Structuring classroom routines
Students read signs quicker than they read your intent or remember your voice. The digital child is icon intelligent. Signs and symbols guide them through new media and technology. Learners use icons to plot their map of new worlds and new routines. Using them in the STEM classroom means you can teach complex routines and have clear reminders displayed.
As you negotiate or impose routines agree a set of icons to represent the steps. Leave the icons on display near the activity. The signs you agree with the group help to focus the students on the behaviours that you need to see. They must be positive, affirming and engaging. Before embarking on a new activity establish the routine, draw it, display it and refer to it continually.
Teach new routines immediately before the task, giving examples and modelling your responses carefully. When the task is revisited it is vital that you run over the routine with the students. When the activity begins, focus on those students who are following the rules use acknowledgement and recognition to support their good choices: ‘Thank you, this table; you have stopped your conversations, got your pens out and are listening. That is number two on our agreement.’
As you build up a series of routines every adult who intervenes with a student has the same framework for the conversation. The consistency ripples through the class. When all the adults sing from the same song sheet Archie’s shouting is met with the same response. Without this level of agreement a single behaviour can be addressed in many different ways by different adults. Mixed messages mean new behaviours take longer to learn. The consistency and repetition are essential as old habits are replaced with new behaviours. The consistency is further embedded as you use the icons in your non-verbal language. With the icons on display they can be used to indicate subtly to students, as a backdrop for a conversation about behaviour or as a focus for the students attention.
(These are three of a series of nine icons for behaviour available from Pivotal Education.)
Teach routines from the start. Don’t wait until poor habits become second nature before you try to intervene. Teach every student precisely how to treat you, how to treat others and how to treat the resources. Learners like routines. The world is more consistent, more predictable and feels safer with routine. For students with behaviour related conditions, ADHD, Asperger’s, Autism the icons are essential hooks. They must be clear and impossible to misinterpret. You might try using photographs of the students demonstrating the behaviours that you want to see as your symbols. Reduce the symbols to stamp size and they can also be presented and collected. Through the ritual of reinforcement the routine is kept at the forefront of the fast paced mind of the student.
Rather than just simple rules in each appropriate area, teach the behaviours that you want to see. Display the icons where the students will see them and where staff can refer to them. The routine for late arrival laminated to the door, the routine for tidying up by the sink, the routine for discussion on a large cube in the centre of the group. Now everyone who visits the teaching space sees the consistency on display, pride in learning new behaviours.
Clearly the setting in which you teach will alter the types of routines you use and the structure of each routine. The routines you use in primary school classrooms will be different from FE college dental science labs, for example. But the principle remains the same - if you want your learners to follow a routine, you need to teach it to them.
Simply telling the students the rules is leaving a lot to chance. Directly teaching appropriate behaviour with a framework of agreed symbols is less of a gamble.
Watch out for …
- Displaying the rules on just one wall or in one place. Think about where your routines are best displayed. A checklist of rules for entering and leaving the room should be on the door. Similarly, the routines for individual table activities need to be visible to everyone as they work.
- Enthusiastically introducing rituals and then not referring to them again until sanctions need to be applied. Use the routines to support your discussions with students. Refer to them tirelessly until they realise that you are not going to be diverted from them.
- Establishing too many new rituals too soon. Introduce new routines gradually and over time. Allow one or two to become embedded before developing more advanced routines. Too many new routines too soon are confusing for students and teachers.
Reminder for Routine Writing
- Avoid use of ‘No’ and ‘Don’t’ - they have no positive impact on the routine
- Phrase routines positively
- Keep your checklist to a maximum of five and preferably limit to three
- Describe the behaviour that you need to see not the state of mind of the student
© National STEM Learning Centre