Stress Management for Living, Teaching, & Parenting

Sharing the Visual Schedule in my primary classroom

The very first step outlined in Dr. Marshall’s Discipline without Stress Teaching Model is classroom management.  He explains on p. 205 of his book, “Students need to be inducted into the organization of the classroom.  The way to do this is to teach procedures.”

Further down on the same page, he continues:

Procedure gives structure, which is especially important for at-risk students.  The label “at-risk” has nothing to do with intelligence.  It simply means that these students are in danger of failing or dropping out of school.  Often the lives of at-risk students are chaotic, and the only part of their lives that is stable is school.  The reason they are in danger is simply because they don’t do their work.  A prime reason why they don’t do their work is that they lack structure, and procedures can establish that needed stability.

Because the majority of students in the school where I currently teach are considered “at-risk,” and because another large percentage also have some sort of special need or developmental delay, several colleagues suggested to me during my first September there that using a visual schedule of daily events would be a good idea.  They said they had found that this procedure gave students a strong sense of security.  Previewing a list of daily events avoided “surprises” that might just be enough to set certain students off and other ones to balk.  It would give all students a chance to be mentally prepared for each new segment of the day.

Online, at Set BC, I found the following information, outlining a rationale for using visual schedules with children who have special needs:

Visual schedule systems are an easy way to provide students with consistent cues about their daily activities.  They provide a structure that allows a student to anticipate what will happen next, reduce anxiety by providing the student with a vision of his/her day and promote calmness between transitions.  They are especially important for students who have a profile that includes difficulties with the understanding of oral language and directions.  The consistency provided by a visual schedule is crucial in establishing an atmosphere of trust and security. Visual supports can also provide motivation to work through a less favoured activity knowing a favoured activity is to follow.

In my first year at my new school I actually resisted trying this simple idea for a number of reasons. Overwhelmed with newly returning to a grade level which I hadn’t taught for more than 10 years and being naive about teaching a large number of students with special needs, I felt that I just didn’t have enough energy to “do it all.”  Since in all my previous teaching and schools, I’d never used a visual schedule, I decided it was something that I could do without.

As well, in my first term of full day Kindergarten (which was also new to our province that year,) I didn’t  feel I had a very good grip on the timing of the day.  Often, activities would take either far less or more time than I had anticipated.  Experimenting and learning as I was, I felt I couldn’t actually put a schedule up in the morning that I could guarentee for the rest of the day. 🙂  Many times within one day I would have to change my plans on the spur of the moment simply because things hadn’t worked out as I’d originally thought they would.

Another issue also prevented me from jumping on the bandwagon.  Although my classroom is large, I just couldn’t seem to find a satisfactory location in the room that would be good for this purpose.  All the visual schedules I’d seen in the past had been displayed in narrow vertical pocket charts––and I had only a horizontal one. Having already spent too much of my own money in setting up the classroom, I didn’t feel like purchasing yet another item from my own pocket.  Although I tried it out in a few places in the room, the horizontal pocket chart always seemed awkwardly positioned and never in an area where we might easily or naturally gather in the mornings.  So I abandoned the idea altogether, until last spring when I received $500 to spend in my classroom as I chose.

With this money I decided to purchase a moveable teaching chart.  In addition to teaching mini-lessons from this stand, I decided to learn from the experience of my many colleagues and try out their suggestion of implementing a daily visual schedule for the entire class.   It was one of the best moves I’ve ever made!

Here’s what my chart stand looks like, with my visual schedule at the top and a 1-10 math strip at the bottom ready to quickly review a math concept.

You might be surprised to see that in the end I decided to arrange my visual schedule in a horizontal fashion, rather than the vertical direction I had assumed was preferable.  It was our Aboriginal Support Teacher who pointed out to me that horizontal schedules encourage left-to-right tracking and so could provide an additional benefit to children as they developed an understanding of the reading/writing process.  Such a simple idea had never occurred to me before.

Then not long after that, I learned from another local colleague, a little trick that reinforced this same important “concept of print.”  She explained to a visiting group of teachers that she found it useful to put a permanent green dot on the top of her poetry chart to remind her students of  the side on which to begin reading.  Just like a traffic light, the green circle told them to “go.”  Since my visual chart is magnetic, I made my green dot moveable and also added a red dot to indicate where we finish reading.  Every morning I ask different children (from among those who still need practice to master this concept,) to come forward and arrange the dots to show where they would start to read the schedule, where they should go to read more once they came to the end of each line, and the spot where the reading will be completely finished.  On some days I also then reinforce that same information one more time by pulling out a real book to show starting, ending and return sweep concepts.

Here’s a photo that shows the entire daily schedule for one day just prior to Christmas holidays:
You can see that I’ve simply created pictures for my schedule as I go.  They’re not all the same size or commercially purchased but are instead pictures that are meaningful to my particular students.  Some of them come from the well known site, do2learn.com, while others are simply images I’ve found in a magazine or online through a Google image search.  When time is in short supply, I just draw a picture as best I can!

Each month I always put up small pictures on my calendar at the carpet indicating special events in each month, for example, holiday parties, field trips or class birthdays.  On those days, I simply move the marker from the monthly calendar to the visual schedule for that one day, thus avoiding the need to make two images for the same event.  I just add a piece of magnetic tape to the back.

Originally I was worried that my students would be upset if the day didn’t go as we had scheduled it during our morning session at the chart stand.  I needn’t have worried.  If the order of the day needs to be rearranged for some reason, I simply discuss the change with the class and ask a child to move the pictures accordingly. It’s interesting to see that that there are some children who don’t care at all, while to others the process of “correctly” representing the day is very important.  With a general outline of the day presented in the morning, I found that all kids are very accepting of changes that can’t be avoided.  This was much different to my experiences in my first year of teaching at this school when unexpected changes in routine could result in the complete meltdown of certain children.

Gradually I started to add other symbols to the schedule as well.  For instance, if the weather looked dismal in the morning, I would put a question mark above the “recess picture” with the explanation that a question mark can indicate wondering or a sense of not being sure, or of asking a question,  “Will we be able to go out for recess this afternoon?” or  “Are we going to have time to fit in a story before we go to music class this morning?”  Not only did the use of the question mark symbol act as a pre-reading skill lesson, knowing in advance that some events were only tentatively planned allowed the kids to more graciously accept a disappointment later in the day.  What Dr. Marshall says is true.  Being proactive is much more effective teaching than being reactive.  Sometimes if I could see we were running out of time in the day, I could offer the students some choices.  “We don’t have enough time to do both playdough and have a story today, so which would you prefer?”

So each morning now, my students do their coatroom chores by changing shoes and stowing away their lunches, coats and backpacks.  The next procedure they follow is to sit cross-legged in front of our chart stand, ready to start the day.  Having the new visual schedule positioned in front of them keeps the faster, more organized children’s attention while we are assembling, and the discussion that naturally results often catches the interest of those who are dawdling in the coatroom.  I’ve noticed it gives them a purpose for joining us as they want to find out what we are talking about and what special things are going to happen at Kindergarten.

I’ve found such success with this simple teaching tool, and am finding more possibilities for it all the time that I wanted to share.  I just wish I’d investigated visual schedules much earlier in my career!

Related postings:

Many more posts on the topic of classroom management can be found at this link.

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2 Comments
  1. Thankyou for outlining the system you’re using and the pic to show us. It’s good to see how you’ve done it – and that it’s not “perfect” – leaves room for individual and felxible that way.

    • Louise, I’m so glad you found my post to be of value! I’m looking forward to checking out your blog. I love discovering a new Kindergarten blog! Thanks again! Kerry

Dr. Marvin Marshall
P.O. Box 2227
Los Alamitos, CA 90720
Phone: 714.220.1882
marv@marvinmarshall.com
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