When my GCSE classes come in to the classroom, they go straight to the cupboard and get their folders. Some offer, amongst each other, to give out others’ folders. If it’s keyword test day, they get out their sheets or revision cards and start discussing and testing each other on the words.
I meanwhile, can be sorting the resources for the lesson, standing at the door welcoming them or dealing with something from the previous lesson. I don’t tell them to do any of the above. They just do it; it’s a GCSE RS classroom routine.
It took about 3 lessons in September year 9 to establish this routine. It will last 3 years and will save me repeating myself endlessly.
Many of my discussions with my trainee this term have been about routines. Routines for learning and routines for behaviour. The problem is that they are hidden. Anyone walking into my classroom will just see the result of the routine not the process that I went through to get there. It’s not easy for a novice to see. They may just assume ‘all children will do X’.
Where it goes wrong
Where things can go wrong with trainees is when they ask students to do something, which they’ve never done before, and they assume (wrongly) that students know how to do that thing. It can be simple practical tasks like how to present their work and then more complex routines for example, how to structure a piece of writing.
Also, even for trained teachers things can go wrong without routines. Students like to know what they need to be doing and when. These routines then set boundaries in the classroom. If a teacher has no routine, then the potential for chaos is high from the moment the students walk in the lesson.
Routines also link into attitude and behaviour. If a student doesn’t follow a set routine, it could be a sign that they aren’t going to ‘play ball’ that lesson. But it’s hidden. Some teachers might not even spot it. It’s a subtle indication that the teacher needs to address sooner rather than later. It may mean nothing, it may mean the student will need an alternative.
Also, at secondary level, think about those students that struggle. 10 different teachers, with 10 different sets of routines. This doesn’t mean that teachers are undermining any whole school expectations; they should flow across classrooms. But there are subject specific, classroom specific and teacher preference routines for every subject they take. This is why many students struggle at the start of year 7.
Routines support learning
The beauty of routines is that a teacher can set their own. I know I’m a very specific type of teacher and my routines follow my pedagogy. I’m not a big fan of group work. However I know there are teachers that do this brilliantly because they have such tight specific routines for group work. If Drama teachers don’t put these structures in, then group performance and it’s development would be utter chaos. Routines support learning.
Interestingly, as I am a highly structured teacher in terms of routines, students with certain special needs seem to thrive. They like to know that ‘it’s Tuesday period 5 with Miss Cox, so it’s our keyword test’. Routine makes them feel safe. If I can give that structure to them, why wouldn’t I?
Routines & expectations
Routines are also often linked to expectations. We can’t just expect a student to do something unless we’ve specifically got them into a routine of doing so. This is where trainees are at a disadvantage, especially on short placements. They can either continue the routines of the original class teacher or go with their own, that, by the time they’ve established them , they’ll finish teaching the class.
Students need to be told, clearly what the expectation is. It may also help, where appropriate,to have them in writing, on the board or in their books. Then repeat, repeat, repeat. There needs to be a consequence for not following. This will vary hugely depending on what it is. However, it must be proportionate and fair.
If you watch someone teach ask yourself, what routines have they established? What routines might they need to establish to make things easier?
Teachers – Think about your own practice. Do children come into your classroom knowing how you expect things to be done? How have you communicated these? What invisible routines have you created? Do they need tweaking or adding to?
Leaders – what routines are there in your dept/area/school? Are they clear or just clear in your head? Do they need changing? How will new routines be established across the school?