Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Interruptions: Do They Matter?

Lately I’ve been concerned about classroom interruptions and their impact on learning. I’m wondering if these interruptions are having any real bearing on the scores of “those” tests that are looming right around the corner. I try to stay as postive as I possibly can around here, but it seems that in my corner of the education world the interruptions are becoming more frequent in number and it’s becoming extremely frustrating….mainly because I have no control over many of these situations.

Here are just some of the interruptions regarding the teaching and learning time in my classroom over the last two days…..

*One chair flew across the room yesterday as I had the audacity to ask a young man to read. I know…..we all know the statistics that many of our behavior problems stem from children classified as special education. This young man is not under that umbrella. In fact, he is one of the brightest students I have and has so much potential. However, he is my biggest baby and usually gets his way by pouting, crying, and pulling his coat up over his head. Sometimes he takes to sitting in the middle of the room during a lesson thinking I’ll give in and let him go to the media center or any other assortment of places he wants to visit to avoid what is going on in the classroom. Luckily I’ve trained the students to ignore pouty boy and eventually he gives up and joins in, but it can still be distracting.

*Last Friday within one hour I had six students check out. I was teaching a crucial lesson regarding five paragraph essays. I had already put the lesson off two days because of other afternoon interruptions or a high number of folks missing-in-action due to absent students, in-school suspension, or any other assorted reasons. For a few minutes during class I was interrupted by the intercom every other sentence. Students were being called to check out, students were being called to the office for medication, to visit the counselor, or for other reasons.

*Then there are the small annoying interruptions. Assorted students knocking on my door dragging coats, hats, and mittens asking, “Does this belong to any of your kids?” I don’t send my students on these types of forays. If a coat if left in my room I have a student hang it on one the coat hooks. Believe me, the owner will track it down. They always do.

And there’s more…

*A student withdraws….I stop to fill out papers….chaos erupts

*A new student arrives….I stop to introduce myself to the parent….chaos erupts.

*A student on our team has had a behavior issue in another classroom and is being sent to in-school suspension. I have to stop to gather assignments for the student. Chaos erupts.

*Today, during group time in Language Arts things are going great….too great if you know what I mean. Students are on task and I’m able to meet with several to discuss their last test result and to set some goals with them. Suddenly my accelerated group bursts through the door announcing they have been sent back to the room (they meet with the gifted teacher on Tuesdays) early. Early? Forty-five minutes is not early. It is a disaster. Suddenly I had to plug them into different activities and everyone’s rythm was off.

*Beginning tomorrow my second period social studies class won’t be meeting for the remainder of the week. Students will be attending a three-day seminar in the media center…..yes, you read that right….three class periods. The topic is Good Touch-Bad Touch, and before you think it let me state right here I’m all for the topic. It is a valid counseling session for the kids, but three class periods in crunch time leading up to high-stakes testing? Couldn’t this be scheduled for August or even May? No offense to the staff members who are given the task to schedule these things....sometimes they are at the mercy of others, however, we are mid-point in our look at the American Revolution. The other history teacher and I must become very flexible in order to add in our history content into an already packed language arts time. Two classess are disrupted instead of one.

And finally, this one takes the cake……

*In the middle of a discussion about the Battle of Bunker Hill (Breed’s Hill for us in the know) a student who is on the other team waltzed into my room with several bags of stuff without knocking. With no acknowledgement to me she made the rounds to several girls and giggled and carried on as she presented each little friend with a going-away gift. No…my students weren’t going away. The girl who interrupted my lesson had supposedly already gone away. She had withdrawn from our school three days before. She made the same rounds to each fourth grade room and interrupted each lesson in the same way. When I inquired with the office about her “visit” I was told she did have permission to come down to our hallway, but the person who allowed her to come did not realize she was bringing gifts to students. They thought she was just going to her homeroom teacher. Gee…….weren’t the twelve gift bags in her arms a clue?! Of course, my lesson was over. All the kids could think about was what was in the bags.

So, what kinds of interruptions are you experiencing? Do you think they have a negative effect on learning? Do you think they can have an impact on those all important test scores?


ms-teacher said...

In my three hour block class which has our students who are deemed to be far below basic in Language Arts, I have a young man who chronically taps, smacks and any other type of rhythmic noises he can think of, on his desk. I'm at my wits end as to how to handle is constant need to make rhythmic noises. The other students don't like it much either as it really disturbs them when most of them are trying really hard to not be in this three hour intensive class next year.

Another thing that always annoys me is the fact we are told to not send a student to the office without a referral. However, we are also told to call home when we write a referral. There are times that I'll just deal with the behavior as best I can rather than interrupt the flow more than it already has been just to make a phone call home to a parent that I've probably already talked to.

Hang in there. If nothing else, your post helps me realize that I'm not alone when I'm dealing with very frustrating behaviors, of not only my students but adults who should know better.

EHT said...

Thanks Ms. Teacher. I have several table bangers too. About referrals......I agree. It is much easier to handle things on your own when you can because the alternative takes too long. Getting in trouble three days after the fact is sending the wrong message....a message I don't enjoy being part of.

Ms. Q said...

Being in a high school, where announcements for students (i.e., there are announcements for the following students in the office) are not possible--not with 2,000+ kids. So, instead, notes come at all times during the day. Notes from counseling. Notes from attendance. Notes from migrant. Notes from the office. Security coming to find the taggers. APs coming to do the same thing. All day long I have at least three interruptions per day (and those are the GOOD days). I feel your pain!

Anonymous said...

As an administrator, I wonder if the students "checked out" of the lesson, or if the lesson did not invite them to stay in touch. The best classrooms are the ones where the students are activly engaged in the learning. If you are "teaching the lesson", they are passive listeners instead of active learners!! They don't grab on to something, they switch the channel.

Prior to casting blame on students and the behaviors they bring to our schools, look first at what changes we have made in our behaviors over the years to better meet the needs of the kids. WE ARE HERE FOR THEM, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

The Tour Marm said...

In reference to the comment by Anonymous:

So it's never the student's fault?

It's never the parents' fault?

It's never the administration's fault?

It's always the teacher's fault?

That's outrageous!

And one wonders why we are losing good teachers!

This site is being written and maintained by a very concientious, caring, and innovative teacher. To suggest otherwise is offensive.

I have been leading students (over 17,000 of them) over the course of 25 years and I can safely say that the dysfunctional parents and home environments are 80% of our students' problems.

We do put the students first, but did you ever consider that one 'difficult' child can affect the entire class?

And as for passive versus active participation; why do our students always have to be, 'entertained' all the time? There has got to be a time when they learn how to listen to and receive information as well as a time for silent study and introspection; that is how we prepare them for real life.

Perhaps you ought to be more supportive of teachers who have to deal with difficult students, constant external distractions, and interruptions of their lessons. Better still, put yourself back in the trenches and see how well you can do under the same circumstances.

Scribbit said...

You've got a bit of heat going here and I don't know that I have much to contribute other than to say I don't understand why more parents don't turn off the tv and video games. Children today have become conditioned to have low attention spans, which promotes distractions. Whenever I'm working with children in a classroom I have the constant suspicion that I'm competing with the screen, that I need flashing lights and beeping sounds to get their attention. Kids are all about the next source of entertainment and until parents teach them that we don't go to school to be entertained but to learn--which is HARD sometimes, but valuable nonetheless and perhaps more valuable because of the difficulties involved--we'll never see an improvement in education. Throwing money at the system won't change a thing as long as kids are staring at screens all day. Ironically enough, so much money funneled into classrooms goes to things like computer labs. More electronic media. Just what a child today needs.

EHT said...

Thanks for your input Q, Tour Marm and Scribbit. I appreciate your comments.

Anonymous, I really appreciate your opinion, however, because you failed to give my readers and I a screen name I'm at a disadvantage...I'm not sure if you are a regular reader or not. So forgive me if I mention something you already know.

I post many of my exchanges with students, many of my activities, and many of the interesting things I do to engage students in hopes I might help other social studies teachers that aren't as "fact friendly" with history content. Regular readers know I'm about best practices and engagement.

Anonymous, if you are indeed an administrator your comments paint you as a typical one. You missed the point of my post. You took hold of my one point and decided to craft a comment based on that.

You see, the point was interruptions into the teaching time. While I agree with you that I am in charge of the learning environment in my classroom I am not in charge of the myriad of interruptions that constantly appear at my classroom door. You see I'm the teacher known for engaging students at my school. I'm the teacher that is assigned some of the most incorrigible students at my school. I am the teacher that is assigned many of the students with overall health or mental concerns. Why? Because I know how to engage students and can handle various levels and various needs.

The interruptions that I mention in my post, Anonymous Administrator, are YOUR domain. They are under YOUR control, and you either respect the learning environment or you don't.

Luckily I actually work with an administrator who does try to limit interruptions and listens when teachers begin dialogue concerning it. In fact, she has already apologized to me twice concerning the former student who pranced around with the gift bags. She would never blame my teaching methods because students are suddently more interested in a gift bag instead of the educational activities that were interrupted.

It's amazing to me that every time educators want to discuss the other side of the coin regarding success in education they only want to focus on teacher improvement as if none of the other ingredients to education matter.

I'm tired of being made to feel as if I don't care about my students because I speak out about interruptions, kids who "won't", and all of the other issues that come into play.

I care very much about my students and that's exactly why I do speak out. If we don't begin to seriously address many of the other problems in education besides teacher improvement we will simply keep getting what we have. The public must buy in to some improvements as well, and the only way to do this is to speak frankly about it and not shove it under the carpet with platitudes that are meant to silence others with guilt.

Mike in Texas said...

We were actually interrupted today by the asst. principal, who wanted to tell everyone in the school he has placed a "joke" box at the front of the school and inviting kids to submit their favorite jokes for him to read during mornig announcements.

EHT said...

Hmmmm....seems like he is aware of the morning announcements. Seems like his announcement about the joke box could have waited for the the morning announcements, huh?

Thanks for commenting Mike.

Anonymous said...

Dealing with those special education students all day, every distraction is a MAJOR distraction. It is so difficult to get them back on task. An announcement, "teachers, pardon this interruption, please release all students who are attending the "red referral ice cream social", then two more times for the different grade levels.

Another major interruption is going to the bathroom, getting a drink, early dismissals, inappropriate comments, etc. I feel we spend most of the day redirecting students.

Mister Teacher said...

We have a lot of pull-out tutoring groups going on. Kids leave for half an hour for Accelerated Reading Instruction, Accelerated Math Instruction, Dyslexia Remediation, etc. It can be very trying.

Also, our principal routinely comes on the announcement system at 2:40 (school lets out at 3:00) and talks for 8 to 10 minutes. This is usually right as we're trying to wrap things up and get the kids packed up.

Anonymous said...

I won't repeat what has been stated before, except to say that in my classroom, students who blur learning time and social time and engage in sidebar conversations which have nothing at all to do with class are the major problem in my classroom. In fact, I had to give a schooling today. It's very frustrating, and when I am the one to give the schooling, and my colleagues typically don't then I am labeled as "mean".

It's all very frustrating.:(

Jane said...

I have nine special education students who get pulled out at various times for speech, adaptive PE, counseling, resource instruction.... then there are the ones who are not special ed but should be who get easily distracted by the revolving door! I guess I would say it would be harder to talk about the times when I am not disrupted. The list is so much shorter.

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