I'm sure you have heard before students thrive with a structure in the classroom, as well as routines. But honestly, who doesn't thrive on those things? As people, we desire structure in our own personal lives. I think it's safe to say we also desire routines. Both of those things allow us to know what to expect. That's not to say spontaneity isn't enjoyable too, but if our entire lives were unknown and random, I think we would be a little frazzled. Well, I would be at least.
So how do we provide structure for students, especially students who aren't as used to it? What steps can we take, as educators, to make our classrooms thrive? How do we make our students adaptable, yet used to daily routines? I'll be giving you some practical tips to make your classroom have the structure you desire.
1. Start with routines from the very first day.
Verbally giving your students directions is fine, but I like to actually model the behavior. I will pretend to be them when they come in the classroom. I'll pick up my classroom folder, turn in any assignments to the bin, grab a pencil if I need one, place my phone in the pouch, look at the objective on the screen, grab a laptop (if needed), and sit down to begin working. Yes, I have high school students, but they still need behavior modeled. I show them what I physically want them to do when they enter the classroom.
They might think I am a total dork, as I act the part, but I know they need to see these behaviors modeled. I also will continue to visually show them these routines, when they slip into forgetting what they need to do.
2. Make your entrance routine the same every day.
It's ok to have the same routine every single day. You'll find that having structure for when they first come in will do a couple of things. First, it will give them instruction without you saying a word (eventually, once it is done for several weeks). Second, it gives you time to breathe and collect your thoughts while they come in. Third, it gives you a chance to greet students at the door, which I firmly believe is an absolute must. Fourth, it gives you the opportunity to talk to any students who were absent the day before, or who you need to pull aside while the class is contained.
I find so much joy when I can stand in the hallway, talking to a student or a coworker for a few minutes, knowing my students are in the room working without me watching. Sure, there are those students who struggle with staying on task but my high schoolers in particular do so well with getting to work right away. It makes my teacher heart happy.
Here's a basic look at how my classroom runs the first five to ten minutes of class.
1. Once they're settled and have done the things listed above, they begin with their bell ringer. For my English 1 course, I use an awesome growth mindset journal by The Superhero Teacher; it's for the entire school year (linked here).
2. These prompts only take about three to five minutes for them to answer. Then we discuss it as a class. We get excellent discussion from these prompts. Sometimes we talk for a minute or two, other times we can talk for five or more. I usually just go with the flow of the discussion.
3. Next, I'll go over the daily agenda for the day, which is always on the board. It's a step-by-step look at the day. My students love being able to see what we're up to.
4. We'll review what we did yesterday, usually in the form of a discussion or a game. This gives my absent students a chance to know what they missed. And then we'll go over our measurable objective for the day. An example: "By the end of class, I can define the theme and provide at least two examples of a theme from our story."
3. Acknowledge students who are following the procedures.
Positive reinforcement is beneficial when building routines. When you're trying to establish routines, pass out a little treat for those following directions. Or even verbally affirm them for doing what they were told.
It helps students to see their peers doing the behavior you, as the teacher, desire from them. There's no shame in having a little healthy competition. See who can get to work the fastest, or who can follow the procedure perfectly.
4. Let students teach students what to do.
At my school, we get new students throughout the entire year (I'll write more on that another time). It gets absolutely exhausting when I have to teach these routines every time a new student comes. So rather than being fully responsible for them when they come to my class, I let the students who have been around longer explain directions/routines.
I'll ask a veteran student to take their new classmate through my expectations, show them around the room, and explain our routines. This not only saves me time, but it builds classroom community. Plus, I love seeing how students explain things to one another.
5. Have a routine for those who finish early.
This can be as simple as having them work on work from other classes, or reading silently. Make sure you set an expectation for what they need to do during their free time because it will happen. Here is a blog post I wrote about "Students Who Complete Work Quickly."
6. Have a routine for the end of the day.
Ask yourself, what do you want students to do before they leave? Maybe this is an exit ticket or a completed assignment. Show them where to put their work. Show them how to clean up their area. E.g. put away their folder, clean up any supplies, clean the table if it is wet (maybe from a water bottle), push in their chairs, pick up any trash on the floor or around them. This again might seem unnecessary for high school students, but I promise they need the practice.
7. Have a routine for absent students.
In the past, I have worked in a school with spotty attendance. Some years, our school attendance averaged around 63%. I needed to create a routine for makeup work, and I struggled. I decided to use a crate system with folders for each student. I had a student, who is usually present, be responsible for gathering the absent students' work. This saved me time and energy.
Whatever routines you find helpful, make sure you are consistent in implementing them. Students cannot maintain routines without practice, guidance, modeling, and positive affirmation. I hope these tips help you, as you build your classroom routines.