Revamp Routines to Get the Results You Want!

I absolutely adore routines, procedures, and systems! I know that all students (and all kids) need structure and in my experience, middle schoolers DESPERATELY need it!  I once heard a tale, I think in a teacher-prep class, about a teacher who missed one of their classes, but no one realized that she wasn’t in the classroom until halfway through the period because the students knew the procedures and routines so well they got class started without her!!! In my school, I don’t think that would ever happen, not because students don’t know my structures, but because they are middle school students who would definitely see this as an opportunity for play time, not work time.  But, if I ever had to step out of the room for an emergency (like today when I got pulled from class to make an emergency phone call home in Spanish), the teacher standing in for me could easily observe as students led themselves through the following routines:

  1. Lectura Libre – 5 minutes
  2. Do Now – 3 minutes
  3. Bailar la conga – 1 minute. (My new routine for returning books to my bookshelf to save them from being destroyed under students’ chairs and to save me from cleaning up a half a dozen books during every passing period…Which I especially can’t do now since I have been doing a classroom password, requiring me to stand at the threshold during passing period.)  Yes, I literally put on Gloria Estefan’s song Conga, and students dance (ok, 1 or 2 students dance and the rest walk) in a line, row by row to my bookshelf to re-shelve the book they read during Lectura Libre. If they successfully do this in less than 1 minute, they get a positive check mark (discussed below)!  Cleaning up at the end of class was one of those systems that was FAILING, so I came up with this conga line idea about a month ago, and it is AMAZING! If you too have classes of 35 and kids are unintentionally destroying your Free Reading books, something like this may be for you.  Are you willing to give up 1 minute to save your books and your sanity? I sure was (but no more than 1 minute!).
  4. In theory, asking students how they are in the TL would be the next routine (which a student could do in my place if the teacher standing in for me didn’t speak Spanish). This year, I don’t know that students would recognize this as the next step in the list of procedures because I’ve gotten away from it this year.  Last year, I asked students pretty much every day how are you on a scale of 1 to 5 and had them show me with their fingers, so I could take the temperature of the room very quickly at the beginning of class. I’m glad that I’m writing this, because my new goal for the rest of the school year is to do this again every day in every class!!!

At this point, another teacher stepping in for me could not continue to run the PQA, story, cultural reading/slides, MovieTalk, reading activity, or other CI activity, but, students would be able to explain what my procedures are DURING these activities.  Students know what Interpersonal Communication Behaviors I am looking for from the rubric I use.  They also know my rules and can explain what 50% means.

Clearly, I love rubrics, routines, and structures.  However, I also believe that if one is not giving you the results that it should or that you want, you NEED to change it. YESTERDAY! Or, I suppose, tomorrow works too!!!  Procedures should make your life easier and your class run more smoothly, so if that’s not happening, dump them or improve them!

One such routine revamp story is as follows.  My school has a new schedule this year, and it’s the first time I’ve ever taught classes that all run for the same number of minutes!  In past years, we have always had weird schedules that resulted in block periods and schedules that were different each day of the week. This year, we have the same schedule every single day! And every class period is the exact same length of time! It’s WONDERFUL! However, going from block periods to 52 minute classes has forced me to really dissect my routines to be sure that they are a good use of time.

5 minutes – Is Lecture Libre worth it? YES, I believe that free reading is one of the most important things that you can do at the beginning of class for many reasons. One, it sets the tone of the class. Two, it maximizes the students while their brains are fresh. Three, it teaches them to (hopefully) love reading. Four, as Dr. Krashen says, reading = acquisiton.

3 minutes – Is a “Do Now” worth it? Yes, but, I cut this time from 4 minutes earlier in the year to 3 minutes, and may consider cutting it out entirely if I didn’t have to take attendance and if my school didn’t require us to have certain things posted at the beginning of class.

1 minute – Is dancing la Conga worth it? Absolutely!

Now, this brings me to my end of class routine. I have changed this FOUR times this year!!!!  For a time, I  had a Presidente de los Puntos who would assist me in making sure that at 10 minutes til the end of the period we took an exit quiz, voted on class points earned that day, and cleaned up.  BUT, this was cutting into my class WAY TOO MUCH!!!! I hate giving up any minutes for anything that is even slightly wasteful, so I will continue editing this routine til I get it right.

My current end of class routine is that we do some type of exit quiz at the end of class WHEN I SAY, not when the clock gets to a certain point.  Depending on the lesson, the quiz may happen at 10 minutes til the end of class or it may happen at 3 minutes til the end.  Also, we clean up, meaning students put their notebooks and folders in cubbies in the back of the room, and I double check the floor before they leave unless the bell rings first.  I no longer take time to track points at the end of class.  I was skipping this step a couple days a week anyway because I didn’t want to give up the precious teaching minutes to vote on points. So, I dumped it and spent a couple days visualizing what I wanted the outcome to look like and creating my new point system (a bit obsessive?? Yes!! I know!).

I also wanted my new point system to have a bit more of the instant gratification factor that Annabelle Allen’s points system has.  My old system didn’t give me a chance to reward/give consequences at the time of the positive/negative incident since we waited til the end of class to vote.  Lately, my attention-getters (Clase, clase – dime, dime / Hola, hola – Coca Cola, Tiburón – uu ha ha…like Finding Nemo, ringing a bell, etc.), haven’t been working correctly.  I would do an attention-getter 5, 6, 7 times and still not get students’ attention!!!  So, I decided that with my new system of points, I had to tie my attention-getters to it.

There are dozens of different ways to do points systems. If you are consistent, Annabelle’s points are an excellent way to motivate students. But, if you are inconsistent like me, you might want to do something similar to my new structure.  Here’s my new points slide:

points new.PNG

I simply set the date for the prize day and mark it on the FlipChart slide shown (on a prize day we do things like a Señor Wooly song, jeopardy, Kahoot, quizlet live, Spanish themed BINGO, la lotería, Spanish song, mafia, etc.).  Note: I arbitrarily choose to set this date on the 12th day of class from the day I started this system (I may have to change this number down the road).  If students are exhibiting the positive behaviors called out on the left side of the slide: dancing la conga to return books in less than one minute, teacher speaking English for more than 15% of class, students doing their 50% for the entire class, then I make a check mark in the boxes on the left.  As soon as they achieve three check marks, I move the date of the prize one day sooner!  On the contrary, if they are exhibiting the behaviors on the right side of the slide: requiring more than three attention-getters to achieve Level Zero (silent), speaking English without permission, I put a check mark in a box on that side. When there are three checks there, I move the prize day back a day.

I’ve only been using this system for one week, but so far it’s working really well. What I love about it is that I don’t necessarily have to open this page every day, and the students still receive a “reward.”  However, if they are doing extremely well or being challenging, I can open it as needed and make checks to reflect the behaviors.  In all seriousness, the prize day is something that I enjoy giving them!!!! I want them to have fun and do the activities mentioned above. This way, I am not relying on myself to be consistent every single day and open up the FlipChart page in order to give them points.  They get prizes regardless of my consistency!!

Now, the objective of this blog post was not really to talk about point systems, it was to talk about routines, procedures, and systems.  And what I really want to convey is that routines and procedures should help you achieve your goals and make teaching more seamless thus positively affecting student achievement! If they’re not doing this, dump them! Anything that eats up precious language acquisition time without producing results is not worth your time!!  Additionally, things that worked last year might not work this year. As we grow and change, it’s important to continue allowing our classrooms to grow and change too. I spend an excessive amount of time creating FlipChart pages that are visually pleasing, because I am an extremely visual learner and visually oriented person.  I used to think that one day, I would get to the point where next year I would just open a folder and, boom, the slides would be there ready to go for each class. While some of my FlipCharts such as a lessons about La Llorona, Koshick, the talking elephant, mate in Argentina, and other timeless cultural topics are essentially ready to go from year to year, I am constantly re-creating my beginning of class slides and things like that. I have finally come to terms with the fact that I’m not the same teacher I was even last month, so I must constantly adapt what I’m doing to the students I currently have. Yes, as teachers, we want to shoot for sustainability and the ability to recycle materials, however, we don’t want sustainability that comes across as stagnant!  Here’s to a great start to your weekend!!!!

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