Last academic year was the first time in many years that I have taught primary aged children (8-9 year olds). On reflection, the most useful thing I learnt was the value in setting up class routines. I trained my learners to come in and place their bags and coats on the tables at the back of the room before sitting down in their designated seats with books and pencil cases in front of them.
The lesson always begun singing the hello song, followed by an episode of Simon’s Cat, which the group got to choose. There were a variety of other fixed and semi-fixed phases that every learner expected throughout each three-hour lesson before finally singing the goodbye song. Although they may not have been able to express it, this learner group should have been able to mentally piece together the stages of every lesson.
This structured approach worked well with some older lower-secondary learners I taught at the same time. This rather spirited group found the structure to our set routines helped them focus more, waylaid some of the more prominent behavioural issues and generally allowed our lessons to run smoother, helping us to get more done.
My own experience suggests that aside from establishing class routines with young learners as general best practice, its implementation also seeks to curb acute behavioural issues in more challenging classes. In a summer school context, teachers are sometimes faced with these obstacles which, although not entirely exclusive to any specific demographic, I would argue, there is concordance pointing in the direction of low levels where problems are most likely to be manifested.
In summer school we do have classes which are formed of young learners and older teenagers who are still at a beginner or elementary stage of development. From my experience as the DoS, when issues arise and are not dealt with, they very quickly fester. Any intervention becomes no more than firefighting and rarely tackles the root of the problem. Instead we are simply putting a plaster over the problem which has limited success in the long term. As an alternative, we should be question[ing]… [the] governing variables themselves, to subject them to critical scrutiny (Smith, 2001, 2013), approaching this from the perspective of double-loop learning.
If class routines ebb the chaos that is associated with teaching young learner groups (Long, 2016), it should also be a source of comfort to those low-level learners, both younger and older, who may take solace from knowing what to expect as the lesson progresses and what is expected of them. It gives structure and guidance to those who lack a rudimentary degree of learner independence and allows the teacher to maintain control. The structure can be unwieldy and is not a panacea for all ills, but may just be what some teachers need to keep their stress levels down.
Of course, the routines developed for younger learners need to be different for groups who are 16 and 17 years old. I would keep the routines in place such as those which help learners to be prepared to start work by having the correct learning materials in front of them with bags and coats kept to one side, however once the lesson has begun we would naturally dispense of those features that lend themselves to younger learners such as the hello song and instead replace them with routines more fitting to the specific age group, like a mingling to encourage learners to share their experiences and opinions about what they did and saw yesterday, for example. We forget that our learners have fantastic experiences during summer school that we often forget to exploit! Of course, this requires lots of scaffolding and task language but very quickly, it will become the warmer activity you always do and something that is expected. It also allows learners to recycle useful language.
The transient nature of summer school compromises how well we are able to embed solid routines. This does not suggest that it cannot be tried. If anything, it is as much about a teacher’s own professional development as it is about classroom management. These are skills that we can read and talk about but fundamentally must, at some point, try. What we learn from this as a course of action research will bode well when we start our next teaching job after summer school has finished.
Smith, M. K. (2001, 2013). ‘Chris Argyris: theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning’, the encyclopedia of informal education. [http://infed.org/mobi/chris-argyris-theories-of-action-double-loop-learning-and-organizational-learning/. Retrieved: 17/07/2018]
Long, S. (2016). ‘Daily Routines’. [https://www.reachtoteachrecruiting.com/blog/esl-class-daily-routines/. Retrieved: 17/07/2018]
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