Routines – Friend or Foe?

Today we went to the beach. The day ended in blazing sunshine, but as we arrived this morning the rain was coming down with attitude. My heart sank, as I remembered a previous rainy day at the beach.

You see we have a beach routine; not deliberately but by default. At the beach (in no particular order); we go on the donkeys, we play in the sand, we go on the trampolines and we play on the pier. On a rainy day none of these things are possible. On a rainy day the routine does not work. You have to adapt, go to a café, look round the shops and play on the pier. These are all things that on a normal day would be enjoyed, just not on a beach day. You see they are not what happens on the beach.

Routines can be a double edged sword. They are a big part of what enables our students (and in my case my daughter) to cope with the world, but if we are not careful they also become a trap. There are some things set routines are great for – how to set our your work in an exercise book, how to do a particular type of maths equation and how to keep clean are great examples of where routines work.

But in general we need to introduce our routines flexibly. We need to think about whether if we set up a firm routine it’s a routine that be guaranteed to happen in the same way every time. If it isn’t we need to assess whether the benefit of that routine outweighs the distress at those times it doesn’t happen. If the distress is likely to outweigh the benefit either avoid setting up the routine, or try to set things up flexibly from day one.

Obviously there are some things none of us have control over; the Christmas show messing up the timetable for instance or the swimming gala that replaces a student’s favourite lesson. But what we can control are the order of events within our lessons, the way tables are set up in our classrooms and where our students sit.

So, how are some simple ways we can we use what we can control to our advantage and to that of our students?

  • If the order you do activities in your lessons alter (which my guess is at least at some points they do) set this up with your students from day one. Tell them that although this week, they may be reading for the first ten minutes during English lessons, next week that will be different. You have given your students structure they know what to expect, but you have built in flexibility that this may change.
  • If you like to move your tables around in your room, warn students in the first lesson that this happens. Let them know why you do it, and when to expect it. If you can take photos of the different layouts you use; this will really help to reduce their anxiety about it.
  • If you change your seating plan around during the year, talk to your students about it when you first seat them. Let them know it happens and the approximate regularity with which this happens. Tell them you will give them at least a lesson’s notice before you do it, then they aren’t constantly anxious that they will be seated somewhere else when you arrive.
  • Think about any other routines that build up in your classroom but are subject to change. Talk to students about these as early as possible in the year. Enable your students through these short-term routines but ensure they understand they are flexible and subject to change.

So there you have it, more easy differentiation, yet differentiation that will make a big difference; differentiation that’s as easy as talking to your students. Go on, give it a try. What have you got to lose?

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