Midterm Tips for Teachers

A clock with a note next to it that reads, "midterm cram."

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With winter break only a few weeks away, it’s about that point in the school year when students become stressed and overwhelmed with midterms. It’s time to check in with students on how they’re handling their workload. If they are worried or struggling, here are a few ideas that may help.

1. Create An Even Workload

Assigning lots of homework at the last minute will always be tempting, but it means there’s no time left to course-correct if something goes wrong. Evenly space out study sessions so that it’s an attainable workload. Also, don’t be too rigid with when study sessions have to be. Students have lives outside of school, and they appreciate flexibility.

2. Schedule Breaks

Recharge breaks are important, and with practice can become a a healthy habit. Giving your students a break every half hour or so is vital to retaining focus and attention. Take five, listen to a quick podcast, stretch, or have a snack.

3. Clarify Instructions

This one seems obvious, but it bears reinforcing. Remind your student to make certain that they fully understand their assignment. This is a skill (or perhaps just a habit) that will carry over to test-taking, and will serve your students well into the future.

4. Exercise A Little Leniency 

Students make mistakes; it’s part of learning. But instead of chastising them for it, help them develop a system for learning from those mistakes. Build study guides out of failed tests. Keep a notebook of missed problems and see if your student can track for themselves where they need more work and where they just need to pay more attention. Encourage them to revisit problem topics.

5. Teach Students About Anxiety

Nerves go hand-in-hand with mistakes. American schools are so score-oriented that mistakes can often feel oversized and overwhelming to students. This creates fear, which they’ll carry forward into future tests and assignments. If you notice your student struggling with anxiety, teach them how to develop healthy coping mechanisms. Explain to them how mental health and emotional health can impact academic performance.

Teaching Students to Learn From and Acknowledge Mistakes

Three young boys reading a book in a classroom.

Photo courtesy of US Department of Education at Flickr Creative Commons.

Mistakes happen, but learning from them is an essential skill that many students aren’t being taught to use. As children begin to transition into formal schooling, usually around the age of seven, they general come in with one of two mindsets: growth or fixed.

A growth mindset assumes that people can get smarter with hard work, and these students tend to pay attention to and learn from their mistakes. A fixed mindset assumes that intelligence is static, and these students tend to ignore their mistakes because they don’t want to think about how they failed.

According to a new study from Michigan State University, this is measurable in brain activity. 123 children, split into groups based on the mindsets they had about learning, performed a computerized test.

Growth mindset children paid more attention after they realized they made a mistake, and then “bounced back” more than fixed mindset children. Fixed mindset children could learn from their mistakes, but only if they paid close attention to them, something they were less inclined to do in the first place.

The research implies that even fixed mindset children can learn from their mistakes, as long as they acknowledge and pay attention to them. These mindsets aren’t permanent but instead are—and can be—taught.

By addressing mistakes when they happen, we can help students to better understand the problems they face and find ways to overcome them and grow as individuals. By glossing over mistakes though, we’re doing students a disservice, and the earlier we ingrain such behavior, the harder it will be to change over time.

Teaching students that they can, should, and indeed must learn from their mistakes is an obligation that all teachers and parents share. To do otherwise, even with the best of intentions, is a disservice to not only the student, but to society as a whole.