Coach's Corner: Well-tuned Routines

For Middle Level

Dear Coach Erin,
I find that the first week after I model a routine the class runs smoothly, but then the routine starts to fall apart. What can I do to make a routine stick?

Coach Erin says,
Modeling and practicing help students grow in their ability to do things with competence and autonomy. After a routine is modeled and practiced, it takes maintenance and repair to keep it well-tuned. 

Think of the work required to keep a car running smoothly: general maintenance work is done proactively to keep breakdowns at bay; repair work is required when a problem arises. The ultimate purpose of all the work is for the car to run smoothly on its own.

Smooth running is our ultimate Developmental Designs behavior goal for students—to be responsibly independent with the routines of school with minimal intervention from adults. Responsible independence is what we mean by making a routine "stick."

Here are a few ideas for maintenance and repair:

  • Involve students in the assessment of a routine
    once it has been modeled and practiced.

    Self-assessment increases the likelihood of ownership from students because they, instead of just the teacher, become the evaluators of their own behavior.
    Use questions such as:
    "What did you notice about how we entered the room?" or
    "What made our transition run so smoothly this class period?"
    A few students can record the time it takes them to make a transition for a week, graph the data, and report the results back to the rest of the class.
  • Use visual reminders to anchor students in a routine.
    Enlist students to create a chart that lists the steps of a routine, or a Y-chart that describes what a routine looks, sounds, and feels like when done according to the social contract. These visual reminders become the authority instead of relying on teacher reminders. After students complete a routine, refer back to its chart and ask students to self-assess what went well and what needs improvement.
  • To maintain the expectations' integrity, enforce them consistently. 
    When the routine starts to slip in small ways, prompt redirection helps to prevent further erosion of the procedure. Simple re-do's without teacher nagging are an effective way for students to fix the mistake on the spot and get further practice with the routine.
    If a student struggles or resists, you might simply say:
    "You need to do this again the way we practiced." or
    "Go back. Show me how to enter the class in an orderly manner."


Erin Klug is a Program Specialist and Developmental Designs consultant for The Origins Program.

Published May 2012

Related Topics: 
Teacher Language