Evaluate Classroom Routines
Throughout the year evaluate how things are going. If you notice any chaos in the classroom, then chances are that there is not a procedure for that activity, or there is a procedure but it is too lenient or unclear. Create one right away! These moments where you need to evaluate or change a procedure will be very obvious to you because students will be misbehaving. We as teachers spend most of our day trying to limit the amount of misbehavior.
For example, after a few weeks of school you notice that during Writers Workshop the students are congregating around the paper bin to get a piece of paper and while they are there having a conversation about what they did over the weekend. Establish a procedure for getting paper and set aside some time for the students to discuss their personal lives outside of Writers Workshop!
Students need to talk about themselves. One way to give them the opportunity to talk is during “turn and talks” during morning routine. Students can turn to the person next to them and share their weekend experiences (be sure to explain, model, and practice what “turn and talk” looks like!). This will also help them to have a topic to write about when they write. In one procedure or another, every classroom teacher can give his or her students the opportunity to talk. Speaking is also an expression of language skills.
Change Procedures Whenever Necessary
Know that you can also fix a routine that is not working anytime throughout the year! Simply gather the students together to explain what is not working and that you are going to change the procedure and will need their help. During my first year of teaching I realized that I had a big problem when the class was lining up for the door to leave for a special or lunch. My rug area was too far from the door and the students were racing to the door. When the students got to the door they were very loud. By the time I got the students ready for the hall, I was stressed out and late! Of course we have classroom rules that say “Use walking feet,” and “inside voices in the classroom,” so, I knew I had the rule, but it clearly wasn’t working. The real question is, did I have the right procedure to support the rule? When the whole class is involved in a misbehavior it is probably because there is not a clearly established routine.
The next thing for me to do was to establish one. I realized the door to my classroom was about six feet from the area rug. To fix the problem I put two large X’s on the floor with masking tape about half way to the doorway and taught them to line up on the X, girls on the right side and boys on the left (without talking). This is a clear established procedure. Now I was near enough to monitor the behavior that I expected. When all the students were lined up, I led my quiet class to the door. It was just a matter of explaining to the students that the routine was not working for me and they understood that.
In summary, establishing classroom routines and evaluating them is so much easier than trying to urge students to follow the classroom rules. Students will respect order and routine. Notice and boldly praise aloud when they get it right. Year after year the procedures will change and become stronger. As in the lining up, I never had that problem in the years to follow. Reflect and don’t always assume it is just misbehavior… do your students know what to do?