Establishing Good Routines

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 11:37 -- Hillary Procknow

Back-to-school season signals a fresh start with new students and a chance to try out lesson ideas that you’ve reflected on (and let’s be honest, obsessed over) during the summer.  This is also the time that educators hear so much about the importance of establishing routines right from the start.  Routines are not only a way to help keep order in class; they also free up space in your brain to make more important decisions. Some of the most productive people (Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, President Obama) live by routines, even down to wearing the same outfit every day, because limiting the number of decisions a person has to make helps them make better decisions (Vohs et al., 2008).

As the CRAfT team pondered the beginning of the new semester, we wondered how we could talk about establishing scholarly or academic routines, routines that are not just about the process of getting things done in the classroom, but are also about developing the scholarly routines that help prepare students for college and career.

We have stressed a number of times that all the College Readiness Assignments (CRAs) have been aligned not only with the TEKS, but also with the Texas College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS).  The CCRS remind us that it is not simply content knowledge that helps students succeed; it is in the Cross-disciplinary standards that students develop the routines of thinking deeply about problems and how to address them.

With an eye toward the Cross-disciplinary skills that apply to every classroom, let’s look at three important routines and how you can establish them with your students.


Routine: Check knowledge by transferring it to a new context.

Research shows that one of the best ways to retain information and be able to recall it later is to practice knowledge transfer by applying learned concepts to novel situations (Shunk, 2004). An easy way to model knowledge transfer to students is to 1. Offer them the opportunity to do it often and 2. Be explicit about what you’re doing and why. Rather than simply asking students to recall a formula or repeat a definition, pose a question that is unfamiliar to them, requires the particular piece of knowledge, and hints, but does not explicitly state, what knowledge is needed to answer the question. In addition, let the students know that this knowledge transfer approach is intentional and will prepare them for the future (standardized tests, college, work) in which they will be confronted with problems without specific directions about how to solve them.

A CRA that does a great job of modeling knowledge transfer is “Changing Effects.”  In this CRA, students work in small groups to practice converting units to a newly invented system of measurement that students create.  They are asked to apply their units to new sets of data, which requires them to transfer the knowledge they gained from the introductory exercises to new problems. In addition, by having to create a new set of measurement, students must transfer conversion knowledge to a completely unfamiliar scenario. Students are assessed on the Key Cognitive Skills of reasoning and problem solving (among others) and the Foundational Skills of writing across the curriculum and research across the curriculum (see the scoring guide for all the areas assessed by this CRA). 

Routine: Defend ideas with evidence.

Being able to defend one’s ideas with evidence is such an important skill that we had a previous blog post dedicated entirely to this topic. In college and in the world at large, rarely will someone accept what you say without seeing the data/research/experiences to back up your claims. Going beyond simply stating an opinion or theory is critical to success in everything from standardized tests to online forums.

The CRA “Crossing the Border” asks students to create several solutions using hydrophilic and hydrophobic substances and water, record their observations, and interpret the results in terms of intermolecular forces. They also use drawings of phospholipids and proteins to further understand electronegativity and predict how intermolecular forces cause these biomolecules to form a biological membrane in water. Throughout the CRA, students are asked to respond to one simple question: how do you know? This requires them to dig deeper than answering each question to detail what they observed and the reasons they believe their answer is correct. This is a great model for setting a routine of always defending ideas with evidence. By regularly asking students questions like ‘How do you know that?’ and ‘What evidence supports your idea?’, or, even better, by having students explain their answers to their peers, students develop a routine of questioning what they read and learning to avoid unfounded statements in their work.   

Routine: Reflect on learning, and ask for help when needed.

Reflecting on learning and knowing when to ask for help are two invaluable skills in college and career. Unlike K-12, during which students are frequently asked what they need help with, college students are expected to seek out their professors or other resources when they have questions. To be successful, students must first be able to identify what they don’t know by reflecting on their learning; then they must seek help to address these areas.

In the Independent Study version of the CRA Rhetorical Analysis I: Understanding Speeches, students are asked to compose a brief memo to their teacher that reflects on their progress throughout the assignment. This exercise is a valuable one because when students have to analyze their learning and receive feedback on their assessment, it increases their metacognition, which improves learning. One very easy way you can build this into a classroom routine is to have your students complete a 1-minute reflection at the end of class. This should be a brief, anonymous response that tells you and them how they’re doing; then you can use this information to inform future class sessions. My favorite format for this exercise is to have students respond to the following three questions:

  • On a scale from 1-10, how confident would you feel explaining today’s material to someone else?
  • What is one thing you learned today?
  • What is something that is still fuzzy/confusing for you?

All 50 CRAs available on include Cross-disciplinary skills as a means of developing routines that will help students. The CRAs are wonderful resources to bring these routines into your classroom early on in the year so that students get in the habit of asking questions, writing, and researching in each subject area.  When students mistake the memorization of content knowledge as the entirety of what is expected of them, they miss out on developing essential skills necessary in college and career.

When students routinely ask questions, persist in trying new and different solutions, and understand the broader implications of the content they are learning, they are better prepared for college, career, and life. Educators can help instill these routines by including the Cross-disciplinary skills in lessons early and often. To help you accomplish this, we offer 50 field-tested CRAs as well as a CRA Template and a “Creating Your Own CRAs” video (both on the Resources page) to guide you through developing lessons that include these important skills. While you’re working on establishing routines, stop by and read about the Cross-disciplinary CRAs, which develop these skills for every subject area.



Schunk, D. (2004). Learning theories: An educational perspective (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson

Vohs, K. D., Baumeister, R. F., Twenge, J. M., Nelson, N. M., Rawn, C. D., Schmeichel, B. J., & Tice, D. M. (2008) Making choices impairs sub- sequent self-control: A limited resource account of decision making, self- regulation, and active initiative. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(5), 883-898.

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