________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 40. . . .June 17, 2016


Classroom Routines for Real Learning: Daily Management Exercises that Empower and Engage Students.

Jennifer Harper & Kathryn O'Brien.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2015.
128 pp., pbk. & pdf, $24.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-55138-297-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55138-905-9 (pdf).

Subject Heading:
Classroom management.


Review by Barbara McNeil.

** /4



The best part is that, once students feel they own the concept, they practice and master it quickly; they want to expand on it. They are intrinsically motivated because it is theirs. This approach is very effective for establishing a behaviour management program, deciding on a problem-solving approach, determining where to store supplies and what to put on bulletin boards, etc.


Teachers are committed to continuous improvement. They typically search for new ways to improve teaching and enhance learning for all. Increasingly, teachers are part of a bevy of authors who share, through various publications, the knowledge and insights garnered from years of practice and reflection in classrooms. Hence, there is now a bourgeoning publications sector that produces numerous titles that offer practitioners “tips”, “best practices” and an assortment of strategies and suggestions on how to do better and be better in the complex world of classrooms. Joining this collection of publications is Classroom Routines for Real Learning: Daily Management Exercises that Empower and Engage Students, by Jennifer Harper and Kathryn O’Brien whose book is a product of the time they have taken “to ponder the professional routines in our classroom[s]” (p. 5).

     Designed as a “bank of learning experiences, instructions, tips, ideas, and strategies for everyday classroom routines” (p. 6) for elementary schools (K-8), the content is supported by an introduction, eight chapters of varying lengths, a bibliography of professional resources and an appreciable index. The introduction provides the backstory for the creation of the book. The authors argue for, and provide a reconceptualization of, routines by explicitly aligning them with what is expected of teachers: curriculum delivery, scholastic progress for every student, and interaction and communication with school communities. The desire to align classroom routines with expectations of teachers led Harper and O’Brien to explore how routines can be used to address and respond to multiple goals (e.g., how teachers can use routines to create more students who are willing to take risks, be creative, think critically, and be more resilient, self-regulated, curious, and empathic).

     Chapter One focuses on establishing routines. The authors begin by defining a routine, “an established procedure for completing a task” that is used so consistently that it becomes an innate process over time (p. 7). They explain that routines maximize learning by creating stability, consistency and by improving time management. Other important topics covered in Chapter One are: the non-fixed nature of routines—they sometimes unravel and must be changed, the flexibility of routines—they are made to be broken, and how to determine the effectiveness of routines.

     A noteworthy feature of this chapter is the section on introducing routines. It provides a six-step approach (p. 11) that creates room for more student input, thereby producing routines that are student as well as teacher owned and thus more democratic. The chapter ends with compelling ideas about making students less dependent by giving them more responsibility in deciding what jobs need to done in the classroom and by putting them in charge of some of those jobs. The suggestions for making students less teacher dependent and more independent through participation in developing and enacting routines are persuasive.

     Also present in Chapter One is a suggested list of “necessary jobs” that can be consulted when teachers work together with students to identify routine tasks that need to be carried out in a classroom (i.e., collector of work, snack distributor, sweeper, calendar helper etc.). The extensive list of jobs is useful as it can inspire and remind teachers to include all students in the performance of routine jobs that ensure the smooth management and functioning of a classroom. Jobs are not imposed by the teacher. Instead, they are arrived at through dialogue by the class community—each student has voice in what jobs are of value to the class (p. 13-14). Furthermore, Harper and O’Brien rightly prompt teachers to “[c]reate one job per person and continually rotate jobs” and urge them to “put two people on a job and have them work collaboratively to do it” (p. 13).

     With Chapter Two, the authors showcase routines for “Beginning the School Day” and initiate a structural layout that is used over the next seven chapters. The chapter starts with a brief introduction, lists specific routines, (e.g., for entering the classroom, sorting homework, taking attendance and morning message), identifies the objectives for the routines, key words, suggested grades for which they are suitable, and provides a “Debrief” to explain the reason for, and value of, the routine. Also included are reproducible templates (e.g., Homework Slip (p.18), a graphic organizer of a Sample Opinion Line (p. 22) that teachers can use to implement particular routines.

     One obvious goal of Chapter Two is to present routines that connect to different areas of the curriculum (e.g., tracking weather as a way to reinforce language, math and science concepts when discussing weather routines; “[c]alendar routines” for keeping track of the days of school using a “hundreds chart” as a way of engaging students with routines with a math focus, p. 24). While this might appear to be a good idea, the layout and the “quick tip, grab and go” approach of the chapter could lead to confusion on the part of readers because there are too many disconnected routines under the rubric “[b]eginning the school day.” Herein lies one problem with banking designed education; random withdrawals and deposits make for questionable instruction and do not contribute to “real learning.”

     “Building a Classroom Community” through routines is the focal point of Chapter Three. Readers are likely to be drawn to this detailed chapter because topics pertaining to building community and relationships are a strong beacon for all teachers. To address such topics, the authors include routines to: unify the class, motivate learners (e.g., class rewards, extrinsic to intrinsic to motivate learners (p. 32-33)), and to consider different perspectives (e.g., a T chart of Pros and Cons to explore issues important to the class).

     Included as well in Chapter Three are team-building games, ideas for “Brain Breaks” and routines for solving problems (e.g., Pathways and one called “Break a Glass” that involves breaking a glass in front of students to remind them “that feelings are important and can be fragile” (p. 46)). The “Break a Glass” routine needs to be considered carefully. Each teacher needs to decide if it is a routine s/he would use with children. On the other hand, a routine that teachers are likely to use is: “Your Problem has a Solution Routine” (p. 47) because it teaches learners not to panic and encourages them to turn within and to each other to find solutions to challenges—teachers need not supply all the answers.

     Entitled “Independent Work and Executive Functioning”, Chapter Four provokes teachers’ curiosity. What do the authors mean by “Executive function?” It refers to “the mental processes that help us self-regulate and self-direct” (p. 49) and concerns functioning such as “paying attention to detail, remembering things, planning, organizing and strategizing to complete tasks.” Additionally, Harper and O’Brien list mini-routines to aid learners who experience challenges with executive functioning on page 49.

     As concerns routines that encourage independent work (p. 50-51), it would be hard to disagree with the authors’ premise that, as much as possible, students should be empowered to label and manage key supplies/items under teacher guidance. The book offers routines for exploring the classroom (e.g., Classroom Scavenger Hunt) and managing supplies (e.g., Back Where It Came From, and In the Bin) and some for technology management (e.g., Technology Agreements, and Organized Devise Storage). In addition, Chapter Four presents routines for Self-Advocating (e.g., with Personal Learning Profiles (p. 61)) and for Homework Success.

      “Working Collaboratively”, something crucial to students as well as teachers, is at the centre of Chapter Five. Though it showcases routines for grouping, reaching consensus, ensuring individual accountability and for Collaborative Technology Use (among others), it also contains routines for Finding the Big Idea, and for Critical Listening that appear extraneous to the focus of the chapter. Likely founded on a desire to pack in multiple suggestions to satisfy users of the book, the extraneous routines weaken the chapter and ultimately the book. Let’s face it; the most effective routines emerge from the specific socio-cultural contexts of each classroom.

     Since assessment is vital to teachers, students, families, school divisions and their publics, expectations are likely to be high for Chapter Six: “Routines for Assessment”. Organized around assessment for learning, assessment as learning, and assessment of learning, this chapter disappoints because of the tendency of the authors to jam-pack it with routines. Rather than excite readers, the chapter overwhelms them with too much information and ultimately disappoints.

     Though routines such as “Activating prior Knowledge, Assessing Confidence, and Dealing with Mistakes” can be useful, the “Personalized Checklists”—a routine for “Self Assessment”—on page 88 creates unease because editing is discussed outside the context of a writing process where students would engage in meaningful conferences, etc. with a teacher. Furthermore, it is not quite clear how such checklists would work for English language learners. The subtext of the personalized checklist suggests that editing is a one-off activity that can be done on the run. Related to this, is the “Stuffy Moment” routine. It appears to be a good idea, but it is detached from any kind of writing workshop approach to developing young writers. While there are some good ideas in Chapter Six, the chapter, like others in the book, appears to offer quick fixes, on the run items that are decontextualized from well-planned, sequentially structured, meaningful learning events. It is dizzying.

     Chapter Seven focalizes routines for “Ending the School Day” and is contrary to the previous one; it is short and easier to manage. Embodied here are routines for cleaning up (e.g., Team-Building Class Clean-up), and getting out the door. The “Student Reflection” routine unsettles because it asks students to choose a word (from those written on a chart by the teacher) containing negative and positive attributes. The chart is posted on the door, and, as “students walk out, they quickly and publicly touch the word that describes the choices they made that day.” Alternatively, students can “fill out a Choice Continuum” that ranges from positive to negative and that (thankfully) offers them some privacy (p. 104).

     Although the objective of this routine is to position students to reflect on their choices, the parting word or experience it encourages is troubling for those who made “poor choices.” An at- the-end-of-the day routine in schools can engender reflection as well as positive behavioural change. It should be one that points toward that which is affirming, positive and hopeful in every child—that a student has the potential to shift, to do better the next day. Routines that are oriented otherwise are pedagogically unsettling and could be avoided.

     Chapter Eight highlights “Routines Beyond the Classroom” and is wise because it considers the wider world: school culture, parent community, colleagues and other students. Featured here are routines for “home communication,” an end of the month summary of what is happening in the classroom, responsible problem-solving (with reproducible Problem Discussion Sheets (1 and 2), to communicate an incident that happened at school to parents (p. 108-109). Further to the preceding are routines for trips, bringing guests and for taking “authentic action” beyond the classroom (e.g., cleaning up a park, creating a green space etc.) that will be appealing to teachers and wider community members. The “Gratitude Spies” is likely to be appreciated by users and so would a routine for encouraging dreaming/re-visioning the social order/imagining utopias.

     Other noteworthy routines in this chapter are ones for Learning Exchanges, Recess Buddies, and for absent students, i.e., Away-for-a-Day Buddy. The latter places students in groups of three or four. “If a student is away for a day (or more), the peer group is responsible for calling or e-mailing the student, or keeping a short note about what happens during the school day” (p. 113) to help the absent student. As the authors argue, this not only helps the absent student to “feel connected with peers”, it also helps them academically (p. 113). By its nature, this ethics-based routine inculcates habits of looking out for one another in classrooms and contributes to the relative strength of Chapter Eight.

     Taken as a whole, the book satisfies in some areas more than others. The ambition of correlating routines to what is expected of teachers is commendable, and its well-reasoned articulation is part of the strength of the Introduction and Chapter One. Chapters such as Two, Three, Five and Seven, in contrast, are uneven; they contain some good ideas and some questionable (ones) deposits and point to the shaky ground of the banking (education) design foundational to the book. Though teachers know this, it bears repeating that most routines and other pedagogical tools are more effective when they are authentic and aligned with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. That is, when they are guided by the Convention and arise from the lived experiences/realities of teachers and students in their particular historical contexts, and are arrived at through ongoing democratic dialogue, problem-posing, problem-solving, and reflection between them. It is this kind of practice/praxis that is suggested in Chapter One, an engaging beginning. Similar to the opening one, Chapter Eight offers a pleasing finish.

     With its interesting array of ideas Classroom Routines for Real Learning: Daily Management Exercises that Empower and Engage Students, by Jennifer Harper and Kathryn O’Brien, if used judiciously and critically, is a suitable book for emerging, beginning and experienced teachers looking for some fresh approaches to classroom management.


Barbara McNeil teaches in the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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