. Jonathan said, “I still don’t like it, but I don’t say anything about it now.” I had talked to them about not complaining and having a good attitude. I am trying to add some interesting things to the Heggerty lesson, by using finger puppets one day, doing Heggerty with stuffed animals, and using different voices and actions. I hope this will help to motivate Jonathan, too.

Here are some ideas for a change of pace and pulling us out of the ruts.

I set the timer and when it rings we stop whatever we’re doing and I read or tell a story. I do this throughout the day.

I might set the timer and whenever it rings we pause and have a joke break. It is also fun to do something on the hour or half-hour throughout the day, and this is also good practice in telling time. So whenever it is 9:00, 10:00, etc., or 8:30, 9:30, 10:30 we pause and do some exercises, have a story, or tell a joke.

We could go outside and pick up trash. This gives us all some fresh air and it feels good to get outside and do something helpful.

Creating something is a good change of pace. Let the class do an open-ended art project, or make cards, or just create something out of the various supplies I put out. Or we could all do an extra and unexpected art project.

Let the students put their desks where they want for the day, or afternoon. (Guidelines: I have to be able to get to my desk; we must be able to get to the bathrooms; no one may be left out.)

Allow the students to sit at a different side of their desks.

We have weekly reading logs when the students are to read for so many minutes a certain number of days in the week. Last week I changed that. We did a Reading Bingo instead of the reading log, for something different.

Some of these activities could be a surprise, which is fun, and some could be announced ahead so the students have the fun of anticipation.

I have a big clapper (hands that bang together when it is moved) and when I find someone who cheers or has a positive comment, I give him the clappers and let him lead us in a cheer for math or whatever the subject is. This is motivating to first-graders and after that we hear many more positive comments!

*Heggerty is a phonemic and phonological awareness curriculum, which is to be done daily for about 10 minutes a day.

Pass it on:


CONTRIBUTOR: Arlene Birt

Leave a Reply