You CAN have an amazing classroom where things run smoothly, you don’t have to worry about behavior problems, and the children are really learning! As a Professor of Education, I have had the opportunity for more than 20 years to mentor new teachers and provide professional development for experienced teachers. In this 3-part series, I will share 5 powerful steps from my book, The Positive Classroom Method, that will help you do what amazing teachers do!
Step 1: Teach Procedures
Plan the Procedures Throughout the Day
The first step in teaching procedures is to think through the parts of the day and make a list or description of the different procedures you want to establish. Write down what behavior you would expect from the children. For example, if you were teaching 2nd grade, you would want to establish a procedure for when children first enter the classroom with the following steps:
- Come into the classroom and walk over to the coat hooks.
- Look around and make sure there is space between you and the other children.
- Take off your coat and hang it on the hook.
- Bring your book bag to your desk. Take out any papers for the teacher and put them on the corner of your desk.
- Sit down and look at the board for “Do Now” work.
- Begin work.
Close your eyes and picture the children engaging in the activity or transition. What do you want them to be doing? What does the classroom look like and sound like? Where are the children going to? What steps need to be taken? Next, teach the children this routine until they know it well enough to do it automatically. Don’t think that teaching the procedures once is ever enough. This will probably require that you teach and re-teach many times, as well as give supportive reminders while children practice this routine.
The best way to teach routines is to have the children actually do them as a lesson. The Responsive Classroom (Wilson, 2012) has a wonderful strategy for teaching procedures called Interactive Modeling.
Interactive Modeling has four steps:
- You explain why the procedure is important.
- Students observe the model.
- Students describe what’s happening.
- Students practice and get immediate feedback.
If children are not following the routines, re-teach them and provide more practice. Teachers with the smoothest running classrooms spend the first six weeks of the school year focusing primarily on teaching procedures and developing routines. This time is more than made up for with the increase in efficiency throughout the year.
Classroom Procedures Checklist
- Arrival: putting things away
- Signing in
- Morning announcements
- Signal for getting the children’s attention
- Going to the bathroom/washing hands/getting a drink
- Eating breakfast/lunch
- Signal for lowering the noise
- Moving from tables or desks to carpet for group time
- Sitting during group time
- Moving to learning centers
- Moving from group to working independently at desks/tables
- Cleaning up after centers
- Working with a partner
- Taking turns
- Fire drills/Lock down drills
- Leaving the classroom
- Walking in the halls
- Coming back into school/center/classroom
- What to do when teacher has phone call, visitor, etc.
- What to do when children finish early
- Putting things away in desk/taking them out
- Finding the page in the textbook
- Sharing materials
- Choosing a book in the class library
- Taking care of materials (putting caps on markers, etc)
- What to do when someone is hurt
- What to do when children need to calm down
- Getting things ready to go home
- Getting on the bus/meeting parent/going to aftercare
On the first day of school, create a signal to get the children’s attention and practice it again and again throughout the day. Sounds or lights are more effective than hand signals since children will not always be looking at you. Depending upon the age of the child and your preferences, teach the steps the children should follow when you ring the bell or flick the lights. The steps might be something like:
Hands at your sides
Eyes on the teacher
As you practice this throughout the day in the first weeks of school, try to get across the message that this signal is important, but be light-hearted in teaching the children how to respond so they begin to associate good feelings with the quiet signal.
If you find the children are slow to respond, or are ignoring it, go back to your practice sessions. You can make it a challenge to see how quickly the children can get quiet and create a game-like attitude when you practice. As the school year goes on, you will still need to support children with positive reminders and perhaps play this modeling game a few more times until your signal becomes routine.
1. If you find the children are not responding quickly to your signal, stop and practice. Never talk over the children or allow them to chat while you speak. Simply review the expectations, without complaining or criticizing, and practice the quiet signal again.
2. Be sure to point out the children who are quiet and paying attention and give them positive feedback, rather than drawing attention to those who are off-task.
Create Smooth Transitions
Transitions are tough. All transitions go more smoothly if children know what to expect. Use interactive modeling to teach each transition. Practice these until the children know what they should be doing and can do it quickly and easily. Here are some tips for making transitions smoother:
- Give warnings. This may seem obvious, but sometimes you lose track of the time and try to quickly get children to change what they are doing. Resist this! Stay organized and give the children at least one warning that a transition is coming up—more might be needed for children who have trouble with transitions. You can also use timers to let children know how much time is left before a transition. This can be a personal kitchen timer for an individual child, or a timer posted on your SmartBoard or computer screen which counts down for the whole class.
- Use music cues. Music is a powerful way of helping children to know the schedule and the behaviors that are expected at different times. Plan welcome songs to begin the day, clean up songs, soft music before nap time or quiet activities, and a good-bye song at dismissal.
- Actively supervise. During transitions, scan all areas of the room, moving to potential problem areas, making your presence known, and interacting with the children (McIntosh et al., 2004). If you are busy during transitions getting your materials ready for the next activity, talking to other adults in the room, or taking care of administrative work, the children will likely misbehave. Much research over many years has shown that effective teachers have the room and the work ready before school begins.
- Allow time for transitions. Young children need plenty of time to figure out where they need to go or what they need to do next (Buck, 1999). Often teachers plan schedules that reflect the time they need for each activity but not the time between activities. It can take longer than expected to get children to put their things away, get ready to leave the classroom and then walk down the hall. When children are rushed, everyone’s anxiety level goes up (including the teacher’s) and children are less cooperative.
- Move children gradually. Try to stagger the children’s move to the next activity. For example, if you are moving children from group time on the rug to working at their desks, gradually send small groups of children over to begin work. Similary, if you are moving children from a large group activity to getting ready to go outside, have half the children get their coats while you sing a song, read a book, or play a game with the rest of the children. Then the children can switch places and when everyone has their coats on they can move together to the playground. Make sure that young children do not have time during transitions in which they have nothing to do.
- Use imagination. Try gaining children’s cooperation and interest during transitions by using imagination and dramatic play. Children are quieter when walking down the hall pretending to be little mice. They will enjoy cleaning up when they pretend to be a big dump truck or a large crane that picks up materials. Children will cooperate better when you wave a magic wand that creates quiet voices or makes everyone tip-toe. Creating a joyful attitude during transitions reduces the tension and helps children feel comfortable.
- Keep learning. Engage the children in learning activities to keep them focused during transitions. These activities could be counting by 5 or 10, reciting vocabulary words, practicing phonics rules, singing songs, chanting poems or rhymes, and so on. By giving the children something to focus on, they are less likely to wander or be off task during transitions.
- Make special needs adaptations for transitions. Some children with disabilities will need more transitioning time or different procedures than the rest of the class. Children who are highly sensitive to noise and activity may be overwhelmed by the stimuli during transitions. You might want to help the child transition before or after the other children, or to allow the child to wait in a quiet location until the next activity begins. Try visual cues such as reminder cards, photos, and posters and use positive feedback.
Get the Children into Routines
Lining up and walking in the hallway.
Moving the class as a whole group can be intimidating for new teachers and even a challenge for experienced teachers. The trick lies in teaching the procedures for lining up or walking in the hallway clearly. This should be started on the first day of school and repeated as needed afterwards. If children are not behaving properly in the hallways, it is important to stop right away and bring the children back to the room. Keep apositive attitude without making any nasty comments or complaints, and have the children simply practice how to walk in the hallway again. The second important trick is to give positive feedback to the children who are behaving
appropriately. Do not spend time trying to correct children. Instead point out who is walking properly or behaving as they should.
Clean up time procedures.
In many early childhood classrooms, especially in preschool and kindergarten, clean-up time is the most challenging part of the day for keeping children on-task and reducing inappropriate behaviors. This is not surprising considering the amount of stimulation—noise, movement, materials, and the intensity of the work. There are a few strategies that can ease the difficulty.
- Have reasonable goals. Throughout the work time/center time period, help children put things away as much as possible so the job at cleanup time is not so difficult. As children finish playing with the dress-up clothes, help them put the materials back. When the block area is overloaded with blocks, you can start to replace some on the shelves. It is often unreasonable to expect that young children can put everything away themselves. It’s too big a job.
- Be specific. Assign very specific and relatively small jobs to children. Asking a child to clean up the block area may be too much, but asking her to put the triangle blocks back on the shelf makes it more doable and more like a game. Similarly, a child can be assigned a puzzle to put away, or to put a few books back on the shelf. This might also help prevent the children from finding other things to begin to play with.
- Help overwhelmed children. Some children will quickly retreat to a quiet area of the classroom—often their cubbies. In many cases, these children are overwhelmed by the stimulation and can’t emotionally handle the commotion. Instead of fighting with them over cleaning up, offer them a job in a quiet area of the classroom, away from the major noise (typically the blocks and housekeeping area). Perhaps this child can clean the paint brushes in the sink, straighten your books, or even hang up some pictures on a wall in a quiet spot. The important thing is that the child has a job and feels like he is contributing to the clean-up effort. The actual amount of work doesn’t matter.
Teach children to take care of classroom materials.
Like the other procedures we want children to do, taking care of classroommaterials needs to be taught. Here are some tips:
- Be organized. Have a specific place to put things away—markers, books, papers, blocks, etc. Label the area, adding pictures to make it really clear for young children. The more organized you are, the more organized the children will be. This is the critical first step in teaching children to care for classroom materials.
- Introduce materials. Don’t let children use materials until you’ve introduced the procedures to use them appropriately. Model how you want children to care for the materials, whether it is how to make sure the tops of the markers click when you put them on correctly, or how to turn the pages of the class books so they don’t rip. There is almost nothing too simple to model.
- Offer reminders. Children will need many reminders to learn the proper care of materials. Be supportive by repeating the modeling as needed, or just reiterate things to remember, for example, “As you work on your drawings, remember to put the caps back on the markers and push until they click,” or “When you are reading silently, remember how we learned to turn the pages in the books gently.”
- Give positive feedback. Acknowledge when children do take care of their things. “Bryan, I noticed you remembered how to turn the pages carefully when you were reading.” This way they will begin to pay attention to their own success and know when they are on track. Do this every day.
- Use logical consequences. If you’ve followed these steps, and children repeatedly fail to follow your guidelines, then set boundaries by using logical consequences. If a child does not put the caps back on the markers, then she can’t use them. If a child doesn’t turn the pages of the books gently, he won’t be allowed to use them independently. When using logical consequences, your tone of voice must be calm, and the child should always get another chance to use more appropriate behavior soon. If many children are not following the guidelines, then you should go back and have another group lesson on caring for the materials.