Friday, March 21, 2014

The Power of Structure and Routine

In my years of teaching, there is one thing that I wish I had known from the beginning: do the same thing every day and your students will thrive.  Seriously, that’s it.  Work up a routine and stick to it.  Every day, as much as possible, stick to the same routine from morning to night and seriously, you’ll see all your little issues disappear.

It took me 7 years, but this year, I really saw the power of keeping to the same routine every day.  During the summer, I started reading a lot of teacher blogs (something I had never done before, and something I strongly suggest every teacher does).  One of the blogs talked about the weekly paragraph.  And my mind started thinking and thinking.  And so my morning routine was born.  First thing when my students walk into my classroom every day, they work on their weekly paragraph for 15 minutes.  Every day they work on a different stage of the writing process and on Friday’s, we went to the computer lab (again, immediately after the bell rung) and they typed up their paragraph.

The first 15 minutes of my classroom were planned for the entire year.  The only thing I had to think of was a subject for them to work on.  That’s it!  It was amazing.  And since we kept track of their paragraphs throughout the year, you REALLY saw a difference in their writing.  Their introductory sentences were getting more creative. “Hi, my name is Julie and I’m going to talk about birds” is no longer an introductory sentence in my classroom.  Yes, sometimes they stick to general “Birds are an interesting creature but there’s one in particular that’s my favourite” but that’s ok!  That’s where they are in their writing and one day they’ll branch out from there, but you have to admit, that’s better than that first example!  But I’ll talk more about this weekly paragraph in another blog post.  The important point here was routine and structure.  Since the students knew what to do every day, they did it, and they got better at it as the year went on.

If you haven’t looked into Daily 5 yet, do it!  Do it now!  That changed my literacy block and added even more structure and routine to my day!  My students now know exactly how the centers work every day.  They get 15 minutes per center, 3 centers a day, and know exactly what to do in each one.  I did change up the structure of the Daily 5 to suit my needs and my classroom, but the principle is the same. 

The idea here is to do the same thing, every day.  When students know exactly what to expect, and know exactly what they’re doing, they can only get better at it.  Think of a hockey player shooting the puck (yes, I’m Canadian – hence the hockey reference!).  Does he shoot at the net only a few times?  No, he does it over and over and over again.  So when my students are doing the same thing over and over again, they get better at it.  They learn.  They have fun.  They thrive.

Ah, and did I mention you solve a lot of behaviour issues this way too?  That’s a benefit of structure and routine!  Obviously not all behaviour issues can be solved this way, but being organized and having a proper routine that is followed consistently minimizes down time in your classroom, which is when problems will arise. 

So if you do one thing for the end of the school year, start thinking about your routine.  Is it working for you?  Is it working for your students?  What can you do to make your classroom run smoother? What do you do right now in your routine that is your lifesaver?

Enjoy your weekend!