Visual Schedule of Classroom Activities

A CEO of a major corporation has a motto for meetings at his company: No agenda, no attenda. In his experience, a meeting with no clearly outlined objectives is in danger of easily turning into an aimless waste of time. I’m sure we’ve all attended meetings where we’ve thought the same!

In our classrooms, the last thing we want is for our students to think they are involved in something aimless, or are wasting their time! Today’s PCM helps provide students with a way to know what to expect, how the day will flow, and hopefully how it connects to prior learning and next steps. Posting a Visual Schedule helps to accomplish this. Not only that, it keeps the teacher on track, too!  

The same way a well-planned meeting has an agenda, or a well-planned trip has an itinerary, an organized classroom needs a plan, too.

You may have already been posting a daily schedule on the board for years, and have never thought about it in terms of an MTSS Proactive Classroom Management strategy. Like all PCMs, the goal is to build a culture where students feel valued, safe, and respected. Why? So that they will attend, engage, and do their work – and learn what you are there to teach them! Believe it or not, when used effectively as a Tier 1 strategy, posting a visual schedule can help do all of that – keep students focused, centered around the learning goal, and yes, engaged in the work. 


 

Basic Components of an Effective Visual Schedule:

 

1. A general list of what is planned to happen that day/period. Image result for middle school classroom agenda

Again, think back to that long meeting you have attended. It was probably helpful (or would have been) to know the 4 or 5 bullet points the facilitator had planned to cover, so you could follow along (and anticipate the end). In the case of going on a vacation, seldom does anyone just hop on a plane without at least a basic itinerary of what you’ll do along the way. In the classroom, your agenda is that itinerary.

2. General time ranges (if possible). 

While no one is expecting a teacher to have every moment of their class period micro-scheduled down to the minute, posting a range of times can be helpful for some students. For example, when showing a video clip or as students break into groups, letting the students know approximately how long this activity will last often helps them self-regulate their behavior, and can improve their attention span. If the agenda calls for an activity they don’t particularly enjoy, knowing it’s not going to last forever helps reduce off-task behavior.

3. Verbal references to the schedule. 

At the beginning of class, you might consider reflecting on the agenda from the day before so students can make connections. Then you can walk the class through the points on your current agenda with more relevance.

Check in throughout the period so students (and teacher) continue to stay on track. It might seem like time spent doing this check-in is time wasted, but many students want and need the structure, or at the very least, to know what is expected of them.

Image result for language arts agenda board
Middle school adolescents do well with a certain amount of structure (although some of them may argue that point), and beginning their day with a visual schedule is an ideal way to help frame their learning. In addition, students with special needs or attention issues may actually experience extreme stress without the structure that an agenda provides. For all students, the skill of delayed gratification is also exercised, as a student “endures” what he/she would rather not be doing, in anticipation of some other upcoming activity he/she prefers.

 

 

4. Be flexible. Involve the students when you can.

As the leader of the classroom, of course you are free to flex your plan, but just having the initial outline up on the board helps keep everyone on the same page. If it really doesn’t matter to you in which order certain things should go, you might even consider asking the students to get involved in the sequence of activities within the schedule. Ask them, “Should we do XYZ first today or at the end?”

It is important for teachers to remember that not all students can follow a schedule in text-only format. Your English Language Learners and Special Education students may benefit from other cues, like images, icons, or photographs, to trigger a recall of vocabulary. Verbal prompts will also benefit students.


Format

A key part of a student's learning goals for middle school? Organization, organization, organization.

Your visual schedule can take many forms, as seen in some of the examples here.

There is really no “right” or “wrong” way, although in time you’ll find a system that gives the you and your students the best results. You can write the agenda on a white board, use a document camera, push it out to students through a Google app, or use some outside software (i.e. EvernoteJotnot). Using technology is a nice way to save each day’s schedule electronically and helps anyone who may have been absent, but if you prefer a low-tech method, you could also just have a reliable student in the class copy each day’s plan into a notebook, and accomplish the same thing.


To Recap:

A visual schedule posted daily in the classroom helps students:

  • Know what to expect
  • Know when to expect it
  • Know how much time will be devoted to it
  • Better self-manage their behavior and time

Daily visual schedules, like the agenda of a long meeting, help everyone at school stay organized, plan ahead, and manage the limited time we have to get stuff done! It is truly a best practice, it’s FREE, and a win-win for all!


 

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