Schools Struggle to Maintain Focus|Southern Education Desk
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Some teachers consider the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas a difficult time.
Students are excited about the holidays, and their focus is not always on schoolwork.
Kindergarten students at Shady Grove Elementary are tuning up their caroling voices.
And seasonal spirit is palpable in the classrooms.
Shady Grove Elementary School in Monroe
“I love singing and dancing.”
Shady Grove Elementary School music teacher Melissa Tucker enjoys the festive season, but it’s not without its challenges.
She says the children are hyper, and she adjusts her teaching style accordingly.
“Behavioral objectives are what you want the children to accomplish by the end of your lesson. And, usually, you can do about three or four with the younger kids. And this time of year I don’t even do that, I want them to get one or two concepts rather than three or four concepts. So I do try to limit them because of all the interruptions and the lack of focus.”
Tucker says the effect the season has on children in her classes varies from class to class.
“You would be amazed that the four-year-olds and the five-year-olds have more focus than the older children. It seems like these special holidays actually make the fourth and fifth graders more hyper and more difficult to maintain their focus than the young children.”
Off the record, many teachers express exasperation, saying the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are a lost cause for instruction.
But Shady Grove’s principal, Jerlyn Bobo, says that staying on a clear educational track is crucial at this time of year – especially with the need to prepare for high-stakes testing in the spring.
“In December – this week – we’re doing that now. They’ve got a mid-term test that we give them – a diagnostic mode – to see where they are at this point. And when we come back from Christmas holidays, we will know where to start.”
Principal Bobo says that weighting schedules toward academics instead of seasonal festivities keeps the school running through the holidays.
But holiday time may not be a predictor of how much school work all students actually do.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that for high school and college students, homework production actually rises during time off – going from a little less than three hours during the week to nearly three-and-a-half hours on weekends and holidays.
In the primary grades, preparation for state tests remains a priority for administrators, but students tend to focus on the holidays rather than academics, so the key is in striking a balance.
Ouachita Parish director of elementary schools, Ann Davis, says holiday excitement tends to have a negative effect on learning.
“But it’s also an exciting time. And we work with elementary children and we know that’s important to them, so it’s kind of worth it to us, a little bit, for them to enjoy the holidays and the season.”
Principal Bobo says the teachers are teachers have to step up at this time of year.
“It’s a little harder for the teachers to keep the kids under control. They have to work a little harder at it. But they do it.”
She says she will allow some relaxation of the academic imperative when the Shady Grove Christmas play debuts on December 20.
Until then, says Principal Bobo, it’s business as usual.