Coordinating Classroom Management
Updated: Nov 15, 2021
As any classroom teacher knows, strong classroom management is the bedrock of good instruction. One of the most essential aspects of classroom management is managing transition routines between activities. Having a routine for each type of transition; teaching those routines clearly at the beginning of the year and practicing until the class demonstrates mastery of them; and continuing to practice, provide positive reinforcement, and correct missteps throughout the year (especially when returning after vacations) are all essential behaviors to establish and maintain efficient transitional routines.
Of course, in dual language programs, the scenario is even more complex, as the students may be asked to remember and execute different routines for the same transition when working with each teacher. Coordinating classroom management strategies is an aspect of tandem teaching that dual language teachers may be less inclined to think about since it’s outside of the core academic areas and not referenced in dual language guidance documents such as the Guiding Principles. However, in our experience, it’s a really essential domain for coordination because it greatly simplifies the learning environment for the students and the ease of instruction for the teachers. As our friend and colleague Amy Finsmith, Dual Language Specialist for Windham, Connecticut Public Schools has said, “It’s not that kids can’t learn two different routines with the two different teachers; it’s just a question of whether or not you want them to devote their cognitive reserves to classroom management routines rather than to key academic content.”
When we were teaching together, we coordinated all of our classroom management routines to be consistent across languages, such as lining up to go outside or back into the classroom, storage and care of materials, and transitions between activities. For this blog, we are focusing on our specific transition routine for cleaning up from independent work time (which could involve centers/stations, individual work, or cooperative projects) and transitioning back to the rug or assigned seats to get ready for the next activity. This kind of transition can be particularly challenging because students are spread throughout the room, sometimes doing different activities, so they don’t have a shared focus like they do when they’re engaged in teacher-fronted instruction on the rug or in their assigned seats. Ideally, they also are very absorbed in their work, engaged in lively conversations with one another about that work, and may have a number of different supplies out to support their work, such as markers, glue sticks, scissors, or ipads. All of these factors can make it more difficult for them to stop what they are doing, clean up, and get ready to move on to the next activity, all in a timely manner. Through this example of this one important transition routine, we hope we can convey the benefits of tightly coordinated routines across languages both for the teachers and the students, no matter what the particular routine might be.
In my first year at La Paz, I developed a three-step routine for transitioning from independent work (e.g., centers, individual work, or cooperative activities) and moving back to the rug, and it worked well for me, so when Liz joined me the following year, we decided to continue to use the same routine. Over the past several years, I’ve continued to use and refine the three-step routine with my subsequent Spanish teaching partners. The routine goes like this:
1) two-minute warning: We shake a maraca and the kids learn that means it is time to start wrapping up -- put your name on your paper, begin cleaning up if it is a messy activity, do not start something new, etc. When we teach this routine, we have the students stop working, put up two fingers and say, “two more minutes” or “dos minutos más” depending on the language of instruction. As the year progresses and students have demonstrated consistent success with the routine, they are able to continue working when they hear the sound, but know to get ready to take the needed steps to prepare for clean up. We teach them to think about what happens at this time and how to manage their time for the final two minutes of the activity. We role-play several scenarios that might play out during this time by asking ourselves, “What should I do now that I have two more minutes before the activity is over?” Possible scenarios include:
This station is pretty messy and it might take a while to clean up. I think I’ll go ahead and get started now so I know I’ll be finished by the time the clean up song is over.”
“Is my name on my paper? No! I need to write it now so I won't forget!”
“I’d like to take a photo of what I did in this center. I think I should get an iPad now so I have time to record my work on Seesaw.”
We also refer to this anchor chart as we teach the routine, and later, to reinforce it. In the primary grades at La Paz, the students stay in the classroom and the English and Spanish teachers rotate in and out of the same instructional space. For that reason, all our anchor charts that relate to shared routines are bilingual. In schools where each teacher has his or her own classroom, we don’t think it’s necessary to create bilingual anchor charts for these routines - simply having them in the language of instruction is sufficient.
2) clean up signal: we ring the chime and say, "Freeze your body, give yourself a hug, put your eyes on me," or “Congelados, abrazados, mirando a la maestra,” depending on the language of instruction. The purpose of this step of the routine is for the students to stop working and focus on the teacher for the next instructions, which involve the next steps that they’ll follow in order to begin cleaning up. We use a call and response protocol for this part, calling out the instructions step by step, and having the students repeat each step. When we teach this part of the routine, we teach the students to put their materials down in order to follow the rest of the procedure. We emphasize the importance of stopping to listen for instructions and how important it is to listen without continuing to work in order to give your full attention to the instructions. As you’ll see in the videos, mid-year there isn’t always 100% participation in the routine - it is just the reality. But, we are able to use any given student’s typical level of participation as an indicator of that student’s ability to follow directions and participate in class activities. Some students keep working despite the tightly structured routine, and we recognize that for that student, it is ok because it is where they are developmentally in that particular skill. Transitional routines require a considerable amount of executive function, particularly as new routines are being learned, so it is not surprising to see some students take a while to achieve mastery with them, particularly in the primary grades.
(A side note to those of you who are watching the videos and marveling at what appears to be an incredibly small class size! In our current class there are 20 students; however, several students were absent and a few were out of the room for learning support at the time that I made the videos.)
3) clean up: The students are given a certain amount of time to clean up and are expected to be on the rug or in their assigned seats when the time is up. We frequently use a song, poem, or chant to mark the time, with students required to be on the rug or in their assigned seats by the time the song/poem/chant ends. Sometimes the song/poem/chant is the same in both languages, and sometimes it isn’t. What is consistent is the approximate time allotted for cleaning up. At the beginning of the year, we allow a bit longer because the students need time to get used to the routine. As with the other two steps of this process, the clean-up procedure is taught explicitly at the beginning of the year through role-playing and dramatizations and practiced over and over and over and over and...you get the point! When teaching the routine, we make sure the students know where all the materials go and what their responsibilities are during clean up.
We teach the students this three-step routine at the beginning of the school year. As the year progresses, we may modify the routine to keep it fresh by changing the sounds (alarm clock, birds chirping, cowbell, etc) or movement (hands on your head, stand up and touch your toes, etc) but whatever we change, both teachers do it together to maintain that consistency across languages. When we teach the routine, we plan out exactly who will introduce each component, and when and how she will teach it, and we alternate between the two languages as we add progressively more to the routine until the full routine has been taught. We continue reviewing steps of the routine with our students as we introduce new components, and continue building in this way until we have gone over all aspects of the routine. For several weeks at the beginning of the year and as needed throughout the year (particularly when we return from vacations or other times when a ‘reset’ is needed), we continue reinforcing the importance of the routine by reflecting on it during our circle time when we have transitioned back to the rug. Reviewing and reflecting on expectations during this transition routine helps students create a sense of a classroom community and see the importance of their part in it.
As I talked about in our first blog, I entered my co-teaching relationship with Shera after a 20-year break from classroom teaching, and I had never taught kindergarten before, so classroom management was hands down my achilles heel. I had a lot of ideas about dual language instruction that I was really excited to try out in the classroom, but I knew that if I didn’t get a handle on classroom management, there would be no way for all of my ideas to take flight. It was the ultimate case of serendipity to be paired with Shera, whose classroom management skills are among the strongest I’ve ever seen in close to thirty years of working with dual language teachers.
Because Shera’s classroom management skills are so strong, and because she had arrived at La Paz before me and had already established routines that worked, it made sense for me to adopt her routines rather than create routines of my own. This made it easier for both me and our students, who did not have to learn two sets of routines, one for each teacher. Shera further streamlined my professional learning in this area by taking responsibility for teaching the students the majority of our shared instructional routines, which made my role more about reinforcement and ensuring that students understood that the same routines were being followed during instructional time in both languages. Additionally, each week during our planning time (see blog 4), we discussed which classroom management routines would be taught or reinforced, by whom, and how. This helped me to learn how she was going to teach a routine, and also allowed her to give me guidance about routines that I was going to teach or reinforce. If I happened to have a planning period when she was teaching a routine to the students, I was also able to observe her informally, and this really helped me to understand how she did it and approximate her approach (while still retaining my own teaching style) when I was teaching our students.
With the specific instructional routine of transitioning from independent work back to the rug or assigned seats, Shera and I were like a case study in how a teacher’s skill with a classroom management strategy can impact instruction. I followed the same routine in the same sequence as Shera, and it generally produced the same effect, but it was louder, slower, and messier than when Shera did it. We were lucky to have a relationship where I could admit my struggles and ask for help, and to work in a school that gave us time to plan together to address issues like this and that encouraged life-long learning of teachers as well as students. Shera gave me a number of really helpful suggestions, such as slowing down, focusing on one aspect of the routine at a time, practicing that routine until students demonstrated mastery with it, and showering them with praise for doing it correctly. She also suggested doing some role-playing, and in particular, inviting students who struggled with the routine to model what NOT to do (to great comedic effect!) and then have the same student model the desired behaviors (with effusive praise from me as well as fellow students). I remember once after one of these ‘reboot’ classroom management lessons with my students, looking over to Shera, who was doing lesson planning in our adjoining workspace, and she gave me a smile and a thumbs-up gesture to celebrate my success. It was a small gesture, but it was so impactful. By the end of the year, I felt so much more competent and confident with my classroom management abilities, largely due to Shera’s guidance.
At the same time, I was also the Spanish first-grade teacher at La Paz, working with two other amazing English teachers who were doing a job-share that year. They used the same transition routine, but they switched the maraca and the chimes, using the chimes for the two-minute warning and the maraca for the clean-up signal! It may not seem like a big deal, but I spent the entire year doing the wrong thing at the wrong time as I went back and forth across the two classes, or at least spending a lot of mental energy trying to remember the correct order every time I was about to do one or the other. It was one more thing that I had to keep track of when my cognitive, emotional, and physical reserves were already being used to the max, and it would have simplified matters to have had the exact same routine in both classes so I wouldn't have had to use my thinking energy for that. For me, this was a really concrete, lived experience that showed me the benefits of having identical routines across languages for our students, and the challenges that can result when we don’t.
By now, we hope we’ve been able to make a case for the benefits of coordinating classroom management routines across languages by highlighting our experiences with one essential and often challenging routine - transitioning from independent work back to the rug or assigned seats. As we noted in our story, there are several benefits to using a coordinated approach for both students and teachers. For students, it lessons the load related to classroom management routines, thus freeing up cognitive, emotional, and physical resources for academic tasks. For teachers, it reduces the teaching load, since teachers can split the responsibility for teaching the routines and their subcomponents, and both reinforce the same behaviors and routines throughout the day. When one teacher has less experience or skill in classroom management than the other, it also provides a helpful scaffolding mechanism, since the newer/less skilled teacher can adopt the routines of the veteran/more skilled teacher, and can also get supportive guidance about teaching/reinforcing the routines as well as helpful guidance about how to course correct when the routines are not having the desired effect.
How do you and your partner teacher handle classroom management routines? Which routines do you share and which routines do you do differently? How do you teach and reinforce the routines that you have in common? How do you help students distinguish routines that you do differently? Please comment below!
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