Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Successful Math Community: Explicit Routines

It's important to visualize the math classroom and determine the routines that matter. Then it's important to explicitly teach and practice those routines.

Many elementary school teachers are masters at routine--they establish good routines at the start of the year and stick to those routines all year long. Others find this more of a challenge. A routine-oriented teacher is not better than the other, but the truth is that good routines create greater freedom and time for deep, meaningful, and joyful learning.

What routines matter with regard to your math classroom?

Since our students move from classroom to classroom, making the time to teach transitions is integral to using time well. My colleagues did a great job with this last year, and I want to listen to their strategies so I can follow their lead. Good transitions save time and prepare everyone for quality learning.

Respectful, Targeted Use of Supplies
Since students move from place to place, they each have a drawer in the math classroom for their math notebooks and baggy full of supplies. It's important to make sure that everyone has the needed supplies including a grid notebook, pencil sharpener, colored pencils, and fine line marker at the start of the year. It's also important that shared supplies such as scissors, rulers, protractors, and manipulatives are easy to access, use, and put away. Early year introduction to supply locations, care, use, and clean-up sets the stage for a successful year.

Learning Experience Routines
Generally the learning experiences will follow a basic routine each day. In my class, students generally have an introduction, time to study, learn, make, or practice, and a closing comment or share. It's important to explicitly teach the routine so students know what to expect. You can ask students to monitor the routine too so that most of the time is their time to learn, create, share, and practice.

Speaking and Listening
One of the greatest challenges of classroom life is that you're typically working with large numbers of students at a time, that's why it's important to set speaking and listening rules and rationale up front. Typically, these rules lead speaking and listening:
  • Raise your hand if you'd like to speak.
  • Keep your hand down if someone else is speaking and then raise your hand when they are done if you'd like to say something.
  • Speak with a strong voice so everyone can hear. It's advantageous to have a microphone available for the soft spoken students.
  • Don't side talk when someone else is speaking.
  • Listen carefully to what someone is saying, and if you want to add, but afraid you'll forget, write down your thoughts in your notebook so you're ready to share when the time comes.
It's good to explicitly talk about and practice clean-up routines and expectations. Large numbers of students can make a big mess and it's important that they know how to clean it up.

Ask Questions, Seek Help
Students need to advocate for themselves, and it's important that we teach students how to do this. Generally I let students know that they can write me a note, seek me out when available, or email me if they have questions or need help. If it's an emergency, I tell them to interrupt me right away, and for leaving the room for the restroom or other reasons, we have a hand signal so it doesn't take too much time from the learning.

Teach students how to organize their supplies in varying work spaces and for a diversity of projects. For many students, organization is not natural and to provide students with organization tips can really help them succeed. 

Rules, Policies, and Protocols
It's important to review the "Never Go There" rules--rules that have to do with safety, rules such as how to use scissors, never throw things, don't use bad words, no name calling, and safe use of appropriate tools on the computer. You can ask students to add to this list. I tell students that it's always good to have a "Never Do That or Go There" list so that they don't do the things in life they can't reverse--actions that truly disrupt and hurt others.

Then we talk about general policies and protocols--what to do. Students will readily come up with this list. With the upcoming election in the news, this can be matched with the creation of a class constitution which is an effective way to learn about our government and govern the class too. 

These are some important routines to explicitly teach during the first six weeks of classroom life. Ruth Charney's book, Teaching Children to Care, further outlines important attributes of school life--elements that invite all children to a year of successful learning. 

I'm sure I'll add to this list in days to come, and in the meantime, if you have anything you would add, please let me know.