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Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Class Routines in Pandemic Times

If there's one thing children (and, let's be honest, grownups too) need more than anything during uncertain times, it's routine. Consistency. Predictability. But it's also one of the hardest things to accomplish when our world keeps getting flipped on its head and everything is different! Here are some routines I have established this school year through in-person teaching on a cart with simultaneous virtual learners, and full live distance teaching, that have been helpful for all of us.

1. Stretching

I cannot take credit for this idea- this came from one of my 2nd graders! At her suggestion one morning when I walked in and commented on the gloomy faces in the first week of school, we all stood up and I led the class in some simple stretches. It felt great, so I did it with my next class too. I haven't stopped since. Every single class period, with every single grade, we start with the exact same stretching sequence. Every now and then I throw in something different just to mix things up, but for the most part it is the exact same thing every day. 

There are so, so many benefits to starting each class this way: 1) it establishes predictability and routine, 2) it is physically helpful for all of us since we're hunched in front of a screen or stuck in our socially-distanced bubble, 3) it is very easy, after the first few days, for even my kindergartners to self-direct, which gave me time to plug in my cart and set things up when I was teaching in person, 4) it gives kids time to sort out tech issues and get logged in while keeping everyone else busy, 5) especially with the older grades, it gives me a chance to connect with individual students- when we're in person, I can chat with kids about life while we're stretching, and on zoom (since they're muted) I can comment on and say hello to each student individually (oh look there's Jaiden's little brother, I love your hair today Chloe, your bedroom is so cool Davonte... etc).

I also manage to sneak in some musical concepts (because why not?): I raise and lower the pitch of my voice when I say "everybody reach up high/ down low", match the tempo of my speaking with how fast or slowly I want them to do something, etc. Every little bit counts when we're working with reduced class time, and I have noticed when students jump in to announce the next stretch (which happens quite often) they will often do the same thing with their voices without even realizing ;)

2. Upbeat Closer

I end most classes with either a rhythm play-along or movement/ dance activity with an upbeat song that has an uplifting, positive message. I can't waste the opportunity to use the power of music to lift everyone's spirits! For kindergarten and 1st grade I generally have them copy me and/or each other in doing movements with the steady beat. For the middle grades I do that, or a quick round of freeze dance (though nobody gets out because of zoom lag), or a rhythm play-along. For the older grades I use rhythm play-along's as well, or a play-along video where they do body percussion or movement. Thanks to the many creative and tech-savvy people out there, I've found no shortage of rhythm play-along videos for all skill levels on YouTube, but for this purpose specifically at the end of class, I am looking for ones that are upbeat instrumental or have an encouraging message. I also use a lot of the tracks from my dance playlist for the movement activities or make it into our own simple "play-along" by putting a few rhythm patterns we're working on up on the screen and playing those with the beat of one of those songs. I honestly get a little choked up sometimes watching my students happily dancing along with words like, "it's gonna be OK", or "keep your head up"- I hope the words soak in.

3. Happy Notes

Happy notes are not new for me- I've been giving out happy notes at the end of every single class period since 2013- so I knew at the start of the year that it was important to find a way to keep that routine going. You can read about how I normally use them and get the link to the free printables I use in this post from 2014, but essentially the idea is that I give one student a note with a specific compliment, and I announce it in front of the class. Rather than being a ranking system of any kind, like a traditional "star student" or "student of the day", I make it clear that everyone gets a turn and whoever gets it is NOT getting it because they were the "best" but because they are awesome and they matter.

Because of our circumstances, I did have to make a few adjustments this year. Since I can't give out actual pieces of paper, I started sending a message on ClassDojo (a parent communication tool our school is using this year) to the family of the student instead. I still announce it in front of them at the end of class, but this has actually been such an unexpected positive because I am communicating more directly with the families, and they are getting quick little positive notes from me instead of the flood of tasks and information us parents are getting so much of this year! I have gotten a lot of positive feedback from families because of these happy note messages, and the students are so proud to know that I'm sending those messages to their families. The other adjustment I made was to break my strict one student per class rule- if I have a full class (and not a small in-person cohort by themselves) I give a happy note to 2 students each day, so that students are getting more frequent compliments. I think we can all use extra compliments right now!

How are you establishing routines in this year of unpredictability? I think it's so important to find ways to create structure and routine for everyone's sanity this year. If you have other ideas that have worked for you, please tell us in the comments! If you want to read about the routines I use for the beginning and end of class in "normal times", check out the posts below:

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