Starting the Year: Remember to Establish Habits!

Article by Dora Daniels

When thinking about the beginning of the school year, it’s important to plan for classroom transitions and how things are going to flow. Here are some good prompts for opening the year:

  • How are students going to enter the classroom? What are they going to do when they walk in?
  • How are students going to be prepared for the class?
  • How are students going to know where they are sitting?
  • How are students going to transition and turn in papers?
  • How are students going to transition at the end of class?

All of these items need to be practiced for the first two or three weeks of school. While we might want to introduce such ideas once, many students need multiple exposures before these behaviors become habit.

When students enter my classroom, I want them to enter, sit down, and immediately have some sort of task to complete. This could be bell work, PODs (Problem of the Day), writing down the objective in their agenda, or getting their materials on their desks for class to start. We need to begin forming these habits from the first day. In my own experience, when students walked into my room, I would have a PowerPoint on the board featuring daily instructions. This may have consisted of turning in homework to the homework bin, beginning work on assigned problems, or a list of materials needed for the day. The key element here is routine.

Even seemingly simple things can spiral out of control without a plan, like informing students about assigned seats. Having a game plan ahead of time is so important. When students wait in the back of the room for a seat, things can get out of control. Simple strategies include:

  • Handing everyone number as they walk into the classroom, where the desks are numbered so they know where to sit.
  • Giving each student a colored card where they have to sit at corresponding table.

We also need to think about our desks, and how students should interface with our own space. I had a rule that my desk would not be an area where students submitted work. (When asking a student about missing work, I never want to hear “I put it on your desk!”) A designated area in the classroom with bins or containers can be a key organizational element.

Students should quickly learn that a bell doesn’t dismiss them from class. There are too many classrooms left in disarray when the bell rings. We should have a closing to every class and a smooth transition. We need to make sure students know the expectation of what is due the next day, what should be left on the desks, that there should be no paper left on the floor, etc. If we take just three minutes at the end of class to make sure students know these things, then they we could save hours throughout the year collecting missing work, cleaning the room, or even spending more money on extra supplies that never get returned.

Even though these items may seem simplistic, they can be easy to forget in the flurry of a new school year’s beginning.

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