This is how we do it…

…at the FPS Libratorium. That’s right, it’s time to talk about our basic routines and expectations! This year, I’ve incorporated some handy tricks I learned from listening to a podcast called The Everyday Art Room, hosted by Cassie Stephens. I listen to quite a few education/teacher podcasts but this is the only one I’ve stumbled upon by a fellow special areas teacher. And yes, it’s an art teacher podcast so there is much discussion about art projects and art specific issues BUT in covering those topics Cassie often discusses her routines and how she teaches them. Most books, articles, podcasts etc about classroom management and routines are aimed at regular classroom teachers and the tips and tricks don’t always translate well to the constraints of the specials schedule. However, Cassie knows and understands that schedule well so, while she might be discussing how she teaches her students to properly use a paintbrush, in doing so she also addresses the strategies she successfully uses in her art room and I’ve had much luck applying some of those strategies to our library routines this year. Let’s break down those routines and expectations, shall we?

Library Routines

Entering the Library

  • When the class arrives they  “walk the plank”. Remember that Duck Tape with the wood grain design I mentioned in the last post about our setup this year? Well, I picked the wood grain pattern over all the other possible choices because our school mascot is a Buccaneer and Buccaneer is another word for pirate and sometimes pirates walk planks and it just seemed like a fun, silly way to encourage them to stay in line.
  • If they are holding their books, I ask the line leader and the caboose to collect the books and give them to our clerk.
  • After books are handed in, we do our Library Greeting (borrowed from Cassie Stephens) and we greet each other as follows:
    • I say, “Hello my most amazing library leaders!”
    • They say, “Hello my most amazing librarian” (Even though I’ve told them to say this, it’s still a fun little ego boost.)
    • Then I ask, “How are you today?”
    • And they respond, “Ready to learn!”
  • At this point, I tell them what we will be learning and where they should go (“Today we are going to keep practicing our wonders. Please go to your assigned seat at the story rug so we can begin”)
  • I’ll usually remind them of some of the things I’ll be looking for as we transition from the entryway to the next area.

Happy/Sad Board (borrowed from Cassie Stephens)

  • We use the Happy/Sad board to determine if a class will be earning an All Hands on Deck for good behavior during during specials or in the cafeteria.
  • When I see the majority of the class making good decisions and following our school expectations, I comment on it (“I like how most of my friends are sitting quietly on the rug looking at me so I know they are ready to learn”) and put a hashmark on the happy side.
  • When I see the majority of the class not making their best choices or following the expectation, I make a comment on it (“I’m sad to see so many of my friends are talking when I’m giving directions”) and put a hashmark on the sad side of the board.
  • At the end of class, while lined up waiting for their teacher, we review the board and if they have more happy hashmarks than sad, we fill out an All Hands on Deck to give to the teacher when they arrive. If they have more sads, we discuss one or two expectations we can work on next time. I’ll make a note in my planner so we can review those areas we’re focusing on improving at the start of their next class.

Things to Note:

  • All Hands on Deck certificates are meant to reward the class as a whole so I do NOT add hash marks to the sad side of the board because of the choices of one or two students. Instead, those students are spoken with/worked with/given consequences on their own.
  • While I might recognize individual students who are making good choices while complementing the class and adding to the happy side of the board (“I like how so many of you, like Jack and Jill, are on task right now”) I refrain from calling out individual students when adding to the sad side of the board and stick to specific feedback aimed at the whole class (“Too many of us are off task right now and are talking to our neighbors instead of writing. Please focus on adding notes to your graphic organizers”).

I love the Happy/Sad Board for a few reasons. It’s a great visual reminder to the class and the kids seem really motivated by the almost game like goal of getting more happy marks than sad. It also helps me quickly and easily know if a class has earned an All Hands on Deck certificate. We’ve used this system for years and I have always been the area where classes were earning the least amount of them. I wouldn’t consciously punish a whole class for a few students behavior but, that feeling of frustration and that it just hadn’t been a good class would permeate how I felt about the class as a whole so when they teacher picked them up and asked if they earned an All Hands on Deck, I’d often respond that they hadn’t. But now, even when I feel overwhelmed by the actions of a few, a quick look at the board tells the real story about how the class did as a whole.

Lining up to Leave

  • When we line up to leave, we “walk the plank” but this time, we use the plank the extends from the door with the lineup sign/expectation poster on it. This keeps the entry door clear for other people needing to enter and exit while they wait for their teacher.
  • We use this time to review our Happy/Sad Board and if necessary, review what we can work on for next time.  
  • If we have a little  more time we’ll pull topics out of our Wonder can and practice coming up with questions about that topic while we wait.
  • Sometimes, to get them extra quiet and hallway ready for the teacher we start a quiet contest or, I tell them to imagine they are getting ready to board a pirate ship and if they are quiet enough, they’ll trick all the other ships (classes) they see in the hall into thinking they are a ghost ship.

Call and Response (borrowed from Cassie Stephens)

  • I added the Call and Response to our routine last year as a way to give directions and/or remind them of the expectations for book exchange time at the end of class.
  • Basically, you give them a audible clue that the Call and Response is about to start (I go with Cassie’s method of just loudly and exaggeratedly clearing my throat) then, you give them the directions a few words at a time (kind of like how the priest leads you threw the wedding vows) and they repeat after you.
  • Cassie likes to pair it with gestures and the occasional silly voice and I must agree, those little extras can go along way in helping the students remember the directions.
  • This year, I’ve taken another page out of Cassie’s Call and Response playbook and have been using it to introduce new vocabulary words and concepts as well.

Kindergarten Settle-In

  • Kindergarten has a special little routine we do together to help us transition into library and get ready to listen and learn.
  • After we find our rug spots, we sing our library song (which I learned from another librarian at a training many summers ago).
  • Then we get our wiggles out by systematically shaking them out of different body parts like our fingers and arms. We always end by shaking them out of our mouths so we don’t talk during the story (which is just a whole room of kids making nonsense sounds while shaking their heads back and forth).
  • The wiggles routine can get us a little hyped up so then, we do this trick called palming that I first heard about from, you guessed it, Cassie Stephens. It basically involves having the kids follow along with you as you rub your palms together, briskly at first and then gradually getting slower and slower. You pair it with a gradually quieter and lower voice and it really does settle them down again! We do mindful mornings in our building so different breathing techniques and visualization exercises aren’t new to our students but your students certainly don’t need that background to use this technique with them!

Library Expectations

I included the library expectations posters in our walk through the library layout last post. They’re pretty self-explanatory so I’ll just drop their pictures in again.

Really, the only other thing to say about them is if you haven’t taken the time to construct a full behavior expectations matrix for your room, you really should! After five years in the same library I thought I knew what my expectations were but sitting down and filling in the matrix was much harder than I had anticipated! I really had to think about things like, “what does it look like if you’re being a problem solver during transitions?” or “what does it look like if you’re being respectful at the computers?” and I think solidifying my expectations made me a better teacher of them this fall. Better teaching combined with those handy reference posters has made this (so far) one of our best years to date in the library as far as behaviors go!

And there you have it, the routines and expectations that work best for us at the FPS Libratorium! Oh, and if you are interested in arts and crafts you should check out Cassie’s blog as well as her podcast! So. Many. Great. Ideas!

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