It Could Have Been Better!


I had my 5th graders blog about our classroom and school being broken into this week. I got to school and the police car was already their – one of my classroom’s windows was smashed in (and another classroom experienced the same fate in another wing), and there was some damage to our world globe and glass was everywhere as well as that feeling of being violated. It really got my emotions flaring and with encouragement from my principal and others I decided that I would have my students write about the experience.

My thinking was that they would be emotional about their classroom being invaded and we would channel that into their writing. Before the mess was cleaned up I quickly ran around and took photos so students could see what it had really looked like. I met them outside the room before they entered and explained what had happened and then using the photos and other pieces of evidence (broken globe, the rock that had smashed the glass and glass still present on our carpet) I walked them through what probably had happened. I involved them like detectives as we looked at the clues and had them help come up with a plausible sequence of events.

Next we took notes about what different things “looked like” … a student offered a description of the pile of broken glass outside our room as “…blue ice broken from a puddle,” for example. Most students had a page and a half of notes about what they saw, how they felt about the situation and some words we had brainstormed on the board. They were well prepared to write and I set them to their task of drafting, editing, word processing and eventually posting a blog post about their experience. Boy, was I good or what? This was going to be great!

Instead, it was only OK. Everyone got right to drafting and editing – they were all on task … they seemed to be working hard – but as they got far enough along that there was something to look at I noted their writing was not as full of emotion as I had expected.

After lunch I was missing about a third of my class thanks to lunch helper duty and a Read 180 class. So I took that time to question the students in the room about the day’s events. With the exception of 3 students they didn’t perceive the break-in as a big deal. “Nothing important was taken.” “Our laptops are all still here.” A digital camera was missing in one room and a teachers PDA was gone in another but “big deal” was the overall attitude of the vast majority.

Then I asked them to raise their hand if they had ever had the police come to their house, or if they had ever watched the police arrest someone outside their house. EVERY HAND WENT UP. I said, “Keep your hand up if this happened more than once.” 2 hands went down. “More than 2 times,” 2 more hands went down. Then students started sharing all their “arrest experiences.” I had to cut that off because what they were sharing was a bit too personal. UPDATE: My wife asked her middle to high socio-economic 4th graders how many of them had seen the police arrest someone at or near their home. 3 raised their hands. Food for thought.

I told them that the windows that were broken would probably cost close to and probably more than $1,000 to fix and that this was not something that they should put up with … that even if they just came in and walked around and left (without breaking a window) it was wrong.

They hadn’t thought about it that way … NOW they were all riled up wanting to discuss things … and a few made changes to what they wrote earlier reflecting their new found disdain for the whole thing.

But, I screwed up by not having THAT discussion earlier. I don’t feel I exactly “hurried”, we pre-wrote for an hour and discussed things some, but obviously I didn’t have THE STUDENTS express themselves verbally enough before they wrote.

And that is why … Learning Is Messy!

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3 thoughts on “It Could Have Been Better!

  1. It’s so easy to forget the different relationship that these students have with crime, punishment, the law, and law enforcement. Also, it brings back that sometimes good writing starts with a good discussion.

  2. Brian,

    Excellent blog post! Thanks for candidly sharing both your students’ experience and YOURS. All through the article I kept thinking, “Yep, learning IS messy sometimes!” Then, at the end, you said out loud what I had been thinking!

    I remember you telling me about your class’ profile, and we were comparing our two fifth grade classes as to their socio-economics. I wonder how MY class would have responded to a similar incident. Hmmm, food for thought!

    Keep up the good work and writing!

  3. Brian…your students are lucky….despite a break-in, despite a situation that you describe as one that they are almost numb to crime that occurs around them, they are lucky. Why…because they have you. Following your blog for a short while, but seeing your work in the past, it is evident that you care about your students and want to teach them that they too need to be good people. Using technology as a tool is great, but it is just that, a tool. The students will *learn* from teachers that care. and model good behavior. In this post, your willingness to share your failures (not that this was a true failure) as well as successes is a model for us and your students that you care about what you do, that you reflect on what you do and learn from what you do. In their situations, your students are lucky to have you to help guide them through.