In my last blog post I wrote about the importance of structures in our day. In this blog post I want to explore ways to build structures into the day.
Classroom teachers usually don’t have control over when music class starts or when art is scheduled, but we do have control over what we do with the blocks of time we have. A recent conversation with one of my colleagues, helped me realize that no matter how chaotic the day, teachers can build structures that help students predict, understand and better learn.
Routines are important. When I speak of routines, I am talking about the way we move in the classroom. In my classroom we line up to leave the room the same way everyday. I even pass out papers in a deliberate manner. For example, when I am passing out an assignment, I place four papers on each table. I used to have students distribute papers, but I learned that it was much faster and less disruptive for me to do it.
Another way to build structure into the school day is to look at the layout of the room. I try to make sure materials are obvious and available. I seldom pass out materials. During the first few weeks the students complete experiences that cause them to discover where items are located and I leave them in the same place all year long. Each year I make minor adjustments to where markers, scissors, and papers are stored, but after five years of studying the layout and noticing the traffic patterns of my room, I think things flow pretty well.
Recently our end of the day routine in my classroom wasn’t as structured as I wanted it to be and the lack of structure was causing problems. Kids were forgetting their binders, their lunch boxes, and their books. I asked the kids to help me solve the problem. They offered suggestions and we built a new structure. Now at the end of the day, we sit in a circle in the middle of the room. We run through our daily reminder list and then we do a short activity. Not only is it more structured, it is more pleasant and everyone is prepared for his or her evening’s work.
Undoubtedly the most important aspects in a classroom are the lessons. Teachers can build structures that help students switch from one thing to another. They can give students cues that focus their attention on the topic at hand.
One of my first grade-teaching colleagues starts her reading block everyday with the same action, phrase and location lesson. First she rings a bell to call students’ attention. Next she announces, “It is time for reading. Place your book basket on your desk. Come to the carpet and sit beside your reading partner.” Then she sits on a stool at the front of the carpet and waits for the group to assemble. Once they have all settled in she says, “Readers, I have something to teach you today…” Recently she told me that if she skips this little ritual her students say, “You didn’t do it right.”
Even though we know there is no ‘right’ way to do this work, students are looking to us. They want to learn. By providing routines and structure, we are providing focus and clarity and making it easier for them to be successful.