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Does Learning Take Place on Holidays?

One of my favorite days of the year growing up was Halloween.  I used to and still do love getting dressed up and pretending to be something I’m not just to get candy.  It was great.  Plus, I love candy.  I mean, who doesn’t love sugar and chocolate?  It’s delicious.  However, when I think back to my school days on Halloween, I don’t remember much other than the costume parades and parties.  Did I learn anything on those days?  Did we have math, language arts, and science on Halloween?  I don’t recall.  So, if I’m struggling to remember quality learning taking place on those days, can I expect that my students will be in the learning mindset on special days like Halloween?

As today was Halloween, we planned a special movie party for the final two periods of the class day.  However, this meant that we still had Humanities class, which was fine because Reader’s Workshop is a very choice-based and engaging activity.  They should have very little difficulty staying focused for 80 minutes of Reader’s Workshop, or so I thought.  While some students were able to keep it together and read silently or work on their mental image illustration, several students had trouble staying focused and making effective use of the various classroom spaces.  Several students were chatting and pushing in the Reading Nook, which is an area reserved for silent reading.  Some students working at their desks were chatting with their neighbors in an off-topic manner.  They struggled to read and/or draw for 80 minutes.  Was it because it was Halloween?  Was it because some of them were in costume and so the dress code impacted their focus?  Did the students have trouble staying on track because they had consumed too much candy?  Would it have been better to plan a more teacher-directed activity or class so as to keep the boys on track?  Was placing the choice in their court too much pressure on such a special and different day?  Whatever it was, some students did seem to be challenged by staying focused throughout the period.

So, is it worth having classes on special days like this?  Should we just cancel classes on Halloween?  Or should we plan special activities in class on those days?  Would the activities allow them to stay on track more?  Would anything have made a difference.  I do believe that Halloween is a very special and treasured day for our sixth graders.  They really enjoy this holiday and did consume a large amount of candy prior to coming to fourth period today.  While cancelling classes may not make a difference, thinking about what we plan on Halloween might greatly impact how the day goes for us in the classroom.  We need to have a teacher directed hands-on activity planned for days like this.  We need to keep the students engaged throughout the day.  Despite changing the way we plan for Halloween, the amount of genuine learning that happens will still be minimal due to the excitement level.  The students are thinking of everything but what is happening inside the classroom.  We as teachers need to realize this and not plan to cover anything new or difficult.  We certainly shouldn’t plan a test or assessment for days like this.  We need to remember the neuroscience behind teaching and learning: Learning happens when students are actively engaged.  If their minds are a million miles away, learning will certainly not take place.  Knowing this, we just need to be cognizant of what we plan and how we teach it.  We can’t expect the students to work in small groups or on individual work for long periods of time on Halloween.  We need to vary our teaching methods and allow for parties and fun stuff.  Our students are still kids and we need to be aware of what kids will remember.  They will remember the fun times, and learning about fractions may not be fun for them unless you do it with candy or a fun game.  Thoughtful planning on days like Halloween will allow for more success in the classroom.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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