I believe what happens in the first weeks of the school year determines how well one’s entire school year will go. Planning classroom routines in advance of the first day of school allows all members of the classroom community to have their social and/or emotional needs met so you can meet students’ academic needs all year long.
“In the beginning of the year, a teacher establishes the routine for various components of workshop. Students will need to know how to use the writing center, when and how to ask to use the bathroom, when pencil sharpening is permitted, how to sign up for a conference, how to turn in work, when and how to share their writing, and so on,” (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019, 63).
Choosing Your Routines
One of the most important things you can think about—prior to your students walking in the classroom door—are which routines you will teach your students so writing workshop can run smoothly. Some routines you might want to teach your students during the first few weeks of school are:
Some of these routines may seem unimportant or may be unnecessary for your students. That’s fine! Add or delete items from the list above. Then, reflect on why each routine on your list will be important to teach students. You’ll want to connect each routine to a learning goal. Next, evaluate the routine to determine what might be challenging for students. This will help you prepare for meaningful ways for teaching that routine to students with different learning styles.
The Students Arrive
Once your students arrive, take a few weeks to introduce all the routines to them. Spread the routine instruction out over the first few weeks of school, rather than trying to teach everything during the first few days. Teaching just a few routines each week will provide students with ample opportunities to safely practice each routine and get good at it. You might try breaking each routine into small steps by using Interactive Modeling, which is a straightforward method for showing students how to engage with a procedure or routine.
Here are the seven steps of Interactive Modeling:
- Briefly state what you will model, and why.
- Model the behavior exactly as you expect students to do it (the right way, not the wrong way, and without describing what you’re doing unless you need to “show” a thinking process).
- Ask students what they noticed. (You may need to do some prompting, but children soon notice every little detail, especially as they gain expertise with this practice.)
- Invite one or more students to model the same way you did.
- Again, ask students what they noticed the modelers doing.
- Have all students model while you observe and coach them.
- Provide feedback, naming specific, positive actions you notice and redirecting respectfully but clearly when students go off track.
Many routines will take time to practice and get right. Some routines may not work well for a group of students. If you find this happening, meet with your kids to figure out if there’s a way to improve a routine that’s been taught. (Often, kids are the best problem solvers when something isn’t going well! Years ago, we had a traffic jam getting to and from the meeting area. After a class meeting, one student suggested a seemingly odd furniture change to the classroom. Everyone lent a hand and moved around the furniture, which allowed the foot traffic to and from the meeting area seamless!) Make adjustments, but stick with any routine you know will be important to your writing workshop’s year-long success.
Use Positive Teacher Language
Praise your students’ attempts using positive teacher language when you notice them engaged in a routine. Small successes can be built upon when we notice and name what we’re seeing in the classroom. Rather than telling kids, “I like the way…” or “I love how you’re doing…” use non-judgmental sentence starters like, “I notice…” or “I see…” Then, name exactly what you’ve observed and how it helps the community of writers.
Take Your Time
I know how tempting it is to dive into your first unit of study during the first week of school. After all, there is SO MUCH to teach! However, taking the time to teach and practice routines during the first weeks of the school year will pay dividends all year long. Rather than re-teaching routines time and again, quick reminders should suffice when things go off-track later in the school year.
That being said, don’t be nervous about taking the time to teach into management-related things during the school year (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019, 71). Sometimes scheduling changes or school vacations lead students to forget basic classroom expectations. Talk with your students about the importance of a routine that is getting short shrift. Practice that routine again until it becomes second nature. Once things are running smoothly, you’ll be able to return to teaching.
The framework for this post was inspired by Responsive Classroom’s “Tips for Success with Routines,” https://www.facebook.com/responsiveclassroom/photos/a.183973953000/10157027639053001/?type=3&theater.
For more ideas about how to use interactive modeling in your writing workshop, check out https://twowritingteachers.org/2012/12/06/interactive-modeling/.
Shubitz, Stacey and Lynne Dorfman. 2019. Welcome to Writing Workshop: Engaging Today’s Students with a Model That Works. Portsmouth, NH. Stenhouse Publishers.
What is Interactive Modeling? | Responsive Classroom. (2013). Responsive Classroom. Retrieved 3 June 2019, from http://www.responsiveclassroom.org/what-interactive-modeling.