I decided I needed to do a blog post about building routines in the classroom and why they’re important after watching some lessons this week and doing a little reflecting over why some classes are calmer than others.
Why do I like routines so much?
- When you are not feeling great, routines help you to automate the basics of teaching so you can focus on the extras. If you’re tired, but you have the routine (for instance) of collecting books every other Wednesday, the students are likely to collect them even if you forget.
- Consistency for students. It helps build a world where they know what they expect when they step into your room and that can remove a lot of anxiety, particularly for SEND students or students with an uncertain home life.
- When you do something different, students take notice. If you always, for example, start class with a paper-based starter and one day you don’t, then they can infer that today they need to pay extra attention.
- Students know how to respond. It sounds so obvious, but sometimes we just have to point these things out. If you always stop the class with a countdown, then when they hear the countdown they will stop. If you change it up all the time, you have to keep teaching them to stop for different things.
- It reduces cognitive load on students. I recently read a fascinating post on “head, heart, hand” that talked about how students can get stuck not just on the steps but on what colour to write in or where to write etc. Routines remove all the little bits that might take attention away from your otherwise fantastic lesson.
So how do I build routines?
Well, I didn’t start out by thinking “I need routines, what shall I do?”. I started by thinking about what I wanted my classroom to look like. I realised I needed a way to consistently call attention because I was all over the place. So I started counting down from 5 every time I needed attention. That soon worked and it’s a pretty common signal so students very quickly knew what it meant. I moved on to how to lay out books, making my expectations clear and reinforcing them. And so on.
The key point here is that I didn’t just tell them and expect them to get it. I reinforce these routines every lesson. When I count down from 5, I don’t just carry on as if they have become silent and listening, I check that they are and call them out on not doing it. I might just wait a bit, or I might even start the whole process over again if they need the practice. The same for things I want written in their books or other ways of working. I tell them, I model it, I remind them, I test them. Just like you would with any other piece of teaching. It’s something that I think we neglect to talk about with trainees – the need to truly teach your classroom routines to the students.
Routines are important, for us and for the students. They help us to focus on the teaching/learning and make sure the important things (like collecting books) get done regularly. Lastly, we need to make sure we know what routines we want and the we practice and reinforce these routines.