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The Importance of Routines and Procedures in the Special Education Classroom

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"Put it under the cheeseburger!"

"Put it under the cheeseburger!"

There is no question where to go next.

There is no question where to go next.

One of the biggest breakthroughs that I've had as an Exceptional Needs teacher in a high school partially self-contained classroom is to emphasize the routines and procedures of daily class expectations. I cannot stress this enough. This is often emphasized in the lower grades but not so much in the secondary classroom. It has made a world of difference in the academic success of my students, and has greatly reduced the daily stress level for everyone. Here are my tips:

Before the year starts, make a list of all the aspects of class that would benefit from the explicit teaching of a routine or procedure. For example, walking into the classroom, locating work and materials, moving from one task to another, participating in class, going out of class on a pass, turning in work, spare time activities, using computers or technology, or putting away materials.

The hall pass is bright, large but not too embarrassing to carry, and always on a hook next to the door.

The hall pass is bright, large but not too embarrassing to carry, and always on a hook next to the door.

Write a routine or procedure for each activity. Streamline it where possible. For example, it helps to have labeled or clearly marked areas. In my room each student has a shelf for materials and there are labels for areas where the students pick up supplies (for example, “calculators” and “art supplies”). Also, designate a place for everything at the beginning of the year and try to keep it consistent.

Also have a rote work assignment for every subject. For example, in math the daily work is a warm up in a folder, a chapter in the book, a chapter in the workbook, turn work in to the educational assistant, and then (with extra time) pick up a drill from the designated area. The students can do this whether I'm actually in the classroom or not. Even though we do all kinds of special math activities and projects, this is a daily routine for math that they do automatically unless I announce that we are doing something differently. With multiple subjects happening in my classroom at the same time, this is critical so that everyone knows what to do if I am busy assisting another student.

The students have a clearly marked road to follow.

The students have a clearly marked road to follow.

Student misbehavior is greatly reduced or eliminated when routines and procedures are taught and consistently expected. Everyone has a task, knows how to access what they need to get started, and knows what to do when they finish. It takes the responsibility and pressure off of the teacher and puts it on the individual student. We become the facilitators rather than the directors.

For at least the first month of school, practice the routines and procedures. Enrichment assignments and special projects should be saved until the students are well versed in the daily expectations. In my classroom, using computers and other technology is a privilege that is earned about five to six weeks into the school year. By that time we are all excited to have access to the technology, but there is a daily routine in place to fall back on when technology fails.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that this is not necessary at the high school level. High school students still appreciate structure and familiarity. If the teacher is hesitating, unorganized, and flustered, the students will take advantage of the opportunity to create chaos. High school students also need lots of practice and instruction on what is expected, as well as reminders. It is also important to make sure that any other adults in the classroom are reiterating the same information.

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A calm and productive classroom is the goal.

A calm and productive classroom is the goal.

Do not give up. Keep practicing, keep referring to expectations (they should be written and posted in the room), and periodically return to emphasis on routines and procedures. I use the first week of quarters two, three, and four to return to the rote work for each subject and a review of the expectations for the daily workings of the class. If there is unrest or disruption happening on campus or in class, I have also returned to this “core” structure. These are times when the students may have difficulty focusing, or interactions have a potential to get tense.

As teachers of exceptional needs students, we need to be as proactive as possible. Establishing routines and procedures and investing the time and energy to make sure that they are practiced and working smoothly MAKES OUR JOBS A WHOLE LOT EASIER! For me, it transformed my class from one where I was struggling to get control to one where it runs like clockwork, whether I am there or not. Not only do I enjoy my job more (LOVE my job), but the graduation rate has increased, and the students are more academically successful! Worth it? I think so!

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ForestCat on January 13, 2013:

This is A lot about what I learned in college ! I have a masters degree in Special Education, just graduated actually, & my professors talked A lot about routines, procedures, and how to get the students focused. They crave that structure and routine in school. They need it or they could struggle.

Deborah-Diane from Orange County, California on December 21, 2012:

Very interesting. I work with special education students in a high school in California, and I have noticed that changing schedules and chaotic days do seem to upset many of them.

Lauhulu (author) from Hawaii, United States on December 21, 2012:

Well, the graduation rate went up concurrently...of course I could never prove that was why but have a strong feeling it has something to do with it!

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on December 21, 2012:

It is interesting to note that your efforts at creating a well-organized classroom where students know what to expect and what to do has increased the graduation rate! Students with disabilities have a great need for routines and structure, both in the school and in the home.

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