I recently got the opportunity to get into my classroom and get the physical space set up for the new school year. I rearranged bookcases for ease of access and organization. I moved my desk to a different location in the room to maximize flow and efficiency. I rearranged the computers in my room to change focus of their use. I arranged students’ desks to foster collaborative working relationships between students. Although my arms and back may have been a bit tired, the real work is still waiting to begin. The arrangement of the physical space of a classroom is a core component to creating an inviting learning environment, but I believe that there are more important needs in a classroom: Procedures.
Procedures and routines are, in my opinion, the critical factors that separate successful classrooms from those who are not. When students know what to expect and feel comfortable in how to carry out their daily routines, there is an ease that fosters success. So, what in your classroom requires a pre-determined routine? Well, everything. Can there be more than one routine for a particular objective? Sure, as long as you teach it. Here are a few of the routines that I establish (and practice religiously) in the first days of school.
Handing Out Papers:
- Each student in my classroom has a “mailbox” constructed from a standard office mail sorter. I return all papers to the individual student’s mailbox. There are designated times throughout the day when students are allowed to check their boxes. Anything that must be returned is stamped/sticker-ed with a brightly colored notation and also written on the homework board.
- If a student is absent, I put all of their papers from the day they are out into their mailbox. Students know that if they have been out, that’s where they should check for their work. I also go ahead and write all due dates on that paper (traditionally, one school day for each day absent).
- I also keep my own mailbox in our sorter. Students turn in their excuse notes (and any other communication from parents) to my mailbox. I can check it and take appropriate action when it is convenient for me, and I know where they are!
- Obviously, this tends to be a more primary/elementary issue, but it’s always something to consider. I have students treat hallways like a two-lane road, and they must follow traffic rules for an intersection each time they reach one. I teach students early to stop at each intersection (or if it’s a long hallway, a particular “landmark” like a fire extinguisher or teacher’s door). This helps me to keep my stragglers in check and not end up with half of my line at the destination and the other half still in the room.
- I don’t do door holders. I know lots of people do. I have adopted the idea that students should work on general, real-world courtesy. They learn to hold the door for the person behind them with a “tap and go” practice. Hopefully this idea will translate as they are walking into community buildings, as well.
Starting the Day:
- My students come in the room each day to background music and explicit directions on the board. Even on day 180, I do not assume they remember what to do. They become conditioned to check the board as they walk in each day. I usually remind students to unpack, check their mailboxes, sharpen pencils and use the restroom before the announcements. I also often have a starter assignment for the day. If the starter assignment is a worksheet, it is in their mailboxes.
- I use a passing system to collect papers. I don’t usually let students go around and pick them up. I don’t always have students pass the exact same way, but there’s always a target.
- I usually don’t mind if students get up and sharpen pencils during independent working time of a lesson. If I am teaching though, the grind of the sharpener can get a bit distracting. I use an empty cubed tissue box to help my students know when it is not acceptable to get up and walk to the sharpener. The tissue box slides neatly over the sharpener as a great visual cue not to get up right then.
- When students need help during work time, I have a couple of different ways to organize that. Usually, I have students ask their tablemates for clarification. If the lesson needs to be individual in nature, I hand out red plastic drinking cups. If a student is in need of assistance, he/she can put the cup on the corner of the desk as a cue for me. This trick also works great when in the computer lab because the cups will easily prop on top of the computer monitors.
There are dozens more procedures and routines that are integral parts of my daily classroom life. I probably could not even begin to list them all because they are so ingrained in my own head. They have certainly been honed throughout my ten years of teaching. We often set routines to make our lives easier, but we do not think about how that make learning more effective and more efficient. So, how will you make your students’ lives easier this year?