Three Tricks for Smoother Classroom Transitions
Whether you teach kindergarteners or seventh graders, the times in-between the parts of your day are always tricky. If you mistakenly ask kids to complete too many steps on their own, or go to quickly, you risk chaos. If you move too slowly, kids’ sense of engagement and independence dwindles. There are a hundred ways precious minutes can be wasted during those pesky transitions, and a hundred ways a rough transition can make for an uphill battle for the rest of writing workshop.
Here are three tricks that you might try.
SET UP FOR WRITING WORKSHOP BEFORE THE MINILESSON
This simple step literally changed my life. For years I struggled to get kids to start writing right away after the minilesson. It always felt like as soon as I sent them away from the meeting area the spell was broken – they spent too much time finding a folder, or a pen, instead of getting straight to work.
Then one day, I observed a classroom of first graders get set up for writing workshop before coming to the meeting area for the minilesson. Kids took out their writing folders and set them at their writing spots, along with pens, and then each table of students was called to the meeting area, one at a time. By the time the minilesson was over, all the kids’ had to do was sit at their spots – and start writing! Magic!
Now, setting up for writing workshop before the minilesson is a routine for me. I can’t imagine not doing it.
DON’T TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO DO. JUST DO IT.
A mentor gave me this subtle, but powerful advice years ago. I had developed a habit of saying things like:
“In a few minutes I’m going to ask you to come to rug with your writing folder, pen, and writing notebook. When you get there make sure you’re sitting next to your writing partners. Remember the partner chart? Make sure you check the chart when you get the meeting area. But not yet, though…. yada yada yada… Later in writing workshop, we’re going to be working on…. so get ready… but wait–I didn’t ask you to come to carpet yet…. yada yada yada…”
Those poor kids. I was explaining how a whole list of directions was going to go, yammering away, taking up precious minutes of writing time, and then saying it all again as I asked kids to actually do each step.
I’m still working hard to break this habit. The key is to notice anytime time I say something along the lines of, “In a few minutes/later/soon we are going to…” That type of phrase tends to lead to some kind of explanation instead of actual action. Instead of talking about what we’ll be doing in a few minutes, and then finally calling kids to the meeting area. I try to just say simply:
“Blue table. Come to the carpet.”
There! See how simple that was!
Of course, this extends far beyond calling kids to the meeting area, or sending kids off to their writing spots. This is good advice for pretty much everything. Less talking. More doing.
VARIETY IS NOT THE SPICE OF LIFE. WHEN IT COMES TO TRANSITION TIME, ANYWAY.
This last tip is pretty obvious to most experience teachers, but it is so crucial to a successful writing workshop that it is worth saying a million times.
Routines are everything!
Keep things the same: the same writing spots, the same spots at the meeting area, the same writing partner, the same materials, the same everything. This is what makes it possible for kids to stop worrying about where to go and who to sit next to, and instead focus that energy on what you are teaching. When things are the same every day, they become a routine, and kids don’t even need directions anymore. They just start doing things out of habit — good habits.
That doesn’t mean you can’t ever change the routine. Of course you’ll make changes as the year goes on! You probably will switch writing partners from time to time, or make other changes to respond to what’s happening in your classroom. But in the big picture– your routines will make all the rest possible.