By Heather Garcia
At the end of the quarter, middle and high school teachers around the nation tend to collectively take a deep steadying breath as they look over their grade books and note the number of missing assignments.
I am not going to claim that students have always been great at turning in work. I have been teaching for almost 20 years and students have consistently not completed all their work throughout my teaching tenure.
What is new, is something that I have seen work. I didn’t come up with the idea. I didn’t hatch the brain-baby. I just saw a good idea and am RUNNING with it, because teacher-friends don’t gatekeep.
Here is the idea: Host an All-Complete Retreat for your students who have all of their work completed by the end of the quarter.
I had done this, kind of, in the past. A “free day” with board games and coloring books for my high school seniors who had all their work turned in and a make-up day for those who needed to get work done. It was fine. The seniors enjoyed the throw-back to earlier, more carefree days.
The All-Complete Retreat is better.
This involves the WHOLE school getting on board. This requires admin, parents, and guidance counselors. This requires thinking about spaces in a new way. This requires teamwork.
So, what is an All-Compete Retreat?
It is a day at school, but without schoolwork, for students who have completed all of their school work for ALL of their classes. It doesn’t matter if the score they earned was less than stellar, the fact that they made the effort, that they engaged, and that they turned it in, is being rewarded- not with an inflated grade or an automatic pass, but rather, with a celebration that they can commit to showing up and working each day.
During this All-Complete Retreat, students with all their work completed move from zone to zone in the school doing all kinds of fun activities while the students who did not complete all their work follow their assigned schedules and work to complete tasks in each of their classes.
What are the students doing in their All-Complete Retreat zones?
- Playing cornhole in the grassy space between buildings
- Making things in the art room
- Playing board games in the counselor’s lounge
- Using the athletic field to run relay races
- Playing basketball in the gym
- Dancing to a video-game dance competition in the media center on the large projector screen
- Playing Mario Cart in the teacher’s lunch area
The ideas are endless, and space can be found.
What is required to make this work, or rather, WHO is required?
The answer is…everyone.
- Teachers need to be available in their rooms to support students who are completing missing work.
- Administrators need to be rotating through the zones and monitoring the smoothness of the transitions, keeping everyone on board with the controlled-merriment.
- Volunteers, either from the community or parent volunteers, need to supervise the zones that are situated outside the normally supervised areas.
- Guidance Counselors need to be available to students in the case of a crisis, but can also help monitor the students playing board games in their lobby area.
- District personnel can also be invited to be extra eyes and supervisors, because they need to see the good happening in our schools too, and many of them (perhaps FAR too many), have forgotten what it is like to work with students on a daily basis.
Why go through all this effort? Shouldn’t students just DO their work?
Ideally, sure, students should absolutely just do their work because they are expected to do so. However, we know that isn’t always the case, and some students need a little extra push. The goal is to combat apathy and increase engagement.
In addition, we can host an All-Complete Retreat in order to:
- Create positive peer pressure where students feel compelled to complete their work to join their friends in the fun
- Remind students that if they don’t try on their assignments, it is less likely they will learn the material we need them to learn
- Encourage positive attendance habits, because missing work due to excessive absences also goes against the goal of learning
- Prevent students from having to retake courses to earn missing credits toward graduation
- Boost or establish a school culture that values and celebrates success and hard work
- Increase graduation rates
Ultimately, there are many reasons to host an All-Complete Retreat at your school site, and the cost can be minimal. Truly. It requires a little bravery on behalf of the school admin team (okay, perhaps a lot of bravery for the first time testing it out), and a little creativity to host a day, ideally once a grading period, that celebrates the students who have completed all their work and allows students who weren’t quite on board, the chance to get there.
Heather Garcia is an English teacher at Charlotte High School, Florida, where she teaches AP® English Literature and AP® English Language. She is a professional development leader in her district, running annual new-teacher trainings and is now the Curriculum and Instructional Specialist for her district for grades 6-12. After 16 years of hands-on experience, Heather has developed a series of strategies to help her students navigate challenging texts. Her favorite book is the Steinbeck classic, East of Eden.