The Comfort of Routines

After having a busy day at school nothing feels more comfortable than visiting a dear friend and sharing the ups and downs of the day. As I sat at her beautifully painted kitchen table, I realized that our visits have a typical series of regular steps that would do each time. As we start catching up she lights the Himalayan tea light candle, pours me a glass of my favorite wine, prepares a plate of fruit and cheese and asks if I want to choose an “Angel Card.” Today I chose Creative Potential. (You are by nature creative. Life is a sea of creative potential just waiting to be expressed through you. You are free to express all your hearts desires.) I then pull out the latest stack of books I’m reading and begin to share my favorites. We naturally have fallen into this comfortable routine and automatically the stresses of the day start to melt away.

As I was driving home I was thinking about one of the classrooms I visited today. Popping into first grade during a reading workshop I saw a room full of six and seven-year-olds scattered about the room in their comfortable spots reading independently. The room was quiet, the students were engaged with their new favorite chapter book and the teacher was conferencing with a reader. As any elementary teacher knows this doesn’t happen without a lot of time and energy spent in the beginning of the year focusing on creating routines and expectations.

This made me think of the guidelines that most teachers follow when setting up classroom routines. It is especially important to think this through in regards to the reading and writing portions of the day. When first thinking about these routines teachers need to think about the recurring events and put systems in place for these events. Creating a bit more structure in classroom routines will help students through the week and keep everyone on the right track. Some of these may include administrative tasks, instructional procedures, and interactive routines.

Administrative tasks may include choosing and storing books for independent reading, replenishing and gathering tools or materials such as; post-it notes, writing paper and pencils. Instructional procedures may encompass where to sit for whole group instruction, utilizing partnerships, and chants or motions to signal students of transitions in instruction. This will help to ensure that students behave in ways that maximize positive outcomes during teacher-led instruction, small group instruction, partnerships and especially independent reading time. Finally, interactive routines need to be shared incorporating; how to have a respectful conversation in groups or partnerships and digital conversations.

When first presenting a new routine to students creating a procedural anchor chart with students will help them remember the new procedure until it becomes a routine. Kate and Maggie Roberts share the importance of creating charts/tools with students in their book DIY Literacy. This is a great resource for creating tools to support student independence. As the year progresses teachers may need to revisit certain procedural charts. 

Of course, the next step is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Modeling how to come to the meeting area needs to be practiced with not only Kindergarten students but also middle school students. Taking the time to go from seats to meeting area multiple times and on multiple days is a must for many classrooms.

When teaching in first grade I actually created a Smartboard with “Transition Music.” There were four symbols on a slide, in the theme for the year. I chose music from old sitcoms that made me smile. Each symbol could be pressed and a short (1-5 minute) audio clip would play. Students practiced transitioning from one area to the next, bringing necessary materials with them by the time the music would stop. The most wonderful part is once established I never had to say a word.

Lastly, the teacher should have the students practice the procedures until they know them well. The teacher shows recognition of their progress, gives praise, encouragement, and works to have the students internalize these procedures as routines. Amazingly one day it does seem to just flow altogether. The systems and routines become as comfortable for the student as they do for the teacher. Please share in the comment section routines you have put into place that help expand your instruction time and made your classroom an enjoyable and pleasant place to learn.

2018 SOL #21


4 thoughts on “The Comfort of Routines”

  1. I liked the way you took us through a thoughtful process of setting up routines. They don’t just happen. They are well planned. I am a retired principal so have not introduced classroom routines in quite a while but I saw it in many classrooms. I saw when it worked and when it didn’t work. Your post is great advice for teachers looking to implement new routines in the classroom. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Routines took up a great deal of time in my first days with any class, but all the effort was worth it at the end of a semester or a year. Things just seemed to run more smoothly.

  3. I love the routine you have with your friend. It sounds wonderful. And you’re so right about all the work that goes into creating the lovely reading scene you described. So much work, but what an excellent payoff in the end!

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