Turn left here. Now take a slight right. As adults, we listen to commands such as these while navigating new territories. Relying on our GPS, we not only listen to the commands but also glance at the screen to verify our next move. Using only one of those modes, whether the visual or the auditory feature, would prove difficult for anyone new to the area.
The same goes for our students at the start of each new school year. Although the total number of hours in a school day has yet to change, the instructional block of time for each content area continues to be adjusted from year to year. Each of these areas is equally valuable to the students’ growth. So it’s no surprise that this yearly scheduling puzzle can feel like a juggling act for teachers trying to fit it all in. Moving into the new school year, the guiding force paving the way for these schedules to run smoothly with any combination of times are the expectations that we establish and the transitions we model, practice, and instill in our students throughout the day.
With these expectations and transitions comes the need for both the visual and auditory component so that all students can be successful. I work with classroom teachers to identify and define expectations for the transitions that students will encounter throughout the school day. Gathering on the rug, lining up for specials, and finding their reading spots are just a few of the transitions we establish. We collaborate on ways to make these expectations clear and consistent so that students can easily follow and learn them. One way that we make the expectations clear for students is by making them visual and pairing the visual with the auditory.
With the help of teacher prompts, these visuals become like our well-known GPS navigational system for the classroom. As the year progresses, the number of teacher prompts is decreased and student independence in these areas is increased. Like the GPS navigational system, the teacher prompts are needed less and less, but the visuals put in place may still be helpful as the students experience the expectations and commit them to memory. The visuals act as scaffolds until routines and structures have been practiced and become habit.
Here are some visuals that we create to pair with the auditory feature already present in the classroom.
Classroom maps help students navigate their new environment. Examples of maps displayed around the room include reading spots around the classroom and learning spots on the rug where students gather. Teachers start by sketching a map of the classroom or the area in focus. As students are introduced to their spots, or helped to choose their spots, their names are added to the map while they watch. The names are often put on sticky notes so they can be quickly revised along the way. They can instantly see where to go as they transition to the new area, as well as be reminded of their spot without relying on the teacher for continuous reminders.
Students often hear directions such as “Show me what a second-grade line looks like” or “Sit like a first grader.” But what meaning do those commands hold for students when they are first learning how to stand in a second-grade line or sit in a first-grade classroom? Precious learning time is lost while teachers redirect students over and over again. To help students learn what these expectations look like, teachers use authentic photographs from the classroom to provide expectations for students. Photographs are not taken from generic images or clip art on the Internet, which don’t hold much meaning for students. Instead, photographs are taken of students in the class or the whole class itself modeling the desired behavior, such as lining up or partner reading. Since the students took part in the given expectation and were part of the photograph, they become more responsible for their actions and for using the photograph as a guide. One teacher I work with can even be heard saying, “Match our line to the picture of our line.” The students instantly look at the picture and make the revisions necessary to match it.
Gathering on the rug for a minilesson or transitioning to independent reading spots can be tricky for students. After hearing the initial direction, they make their way to the rug or reading spot haphazardly. Not because their teacher didn’t tell them where to go or how to go but because while on their way, they continue to be unsure of things. Which spot is mine? How much space is mine? Teachers use materials already in their classroom environment to create defined areas for students. Existing classroom rugs and masking tape are the only things teachers need to use. To help students visually see where their rug spot is, teachers with alphabet rugs will assign each child a letter of the alphabet as their spot to sit. The students need to remember only their letter.
Teachers who do not have alphabet rugs have used masking tape on their rug to create a grid, with each student getting a defined box with their name to sit in. This not only signals to students where to sit, but also defines their personal space to stay within. Teachers teach their students to stay within their defined space and eventually spend much less time during lessons stopping to tell students to keep their hands to themselves and more time teaching. To help students visually see where to line up, teachers put masking tape on the ground where the line should begin. And for those students who need extra assistance, they even put a piece of tape on the floor where their spot in line should be. If the line always seems to be crooked, they place two long pieces of masking tape parallel to each other with enough space in the middle for students to stand.
Navigating a new area is challenging for people of all ages, especially for the youngest of learners. But pairing visuals with the auditory helps these new territories and the directions that accompany them become more explicit for students. Visuals can be revised throughout the school year, based on the learning styles and needs of the students or to help students adjust to a new plan. Just like the all-important GPS is for adult drivers, the integration of visuals with an auditory component makes navigating new areas more efficient and effective for students, ultimately bringing time back to learning.