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The Habits You Create – Part 1

I am part of an awesome membership that encourages weekly goal setting and personal development to achieve goals and live your best life.  It keeps me grounded and moving towards what is important to me.  One of the things that we are asked to do as part of our weekly goal setting is consider the habits that we want to create.  Getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, shifting focus to the positive when we wander into negative territory. These are the boring bits of life that you need to do every day in order to achieve your wider goals.  It’s the same with student achievement.

There are so many recommendations for programs and projects and the magical ways to teach that will, overnight, transform students into strong readers and writers right in time for NAPLAN.  Asking for these things is like asking for the magic diet pill that will get you into your ideal dress size by your best friend’s wedding.  We all know the disappointing news that magic diet pills and magical ways to teach just don’t exist.  In order to achieve your goals you have to do the work every day, with dogged focus, sometimes for a LONG time.

People, Nike, Shoes, Lifestyle, Stairs, Flex, Feet, Run

When we consider how we run our classrooms and set up our student learning programs the core part of your program should not be the flashy ‘thing’ that you found on Pinterest or a Facebook page and want to try out. It isn’t the packet that you bought on TpT and implement or the units you found on a subscription site that you teach to every child in the same way one after the other until you tick all the curriculum boxes.  To create strong readers and writers, the core part of your program (the meat and potatoes) needs to be systematic, repetitive, solid routines that give your students the opportunity to practice their skills and apply their knowledge over and over and over again.  I often, informally, call it the ‘same s*&t, different day’ approach.   Now you might be thinking that I am crazy. That I am setting kids up for a stale, beige, predictable and ultimately boring learning experience.  The surprising answer to that is that kids LIKE predictable routines. They LIKE knowing what comes next. They LIKE the feeling of safety they experience when learning is accessible to them every day.

Predictable routines:

  • Are trauma informed (kids in trauma usually don’t’ like change)
  • Support cognitive load – when the child knows the routine they can focus on the content without becoming overwhelmed
  • Make life more manageable for you as a teacher. They are much easier on your cognitive load as well.

But, I do take your point about routines becoming boring. Of course you don’t want to create routines that have kids groaning. Bored kids are disengaged kids. That’s why you need to change it up ever so slightly every 2 or 3 weeks. You need to add some seasoning and variety to keep things feeling fresh without having the start with a brand new recipe all the time. If you never changed up the routines you wouldn’t be able to challenge children to increase the difficulty of their skills. 

Dancing, Dance, Ballroom, Elegance, Style, Orange Dance

Teaching is a dance and you are the leader. In order to lead well and have the dance be beautiful and fluid, you need to read your partner’s body language and respond accordingly. Ultimately you know where you are headed, but by adjusting to the messages that your partner is giving, you can respond in a way that gets you where you need to go by working with them.

Here is an Example

I use morning routine PowerPoints.  I LOVE them. I love that I can create something this week that will carry me (and the students) through the next week and provide quality experience for them to develop their skills and knowledge.  If you were to examine my morning routine PowerPoints from week 1 of a term to week 10 you would see that they progress in difficulty throughout the term. The content also shifts slightly to reflect what I have been teaching explicitly so that students have the chance to practice and revise for as long as they need. (You can download a morning routine PowerPoint from this post)

In Week 1

In week 1, the segmenting practice (I show you a picture, you write the word) had three words that all had the same rime.  So the words were hop, top and pop.  I made this decision because I knew that my students were beginning learners who didn’t quite have their phoneme/grapheme correspondence and segmenting skills to the point where I could just throw words with all different graphemes at them and not overload them.  By giving them hop, top and pop, each word was processed and written more quickly than the last, building up fluency.  

By week 5

By week 5, I was able to increase the number of words to 4 and use two different rimes. So the words were cat, hat, mit, pit.

By Week 10

By the time week 10 rolled around, my students were much more confident with phoneme grapheme correspondence and the processes involved in segmenting and writing so the words were able to be three or four words all with a different word family. 

No commercial program or downloadable unit of work can give you the subtle and intuitive knowledge that comes from working with and responding to actual students. The dance needs you to be in tune with your students, to read their responses and adjust in a way that leads them gently step by step through the learning that they need to be strong readers and writers.

There are no quick fixes when it comes to learning.  We need to create meaningful routines that build the habits that will carry children far into the future so that when they reach upper primary or high school the solid foundations you have helped them build will serve them well.

In my next post I will examine the habits created by many common classroom practices and suggest alternatives that may serve your students better.  To find out when this post is published subscribe to my blog using the link below.

Would you like to know more about how to make sure that your daily routines are based in the science of reading? Check out my next Teach Alongs starting soon!

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