Nobody remembers the middle.

At its best the opening routine of my classroom was a strange amalgamation of a Broadway dance number and spread offense.  Smile, greet, planners and homework out, pencils furiously weaving through the do now, me silently bobbing from corner to corner*   The timer rang, hands shot in the air, and we were off.  Those five minutes were calm, purposeful and  happened exactly the same whether I was in the room or not.

My closing routine looked more like the opening montage from the Simpsons where the plant bell rings and Homer tosses the uranium over his shoulder.

The lack of strong closing routines is particularly problematic since the bulk  of research tells us that we remember beginnings and ends better than anything else.  In my experience lots of KIPP middle and high school classes begin with tight opening routines that quickly get students working and occasionally thinking.  These same classes (my own especially) often end with a focus on the logistics of transition or in made dash out due to over-stuffed lessons.

With this in mind, we tackled opening and closing routines during a series of recent Friday PD sessions.  Opening and closing routines are also a way to apply principles of learning while ideally strengthening the overall school culture.

A few observations after our TALT (teaching and learning leadership team) observed 30+ closing routines over the last two weeks:

* A clear closing routine develops self-discipline.  Passionate teachers constantly ask one extra question or make one more point about the lesson.  This has the unintentional consequence of sucking away the time necessary for actually anchoring and assessing understanding.

*Organization takes time.  During our recent obsession with closing routines the majority of teachers (the vast majority in upper grades) directed kids to organize without providing the time necessary to organize or checking in anyway to make sure it is done.  In other words we do do something more insidious than ignoring organization; we pay lip service to it.  Any teenager worth their salt quickly realizes that this is one of those things adults say matters that really doesn’t.

Nestled inside this habit of  ignoring organization is a sneaky fixed mindset.  We tend to divide the world into the organized (and presumably uptight) and the messy (and presumably more free-spirited) as opposed to treating organization as necessary skill for operating in the world.

*Organizing binders, reviewing homework, making announcements can and I’ll argue should be done before the final summarizer or exit ticket.  There’s power in the final thoughts and actions of the class focusing on the aim rather than the transitions.

* Summarizers are most  often the piecethat gets cut from the closing routine even though the summarizer leads to greater retention.

* Executing the closing routine often requires sacrifice and trade-offs.  We all strive to be better planners and manage our students’ time well.  Simultaneously we strive to be responsive.  Teachers make a thousand (I have no research that supports this but I will wager that this is a literal and not hyperbolic number) decisions over the course of a lesson.

One of the most critical decision points occurs when the lesson is clearly not going to finish in its allotted time.  Do I  cut chunks from the cumulative review, the intro to new material,the independent practice, or the closing?  Most often I observe (and often was) the teacher who made the choice by ignoring the clock and running out of time for a strong closing.   Kids will learn more (if we define learning as actually retaining the aim) if we cut time in the beginning and middle to allow for a strong end.

Teaching PD without observation and coaching is akin to my sixteen month old daughter’s attempts to help in the garden; lots of dirt gets distributed but nothing takes root.

In an attempt to align the PD with coaching Anna (our principal) has designed two Google forms that the instructional leadership team can fill out on their phones while observing.

The Opening Routine Checklist

1.  What percentage of kids follow a clear routine without reminder?

2.  After three minutes from the first student entering are all the kids working?

3.  After seven minutes what percent of kids have completed a do now?

4. Homework checked? Planner out?

5.  After ten minutes has the lesson been framed?  In other words do kids know what they are learning and why?

The Closing Routine Checklist

1.  Does the class end on time?

2.  What percentage of the students carefully organized their notes and papers at the end of class?

3.  Was the homework explained?

4.  How was the room left?

5.  Did the students summarize their learning for the day?

6.  Does the teacher know via exit ticket or other assessment which kids got and and which didn’t?

The benefits of these forms:

  • The conversations before and after amongst the instructional coaches and staff while developing these checklists led to us being  much more aligned.
  • The clarity of expectations all by itself created a bump in performance and teachers’ belief they can improve performance
  • The forms and data summary are easy to manipulate.  I can send off individual feedback and summarize the whole staff results in less than five minutes.
  • Something we haven’t talked about yet is having kids own these checklists as well.

What these forms are not:

  • a substitute for literal notes of some kind…truly effective feedback to a teacher requires more than saying “no, kids did not effectively organize”  Teachers need more observable data like “twelve kids shoved the reading log into the back of their math binder, three put in in their planner, and two are still inside the desk”
  • Something that can be handed to new teachers without being taught and modeled.

Diving into these routines led us to greater alignment of our PD, coaching, and observation which creates momentum for improvement even when end of year letdown starts to ripple across the school.




2 Responses to “Nobody remembers the middle.”

  1. Kory Says:

    Susrirpingly well-written and informative for a free online article.

  2. Says:

    Right. This is a quick conceptual first draft. Lots of details will change: background and the figure most of all. She’s WAY too hefty for the 16-year old girl I have in mind. And I may want a cityscape rather than countryside.And Mike and Ken are too interesting not to use them in some way. Incidentally, both characters are people I know, so I have to work a bit to keep them from being too like their inspirations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: