The Anatomy of a Slightly Difficult Day

So, perhaps the title is a bit misleading.  I have an amazing, talented, kind, and hard-working group of students in my class this year.  Day in and day out they cease to wow me with their insightful thoughts, curious questions, and high quality work.  On a daily basis, they work hard in class, bringing their great effort into the room.  Today, however, things were a bit off.  While phenomenal things did happen in the classroom today, some less than good things also occurred.  Their effort and focus, at times, was off.  I had to remind the boys on several occasions during the last period of the day to remain quiet during an assessment.  They were shouting out while their peers were still completing a math assessment.  This is unlike them.  It was a bit disappointing, but not surprising.  For you see, today was a slightly different sort of day in the sixth grade.

The morning began with a free period, like each and every Monday.  But, this period was not so free for the students.  This morning, as the students entered the classroom, my co-teacher and I checked their packed bags for tomorrow’s big field trip.  We’re leaving campus to spend a few days at the Sargent Center in Hancock, NH where we will be building upon the community spirit we’ve been fostering since September.  The students will work in groups to solve problems and take risks.  They will complete a ropes course and have a ton of fun.  The boys have been looking forward to this trip for weeks.  After we checked their bags to be sure they had packed all of the required materials from the packing list, we then provided them with a bunch of information regarding tonight’s study hall and our departure for tomorrow’s big adventure.  The boys seemed focused at this point.  They asked some great questions and seemed to be taking everything in.  All seemed well, to an outsider.  But, to those in the know, this was the beginning of the downward spiral into unfocused-ville and over-excitement town.

What we couldn’t see on the outside, was what was going on in their brains: “OMG, I can’t wait for tomorrow’s big trip.  It is going to be so much fun.  I get to try a ropes course and hang out with my friends for three days straight.  No school, no classes.  AWESOME!  But, I won’t be at home with my parents.  What about them?  What will they do without me?  I won’t be able to check my email or my Instagram feed for three days.  What if I miss a picture.  OMG, I don’t want to go anymore.  I want to stay home.”  And that was just a taste of what they were probably thinking about and how they were most likely feeling after we reviewed the expectations for tomorrow’s trip.  Their focus waned very quickly.  A few of the boys barely even made it through periods three and four with effort and focus.  Distractions began as soon as Humanities class commenced during third period.  A few of the students couldn’t sit still during our read aloud and were blurting out much more than the average Monday.  They were clearly preoccupied.  Many of them, were however, able to hold it together through period four.  Then came STEM class.  This is when the wheels of the bus started to really come off.  Several of the students struggled to stay focused during our math mini lessons.  They were chatting with their classmates and not taking notes as we discussed the commutative property of addition.  However, one third of the class was still holding it altogether during this time.  The true chaos did not begin until the final 20 minutes of class.  That’s when things really got crazy.

While some the students worked diligently to finish their assigned homework so that they wouldn’t have any work to do tonight outside of class, a few of the students sat at their tables doing almost no work.  Even those students who were doing work, were making simple mistakes because they were so mentally distracted.  They were forgetting to show their work, circle their answers, or write the problems out.  These are all things they generally do without much reminding on a “normal” day.  But, there was very little that was normal about today.  Then came the final activity of the academic morning.  They completed a timed math assessment on basic computation skills.  Many of them could not work silently.  They were blurting out and unable to sit still.  They were so focused on the excitement and anxiety of our big field trip that they couldn’t even complete basic tasks like sitting still and not speaking out.  I had to speak sternly to a few students about their distracting behavior during a quiet assessment period.  They of course apologized and realized the error of their ways, but couldn’t seem to help themselves.  They were mentally blocked as all of their brain power was going into thinking about our big trip to a fun outdoor center.  I closed class by debriefing what my co-teacher and I saw from them in class today.  They were distracted, distracting, and unfocused.  While I didn’t directly attribute it to the excitement of tomorrow’s trip, I didn’t harp on them too much.  I know that if I were in their shoes, I would have struggled to stay focused in class as well.  Now, they weren’t super out of control or negative in any way.  They were just unfocused and preoccupied, rightfully so.

However, I wonder if anything could have been done differently to prevent today’s outcome.  What if I had reviewed the expectations for our trip at the end of the academic morning instead of the beginning?  Would that have made a difference?  What if I had empathized with them more when I saw the focus begin to end early on in the morning?  Would that have helped?  I could play this “what if game” all night long and still never really have a concrete answer.  Perhaps something might have helped, but maybe not.  Maybe what happened in the classroom today was inevitable because of tomorrow’s field trip.  Today’s result did leave me pondering how to handle preparing for our next big field trip in April.  I shall prepare them for that differently to see if the outcome changes.  Anything’s possible.


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