I’m teaching an LTO in a grade one French immersion classroom this year. Teaching grade one, in a second language, has meant trying completely different strategies than ones I have used in the past.
This week, I started trying a new method of scheduling in my classroom. It looks like this:
Across the top are each of my students’ names (I’ve blocked out most of the magnets to hide names but left a few that were illegible anyways due to glare so you get the idea). Down the left hand side is our daily timing and label for each block of time – six of which are “choice” periods. Off to the right are magnets with options not currently in use. The giant grid created in the middle represents 20 individualized student schedules (or on this day, 18 schedules due to 2 absent students).
I’m always experimenting to seek out ways to be as student-centred as possible. Recently, our daily schedule had a free-flow free-choice time at the very beginning and very end of the day (+ for “early finishers” of desk work), centres in a rotation style during our literacy block, and more traditional “carpet time” direct instruction lessons and desk work; however, I was noticing some things I wanted to try to address differently:
- students were constantly asking what they were doing next (even with a general schedule of the day posted)
- when allowed free choices, some students were always picking the same activity
- some students were running and grabbing for popular choices to try to beat out other students vying for the same option
- some students who were outside of the class at certain times (e.g., to receive support) were consistently missing the same opportunities
- my scheduling of the day, with everyone doing the same subject at the same time, was creating “bottlenecks” out of limited resources… which we wouldn’t have enough of at certain times of the day, but then they would sit untouched for the rest of the day
- I had direct instruction “carpet time” scheduled right after outdoor recess and students took wildly different lengths of time to transition out of snow gear – so we were constantly waiting on some students while trying to keep the rest of the group calm and engaged in the meantime. This also meant that the students who got ready the fastest were “rewarded” by having to sit at the carpet the longest.
- student dysregulation happened the most during direct instruction times and it sometimes created a snowball effect of negativity (try as we might to not let it)
- the needs of my students vary dramatically and it was getting increasingly difficult to have any direct instruction be meaningful for the entire group (…boring some, while frustrating others)
I wanted to think of a way to still give students agency while also trying to solve some (or all) of the above issues.
I settled on trying a variation on the individualized velcro and picture communication symbol schedules that are frequently used in special education settings. What’s necessary for some can be good for all!
I had a look at our five day cycle and our timetable and blocked out time into 30-40 minute increments. I decided on this amount of time because of the needs of my particular group, who, based on past observation, usually needed a change in pace about that often. It also worked well with other “set” times in our schedule (e.g., library or gym time). This allowed me to see how many “choice periods” would fit into our days. In our case, it was 5 blocks on some days and 6 blocks on most days.
Next, I used Boardmaker Online to design the symbols for each possible activity. In a special education setting, I would try to be super specific with each symbol. In this case, I ended up being a LOT more general so that each symbol could be more flexible. Most of the symbols represent a “centre” in the classroom – within which, students will find even more choices. That way, I can change up the options available at each centre as needed and I don’t have to make new symbols all the time.
I created enough “reading”, “writing” and “math” symbols so that each student would have one copy of each. The idea is that each student *must* do all three of these things every single day and must slot these symbols onto their schedule first, before filling in anything else. I printed these on white card stock, cut, laminated, cut again, and then affixed a magnet on the back of each.
I also created further options such as “art”, “drama”, “construction” (our “makerspace” centre), “Lego”, “OSMO”, “iPad”, “Chromebook”, etc., and limited the quantity of each based on how many students each option could reasonably accommodate at one time. I then printed 6 sets of these symbols, each set on a different colour of card stock – each colour representing a different choice block. For example, I may only have 4 Chromebooks, but with 6 choice blocks in a day, that equals 24 possible ‘slots’ for Chromebook use in a day… but I couldn’t just print all 24 on the same colour because the usage needs to be equally distributed so that not everyone is trying to use our 4 devices at once. I figured the colour coding would help us keep track in a more fool-proof way. And again – cut, laminate, cut, and affix a magnet on each.
I also created some other symbols – ones with “pas fini” on them (we have a bin of student folders where they keep any work they have not yet finished) and ones with my face on them to represent that the student would come work with me for direct instruction (e.g., for guided reading or guided math). I haven’t yet tried these as I am just wandering the room, helping students more informally as we go. Once the routines become more second nature, I’ll be able to add this piece in.
I also printed off some extra “blank” ones in each colour, which I am able to write and draw on with a wet-erase marker to quickly create anything needed on short notice.
I drew the grid on the board with chalk and a level (from our ‘construction’ centre!). I don’t know how I’d never thought of using a level before (I usually used metre sticks in the past) but it sure helped keep lines straight!
The first day, I chose the schedules for everyone. Students simply had to get used to following their own schedule.
At the end of the first day, I reset the board and then brought students up one at a time (while everyone was busy doing their last choice of the day) to guide them through picking their schedule for the following day.
At the end of the second day, I attempted to have students pick more independently. I learned that they still need a lot of guidance and help with this part of the process. It will get better with practice and with some of the tweaks I am planning to help make the process smoother.
Feedback from students has been positive. They enjoy the choices and they enjoy the comfort of knowing what’s coming. They also enjoy not having to sit and wait for each other before being able to begin. They are starting to figure out how to make sure they schedule in collaboration – choosing the same activity at the same time as someone else so that they can do it together. Some students still need prompting to get started with an activity – but this will definitely get better with more familiarity with the routine.
We have now done this for three days – enough time for me to know it’s worth continuing but also enough time to identify areas worth tweaking.
- I am going to redo the time schedule cards along the left. For one, they are too tall – they should be the same height at the symbol cards (1.5 inches) so that the grid is less ‘stretched out’. I also need to colour code the time label cards the same colour as the symbol cards to make it more easy for students to know what colour symbols to pick when.
- I did the grid in regular chalk initially as I *knew* I would have tweaks and changes after putting the system into use. As soon as I have the new time label cards, I’ll be able to make the grid more compact and I can redraw the lines with wet-erase chalk markers.
- To make the table more easy to follow visually, I need to create some alternating background shading.
- I used different kinds of magnets on the backs of symbols and I need to replace some of them that are not holding strongly enough (I recycled ‘scrap’ magnets from another project, but they’re getting bumped and falling off too easily).
- I am going to add labels and dots on the board to make it more easy to “reset” the choices back off the grid.
- I am also going to try having students pick their schedules in the morning instead of the night before – to see which works better. I can have a few students picking at a time, but it still takes a while to get through everyone (especially if anyone’s being indecisive) so we’ll have to keep tweaking that part of the process until we setting on something that works.
I’ll try to post an update once we’ve had a chance to iterate and reflect!