Anyone who has worked in a high school is familiar with senioritis, the syndrome that causes seniors to relax their academic efforts with the justification that they’ve worked hard for the past four years and deserve a break now. For a small number of 12th graders it starts the day they begin their senior year; for the majority, it takes hold as soon as they are accepted to college, or when grades for the first half of the year have been input. (Most colleges don’t see the grades for the second half of the year until after students have been accepted.)
Teachers and administrators often try to come up with solutions to senioritis: sometimes departments construct creative curriculums or out-of-the-box assignments; other times they reorganize entire course structures–one school I worked at offered an English class that was paired with an internship so that the students spent half of their time in the classroom and the other half in the real world learning skills related to their career interests. Most often, though, teachers’ hands are tied when it comes to deviating from the traditional classroom setting.
Senioritis exists, in large part, because students’ internal motivation to learn has been squashed in the competitive academic environment that, however unintentionally, rewards high GPAs and test scores above learning for learning’s sake. It seems obvious, then, that to combat this mindset, teachers and administrators need to engage students in activities that will have value to them beyond these metrics. Ned Johnson, founder of PrepMatters, looks at senior year as “an opportunity for kids to figure out their inner motivation, post college acceptance” (2019). As school librarians, we can assist teachers in implementing activities that facilitate this soul searching.
One such project I’ve been a part of the past several years is “Stand Up For Something.” Created by a 12th-grade English teacher in my high school, the project asks students to research a notable individual who has taken on a cause and worked hard to initiate local or global change. The students can choose from an extensive list provided, which includes Serena Williams, Ellen DeGeneres, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Anne Wojcicki, or they can find a person on their own. Students do an in-depth study of their subjects through books, articles, podcasts, and videos. They gain insight into the sacrifices made, obstacles overcome, and failures that often lead to greater success. After writing a short paper about the person, complete with MLA citations, they give a final presentation in character, embodying the values and beliefs of their person.
Each year, I am amazed at how diligently the seniors complete the tasks necessary for this project, which is assigned during the third quarter. It’s even more impressive because the classes are not comprised of high-level honors students; some of them struggle academically. The students are held to a strict schedule, and are rewarded points for each activity they perform on time. The classes meet in the school library for five consecutive days, during which I give a database/research presentation, and provide individual help finding and citing resources. Not only does their teacher help prepare them for college by urging them to seek out answers on their own before asking questions, she also strengthens their time management by giving them several tasks to be completed on a specific timeline. Because they are excited by the topics, they stay focused and are immersed in their research.
Though there is no cure for senioritis, implementing projects that capture students’ interests, while also giving them practice using tools that will come in handy after high school, can help engage seniors at their most vulnerable time. We still have a long way to go to achieve educational environments that promote learning as its own reward, but until then, we can do our best to be creative and inspirational.
Johnson, Ned. 2019. “How to Cure the New Senioritis? Make Yourself Your Senior Project.” The New York Times (Apr. 4). https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/04/well/family/senioritis-high-school-transition-college.html.
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.