You CAN Teach Content and Procedures From Day One!

     I've been reading posts lately from newer teachers who struggle with how to teach essential classroom routines and procedures from the first day of school while not ignoring content. Some question whether they should chose one over the other and if it's even possible to do both. I'm hearing:

"Should I really spend two full weeks just teaching routines and procedures?"
"When do I start teaching content? I'm afraid of getting behind right from the start!"
"When does your district start teaching content?"
"How much time should I spend on routines and procedures?"
"Should I review routines and procedures every day? For how long?"

     These are valid concerns for any teacher. I believe whole-heartedly that you definitely can teach all of those valuable routines and procedures and begin teaching content right from the first day of school!

What are routines and procedures?

     In order to be clear with children, have a clear understanding yourself. If your school or district uses specific terminology, always go with that. I use routine to reference the order or sequencing of your day. For example, our morning routine was always to enter the room, tell your teacher "hello", put up your belongings, make your lunch choice, and begin your Morning Work. To be silly, I would tell students that we must enter the room before we make our lunch choice - that's routine.
     I use procedure to refer to a particular way of doing something. For example, everyone needs to return their coloring pencils after an activity. One procedure is to put the box into your desk. Another procedure is to put them in your back pack. A third procedure is for the table leader to gather and return them to a special drawer. Our procedure was for the table leader to return them to a drawer.

Be crystal clear on the procedures that you need students to follow.

     Having efficient procedures can have a powerful impact on your overall classroom management. When your students know exactly how to perform certain tasks, they can work more independently and you will have to intervene less often. You'll need a procedure to gather and return materials, to form groups, to work collaboratively, to return assignments, to ask for help. Your procedures needn't be complicated; in fact, they need to be as simple and streamlined as possible. On the other hand, you don't want students to feel policed or like robots. There are many activities, such as returning a book to the shelf, that don't require a specific procedure. Give lots of thought to the procedures you do want. Talk to other teachers in your school and find out what works for them. A few suggestions that worked for me over the years:
-To gather materials, such as coloring pencils: The table leader goes to the correct drawer, gathers, and distributes to his/her own table.
-To return materials: The table leader gathers and returns materials from his/her table.
-To turn in homework: As you unpack in the morning, take your homework to the bin on the counter.
-If you finish work early: Read quietly, complete another activity, or find an activity in the Early Finishers Notebooks.
-If you need the restroom outside of a scheduled break: Make the ASL sign for "restroom" and go!

Plan for the first day.

     On the first day of school, have a good balance of getting-to-know-you activities, housekeeping tasks such as confirming how each child gets home (I forgot this one year - a real disaster at dismissal!), explanations of school and classroom guidelines, and introductory content lessons. I always tried to include a read-aloud, a math game, one or two movement activities, and several content activities. Make notes on the procedures you will highlight for each one. In my classroom, I would plan for activities like these:
1. Read-aloud Math Curse by Jon Scieszka; Procedures taught: Push your chair under your desk, move quietly to the carpet, sit in your own space.
2. Play math game "Contig"; Procedures taught: One game partner will go to the materials area and pick up dice, a game board, and dry erase markers.
3. Play "Sometimes, Always, Never"; Procedures taught: Push your chair under your desk, gather at the back of the room, move carefully, respect your classmates' space.
4. Go on a school tour for new students; Procedures taught: Walk to the back of the classroom as your table is called, line up behind the last person in line,  walk quietly on the right side of the hall.
5. Play "Where's The Math In The Date?"; Procedures taught: Raise your hand and wait to be called on to respond. (This is different from other games where blurting answers is allowed.)

Be the student and go through each activity.

     I cannot overemphasize the value of actually role-playing your procedures before you teach them. You will often catch glaring problems that could arise when your students follow your directions. I once had an awful traffic jam - during an observation - because I failed to act it out myself first. Back in the days when I was still figuring out my procedures, I would carve out some time during the planning days before school started. I would literally give directions to myself out loud, then follow them to the last detail. I caught a lot of potential problems and was able to resolve them before I used them on kids. Whew!

     In all things, the best laid plans can always go awry. If you see that something is not working, be  honest enough to see it and flexible enough to change it.

     I'd love to hear how you handle routines and procedures in your classroom. What works for you?
Pat McFadyen
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