Heading back to school has always been stressful for students. This year’s return, which follows the destabilizing Pandemic, could prove to be even more difficult for them.
Some school systems and states across the country are already taking steps to make the transition easier. California, for example, has passed a law requiring that no public schools in the state start their days any earlier than 8:30 A.M.
That seems like a good way to reduce stress on high school students. But there are other ways to depressurize life for students who are returning to classrooms. Here’s a selection of strategies that educators have found to work.
Give Tests Twice
That’s right. Give the same test twice. The first time the students take the test, the grade they earn on it doesn’t count. Instead of grading the first one, teachers can meet with students to go over the answers to questions they got wrong. And then when the students take the same test the next day, they are likely to do better and experience less stress.
This might seem like a way to encourage students to study less. But is it really? Isn’t the real idea of education to teach students, not penalize them? As one teacher puts it, “I will do anything to get students to learn, and this is one of the better ideas I have found to get that to happen.”
Let Students Pair Up to Take Tests and Complete Projects
Okay, this might seem kind of radical. But again, isn’t the purpose of education to get students to learn things, not to penalize them? And letting students pair up to both complete projects and take tests is a good way to get that to happen. If students learn, why does it matter if they are learning from one another?
Play Loose with Deadlines for Papers and Projects
We know one teacher who told her students, “If you get your paper to me on October 10th, you will get a 10-percentage-point bonus on your grade . . . and if you need an extension ask and I will probably give it to you.” Again, the point is for students to learn, not to jump through hoops or meet arbitrary demands.
If you don’t like that idea, consider instead grading some assignments pass/fail. If students turn in substandard papers, you can meet with them and suggest revisions.
Encourage Certain Students to Skip Standardized Tests
Preparing for the SATs and the ACT is incredibly stressful for some students. In fact, studying for and taking these tests can add stress to students during their last two pre-college years.
So, why not encourage certain students to apply only to test-optional colleges? You can tell them, “Just skip those tests.” Granted, skipping the tests might not work for some students, such as those who are hoping to be admitted to certain schools that do require standardized tests. Also, you might get some blowback from parents of students who are nudging their kids to aim for admission at certain schools that do require the SAT and ACT. But for more students than you might expect, you can cut stress dramatically by simply saying, “You know what . . . just skip the tests.”
Move Some Learning Experiences Outside the Grading Structure
You can, for example, invite experts into your classroom to talk to your students after telling them, “You won’t be graded on what our speaker has to say, it is only for your knowledge.” This is more of a university-level way of teaching that views knowledge as enrichment, not as a tool to punish students or assign them poor grades.
Have Classroom Discussions about College Rankings
Some students and their families believe that the college rankings that are published in magazines are “gospel” and that the #2 school in the rankings is really just a little bit weaker than the #1 school. As has been proven countless times, that kind of thinking is deeply flawed and will apply needless pressure to students who are applying to colleges.
One way to take off the pressure is to have a classroom discussion about how college rankings are determined and what they really mean. One place to start is by discussing the recent article, “College Rankings Are `a Joke,’ Education Secretary Says” that Brianna Hatch wrote for The Chronicle on August 11, 2022.
National Student Research Study
If you are a high school educator, be sure to have your students participate in our national student research. This study benefits your students, educators, and non-profits working with youth. Fill out our quick and easy survey request form and get involved in this important work!