Why Does Focus Change from Day to Day in the Classroom?

Have you ever had one of those days where you feel pretty awesome?  I mean, I know many people dislike Mondays about as much as I dislike Starbucks, but for me, Monday’s are magical.  “Monday Funday!” is my mantra.  Mondays are the beginning of a new adventure.  Anything is possible on Mondays.  Sure, other days are cool too, but there’s something special about Mondays.

As today is Monday, I went into class today excited for the numerous possibilities.  I was ready for fun and excitement.  After such a focused day in the classroom on Saturday, I was ready to be wowed once again by my amazing students.  While the students were a bit chatty at the start of Humanities, they were mostly focused during Reader’s Workshop.  The boys read quietly while my co-teacher and I conferenced with each student about his spring term reading goal, as today marked the beginning of the spring term.  Going into STEM class, I was feeling quite good.  The boys were a bit energetic but seemed focused during Humanities class.

I’m not sure what happened between fourth and fifth periods, but the focus monster clearly visited the sixth grade classroom and stole the focus from a few of my students, as they were not nearly as focused as they were in class on Saturday or as focused as they were during Humanities class.  What’s strange, is that the structure of the class was exactly the same as it was on Saturday.  The boys began the period by working on making progress regarding their assigned Khan Academy course for ten minutes.  While they were mostly focused during this time, when they transitioned from Khan Academy to the next activity, something happened.  The little focus the students had been using seemed to fade.  They were distracting and distracted as they moved into working with their assigned partner to update their Stock Market Game portfolio.  As they know that they need to complete the record sheet by the end of classes on Saturday, they should have been more motivated than they were.  In order to have fun and play in the Makerspace on Saturday, they need to finish this record sheet packet.  Reminding them of that, I thought, was going to motivate the students to stay focused and work hard to make trades via the Stock Market Game website.  However, a few of the students were having side conversations with their peers when they should have been focused on helping their partners make wise decisions to increase the equity of their portfolio.  On Saturday, they were super focused during this time as they wanted to move up in the standings.

This same strained focus continued during the work period when the students, working with their assigned partner, worked to complete the assigned packet on risk.  They know that the more work they accomplish in class means they will have less to do outside of class for homework.  So, why were they not as focused as they were on Saturday?  The task was exactly the same.  The expectations were also the same.  So, what happened?  The students were incredibly focused and worked diligently to complete the assigned stock packet on diversification in class on Saturday.  The students were so focused that they earned two handfuls of marbles for the Marble Jar, a positive reinforcement technique used to help the students see the value in teamwork, compassion and effort.  Today, they were far from earning marbles because of their lack of effort.  Now, as a group, their focus was by no means awful, but it wasn’t as good as it was on Saturday.  Several of the students were trying to stay focused on the task at hand, but a few of the students were chatting with their friends regarding unrelated topics.  So, what was the difference between today and Saturday?  Why were the students so much more focused in STEM class on Saturday than they were today?  Were there any variables that could have caused this odd result?

The only differences between today and Saturday were the following:

  • The weather outside was a bit better on Saturday than it was today.  The air temperature was a bit lower today.
  • We began Saturday’s mini-lesson with a short video on diversification.  I began today’s mini-lesson with a quick overview of the three types of risk.
  • Two students were missing from the class on Saturday due to athletic commitments.  Everybody was present today.

That was it though.  Everything else was almost exactly the same.  Could these minor tweaks have made the difference?  Perhaps the temperature outside somehow impacted the air pressure inside the classroom to keep their brains more focused.  Or maybe the video I used on Saturday helped to focus the students prior to working.  The two students that were missing tend to be the more focused students in class on average anyway, and so I doubt their absence played a role.  I wonder what it was that caused today’s difference.  Rather than supposing and hypothesizing I feel as though I should think about what I can do to possibly prevent this lack of focus next time.  What could I have done differently today to help the students stay more focused?  Could I have used a video to introduce the idea of risk to the students?  Should I have allowed the students to work with their partner to troubleshoot the concept of risk as they complete the worksheet packet together?  Might that have helped?  What if I split the students up in the room a bit more as they were in a confined area of our large classroom?  Perhaps that would have made a difference?  Other than that, I’m at a bit of a loss as for what to change.  The one big difference, which might have actually been at play today was the fact that this is the last week of classes prior to spring break.  Maybe the students are just overly excited and can’t focus.  In that case, this is going to be a long week, which is why it will be super important for me to be at the top of my game.  I need to whip out every trick in my book this week to motivate, inspire, and help keep the students focused.

Even though things didn’t go exactly as I would have liked them to on this here Monday Funday, I’m not letting it get me down.  Oh no!  I’m using it as fodder to make tomorrow an even better day.  Learning from my mistakes is one of the easiest ways to grow as a teacher.  So, watch me grow!


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