Short-term assignments can help students review and practice material that has already been covered in class. Math students may need to review decimals, for example, while students of foreign languages may be required to go over verb conjugations. Long-term projects give students a chance to vary the pace of their work, delve into subjects that interest them, integrate large amounts of information, and learn to manage their time and meet deadlines.
First, he gives one `popcorn quiz' each semester -- an idea he borrowed from his daughter, Carol Ward, who is also a Montana teacher. Before students arrive for class, Mr. Beyer writes each word on two separate pieces of paper. For a class of 30 students, 15 words will be written out, each one twice. Each student is given one sheet of paper, which he or she crumples up in a ball. When Mr. Beyer flashes the classroom lights, students toss their wadded paper into the air and catch another classmate's, repeating this `popcorn' process until Mr. Beyer again flashes the lights about 30 seconds later. They have one additional minute to find one wad and match up with the classmate with the identical word, and another minute to write out the definition together. Students then come to the front of the classroom in pairs to read the word and definition. The pressure is on to learn the definitions, since everyone in the class gets the same grade--the number wrong subtracted from the total number of vocabulary words.
Second, Mr. Beyer surprises students at the classroom door with a vocabulary list of words he has asked them to learn. No one can get into the room before the tardy bell unless he or she gives a correct definition. "At first, they can't believe it -- they have to know something just to get in!" Mr. Beyer says. "Later, it's fun to see their happy groans when they see me at the door." A variation -- informing students ahead of time that all students who respond correctly to the word Mr. Beyer gives them at the classroom door the next day will be excused from the quiz and given 100 percent. "They work harder than normal just to miss the quiz," he says.
Variety can also invigorate teachers. Mrs. Harman is now in her 35th year of teaching English and French to 7th- through 12th-graders. "I rarely make the same writing assignment twice," she says. "Students deserve a fresh approach. And I try to teach one new book a year, so I'm not teaching the same things year after year."