February 3, 2017 by Sarah Gillie
Routines can be enormously helpful for anyone. A morning routine can be hugely beneficial in a busy family, with time pressure on everything from clean clothes and taking turns in the shower to getting lunch ready and packed into schoolbags, making sure everyone is breakfasted and teeth are cleaned before the bus comes.
In the classroom a routine can be as simple establishing how pupils enter a classroom and where belongings must be stored, or it may involved a series of prompts and steps. One of the privileges of working to support children across ages and stages at school, is that you get to observe a large number of colleagues, with a wide variety of teaching styles. Most have their own favoured routines, tried and tested over time and with different cohorts, all aimed at day-to-day smooth running of their classes. Occasionally, these will simply suit the teacher’s style, but more often, they are developed in response to students’ needs. Sometimes, the routine is tailored or designed for an individual and either incorporated into the everyday classroom or reserved for 1:1 or small group situations.
For example, one truly gifted colleague had appreciated the additional time it takes some children to process instructions and handle transitions, and she had developed a series of simple cues and actions that her pupils could engage with, giving them time to stop what they were doing and proceed to the next activity. Those who might not have picked up on a verbal instruction were then able to join in with the action that meant it was time to e.g. sit/stand, start/stop, or line up. Without these prompts, some students might always be just a little late to start work, or line up, or whatever, as they relied instead on noticing what others were already doing so that they could become belatedly compliant. Her classroom was calm, and the children were confident.
In other classrooms, with equally lovely teachers but without the routines, I might observe a pupil being repeatedly verbally called to attention by an adult, or prompted by peers, or sometimes ignored by both, as expectations were lowered to meet the pupil’s perceived current capacity to comply. In such cases, it might in fact take longer to get everyone on task, with more repetition resulting in less learning time and fewer opportunities for support or extension, and, for those pupils who didn’t ‘get’ it, the risk of lower self-esteem.
For children and students such as those with hearing or visual impairments, or learning difficulties including those impacting on executive function, routines can make an enormous difference. The exigencies of the everyday school environment can be overwhelming for such learners, and without support, every new stimulus can leave them like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Wherever possible we should adapt the task or the environment to suit. If we do this and arm our students with routines and strategies to handle classroom and homework demands, then we will be going a long way to preparing them for the future.