Building Classroom Structure Through Instruction

by | Aug 23, 2018


Back-to-school time is just around the corner, and the chaos of the start of the year might be weighing heavy on your mind.

You may be thinking about what you need to set up your room, the routines that you would like to establish during the first few weeks of school, or selecting the appropriate curriculum and well-structured schedule to address the diverse needs of your students. Preparing for the arrival of your students comes with many demands, but even the best preparation will only get you so far.

Hitting the ground running on Day 1 is every teacher’s goal.

As all educators know, it can be difficult finding the balance between establishing classroom routines, teaching, and learning. Establishing class structure and positive classroom management helps to prevent behavioral challenges as the year progresses, but postponing instruction early in the year can be detrimental to student achievement. Finding a balance between the two is the key to educational success.

Determining Routines

The first step to establishing classroom structure is determining what you, as the educator, want the structure to look like. Identifying the necessary classroom routines to make your classroom environment positive and productive will allow you to make better plans.

  • FIRST, ask yourself what routines must be in place to make your students successful.
    For example: If your students do not know how or where to submit completed work, it is unlikely they will turn their assignments in independently.
  • NEXT, ask yourself where and how each routine ties in with academic instruction.
    For example: Transitions may appear to be separate from instruction, but cutting down transition times increases the amount of time that can be devoted to teaching and learning.
  • FINALLY, determine your priorities. Give yourself time to reflect back and ensure you’ve prioritized accordingly.
    For example: Teaching your students how to submit finalized work may seem like a key priority, but what routines do your students need to master in order to complete their work?

By deciding what classroom routines are necessary, determining how each routine ties in with academic performance, and prioritizing accordingly, you’ve systematically established an effective starting point for classroom management.

Bonus points to educators who use data-based decision-making to determine routines and prioritize student needs.

Determining Placements and Starting Lessons

In addition to identifying and planning for classroom routines, it is important to begin the school year with a clear understanding of each student’s current performance level. This will provide guidance on which students need which supports, and it will also help you set students up for success by making academic placements accordingly.

For academic instruction to begin promptly, we recommend planning and organizing materials for placement tests prior to the student’s first day of school. Using the first week of school to administer placement tests and determine academic groupings allows instruction to commence without delay.

  • FIRST, administer placement tests.
    Student placement cannot be accurately determined without conducting appropriate placement tests. It is imperative that student placement is always data-based. It is an unethical professional practice to place students in academic groupings without supporting data.
  • NEXT, score the placement tests.
    It is important to score the tests in a timely manner to continue the placement process. Placement tests should always be scored using the answer key and/or comprehensible scoring procedures.
  • AFTER that, determine the academic groupings.
    Students should be placed in their academic groups based on placement scores. This will allow teachers to match the curriculum to students. Placing students in homogeneous groupings encourages academic growth and prevents frustration.

By administering placement tests and placing students accordingly, you’ve systematically established an academic starting point.

Remember, all academic placements should data-based.

Classroom Management Goals

Now that the routines and placements have been established, it is important to create measurable goals. Classroom management goals should be observable or defined in such a way that they are accessible and transparent to the students. Additionally, all goals need to be quantifiable with a predetermined means of measurement. Finally, classroom management goals should be objective and clear. It is crucial to state exactly which behaviors you are working towards and demonstrate what those behaviors should look like.

Example of an ambiguous classroom management goal:
Students will participate more during classroom activities.

Example of a clearly defined classroom management goal:
Students will increase participation by 15% in whole group instruction by answering on the signal as measured by a 5-minute bi-weekly observation. Goal to be completed by 9/30/2018.

Academic Goals

Defining academic goals requires additional planning. The important consideration when determining academic goals is ensuring that each goal is achievable and the necessary supports are available. Establishing attainable goals encourages productivity and confidence as students reach success. Additionally, it is equally important to ensure that goals are not too easy, which is a surefire way for students to become bored. Similar to classroom management goals, it is important that academic goals are clearly defined, objective, and measurable. For these reasons, it is crucial that all academic goals are data-based.

Example of an ambiguous academic goal:
Students will become better readers.

Example of a clearly defined academic goal:
Students will increase reading fluency by 25 words per minute when reading grade-level text as measured by a one-minute fluency timing weekly. Goal to be completed by 12/15/2018.

Connecting the Two Worlds

Routines and goals both lead to the action step of applying behavioral and academic principles in the classroom. How can you connect these two principles to establish a well-balanced classroom environment from day one?

Teachers often believe that it is easier and/or more productive to only focus on behavioral skills until classroom routines and expectations are mastered. On the contrary, it is crucial that students are able to practice these skills in real-life settings and circumstances in which they need to be applied. Doing so prevents lost instructional time and avoids barriers as the school year progresses.

How Can This Be Done?

 Begin with determining the starting lesson for each academic grouping. Once this has been established, you can slowly incorporate the prioritized classroom management goals you’ve set alongside your first lesson. As each classroom management goal is mastered, slowly begin incorporating the next while maintaining a slow and steady pace of instruction. Classroom instruction and time-on-task will gradually increase once behavioral expectations are firmly in place. Behavioral expectations should be explicitly taught during the first week of school. This means you may need to spend a little more time on classroom management. You must invest time on the front end on classroom management structures, and each day you will begin to increase the number of minutes that are focused on academics and less on explicit instruction for behavioral expectations. After a couple of weeks, classroom routines will become a review and instruction will run for the whole duration of the class. Priority classroom management goals will become mastered, and new goals can be trained as they present themselves. This allows your students to grow academically and behaviorally from the very first day of school.