How To Handle Sloppy Routines As The School Year Winds Down

How To Handle Sloppy RoutinesAt this time of year it isn’t unusual for routines to become sloppy.

Your students, after all, are growing tired of the grind.

The pressures of testing weigh heavily.

Morning songbirds remind them that summer is near.

Despite faithfully following the do-it-again strategy, your students just aren’t as sharp as they once were.

They take longer to get in line.

They talk, meander, and daydream through transitions. They go through the motions like they’re headed for the salt mines, hardhat and lunch pail in tow.

Now, normally we recommend reteaching routines at the first sign of trouble. We recommend modeling and practicing them as if it were the first day of school.

But in this case, so late in the year, there is a more effective approach.

You see, by May even your most enthusiastic reteaching can lose its mojo. “Yeah, yeah, we know how to walk to the library. Do we really need to go over it again?”

As long as your students know what to do, there is no reason to cover well-trodden ground. There is no reason to drag them out into the hallway as they roll their eyes and mutter under their breath.

Although the strategy I want to share with you doesn’t involve reteaching, it does involve showing your students how to perform those same routines in a whole new way.

This is an important distinction—and the reason why it’s effective.

You see, when you tweak a single component of a routine in a way that makes it feel fresh and different, it has an odd way of transforming the entire attitude of the class.

There are any number of ways to do this, which we’ll be sure to cover in future articles, but the easiest way is to simply increase the speed or pace of your routines.

In other words, while the steps your students take while performing a given routine would be exactly the same, you would ask them to do it twice as fast—or double-time.

Now, it’s important to note that double-time doesn’t mean running. It doesn’t mean cutting in front of others, forgetting their manners, or racing to see who is first.

It just means that they’re going to perform the routine a notch quicker than they have in the past. It’s akin to fast-forwarding a video. The steps are the same. It’s just done at an enhanced pace.

To begin, it’s best to choose a routine that is most emblematic of their struggles. By adjusting your expectations of just this one routine, the others will fall into place with a simple reminder.

The first step is to show your students what double-time looks like. Go ahead and model how to line up, for example, only do so at a more lively tempo.

After modeling once or twice, choose a single student to mimic your moves and pace. Next, choose a few more to try it. By asking individual students to demonstrate first, you prove that it can be performed exactly as taught.

After asking if there is anyone who doesn’t know what to do, have the entire class practice.

As long as their sloppiness was due to spring fatigue, and not a sign you’re losing control of your class, you’ll notice marked, if not stunning, improvement.

Although doubling the speed of your routines is a good rule of thumb, you can always opt for just slightly faster. Any change that asks more of your students will do the trick.

The truth is, in most classrooms routines are performed far too slow. And when a routine doesn’t go well, when students are distracted and unfocused, teachers tend to slow the pace down even more.

Counterintuitive as it may seem, the solution is the opposite.

Increasing the tempo works because it infuses purpose, urgency, and novelty into something that has grown tired and stale. The idea is to move each day along brisk and popping, all the way up to the final bell.

This forces students into a position of looking forward, always challenged, and leaning toward the next goal on the horizon.

Speeding up routines is a simple tweak.

A slight calibration of your expectations.

But it makes all the difference.

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4 Responses to How To Handle Sloppy Routines As The School Year Winds Down

  1. Emily May 2, 2015 at 9:00 am #

    Good strategy! Just yesterday I had to reread your other summer – approaching article

    • Michael Linsin May 2, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

      Thanks Emily!


  2. Roderick Woodard June 26, 2015 at 8:02 pm #

    Hi there Michael! I am emailing regarding procedures and routines. I have been working on developing a classroom management plan for my future students/classroom for a few years now. I have five basic start-up procedures:
    1. Morning Routine: When your child enters the classroom in the morning, students will need to be in their assigned seats, put their homework on the star, copy assignments and homework in their planner, make their lunch choice, and begin working on their Entry Task (Silent reading in their AR Books, Previously taught/discussed Math lesson, etc.). Please make sure your child arrives to school on time, prepared for class, and ready to learn EVERY day! 
    2. Student Attention Signals: When your child needs to use the restroom, get a pencil, get water, need help with their work, or ask a question, they will need to use the following signals: 1=I need to get a pencil; 2=I need to use the restroom; 3=I need to get water; 5=I need help with my work OR I need to ask a question.
    3. Teacher Attention Signal: There will be times when I will need your child’s complete attention. At such time, I will say, “Give Me Five”, while holding up my hand. The steps for “Give Me Five” are simple:
    a. Eyes on Speaker
    b. Be Quiet
    c. Be Still
    d. Hands Free (put their things down)
    e. Listen!
    4. Lining Up/Walking In Line: Your child will be expected to stand up and push in their chair, line up at the door quietly & in a single file line, place their hands behind their back, have their mouths closed, and have their eyes forward.
    5. Dismissal Routine: Before dismissal, your child will be expected to ensure all of their completed work is turned in, clean their area, place their chair on top of their desk, check their mailbox (when prompted), stand behind their desk, and line up in dismissal order (when prompted).
    Now, I feel these procedures will provide my future students with the structure needed for success. I am also a proponent of building a classroom community of trust and respect in which my students will work and learn from each other.

    What do you think about these procedures? Are they too harsh? Too much? I appreciate any suggestions. Thank you! 🙂

    • Michael Linsin June 27, 2015 at 6:46 pm #

      Hi Roderick,

      Procedures and routines can vary depending on your school, grade level, expectations, and more. So although yours may not be right for every teacher, I think they’re just fine. I don’t see a problem with any of them. The key, of course, is in teaching them.


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