Establishing classroom routines: flex time, learning journals, hot seat and more!

Whether you run a flipped classroom or not, establishing classroom norms are a big part of start-up. Although I like norms (and I do!) a lot, I also like to keep things fresh and surprising for students. So while I feel routines are crucial, I do not want the classroom to feel regimented and controlled. Moreover I want students to have real-time opportunities to notice the connection between their choices and the corresponding outcomes. While I strive to make students feel comfortable and safe, I also strive to push them out of their comfort zones. These nudges, might be specific to one student or a general trend that applies to many students. With the time and mental availability that the flipped classroom allows, I find I have a strong awareness of where students are at.

Below are a sampling of some of my flipped classroom routines:

I. Learning Journals: I purchase inexpensive copy books (25 cents each) for students to use. The journals stay in class ( we are not 1:1 ) as I want students to have the opportunity to reflect on a regular basis. Like brushing your teeth, reflection and metacognition are habits that have to be developed with support and guidance. At first students do not take many risks with their reflections and stick pretty close to the provided prompts. Over time though they open up (just like a flower blooms!) and are able to reflect with amazing insight into their own learning journeys. Besides the prompts, we use journals to debrief activities and set weekly goals.

Simple, inexpensive and portable. Personalized with a $ Store nameplate sticker!

II. Index Cards: Index cards have so many uses, they are one of my favourite go to tools. Students seem to love them as well as they are so contained, unlike the rest of their sometimes very overwhelming lives. This year I am using them for students to set daily goals and then place the card on their desks beside them to be a visual reminder of their short-term goals. I got this idea from Net Smart by Harold Rhiengold and have tried it myself over the last couple of weeks and found it very helpful in aligning my attention with my goals.

Other uses of index cards: summary of key ideas from an activity, making outlines for essays, and review of a challenging topic, etc. I buy rings at the dollar store for students to hold all their index cards together and they LOVE these (almost as much as I love the dollar store!).

Index Card Rings

III. Learning Packets: Each unit has a packet and a list of possible activities (ex: watching screencasts, lab activities, group activities). Some will be completed as a class (ex a lab that requires set up or white boarding) but some are optional and allow for student choice. The cover page lists all the activities and begins with the optimal completion date. This cover page also lists journal prompts for the unit. During flex time students can select from the activity list. As the year starts I encourage students to figure out what combination works best for them. This is a fluid process and takes time for students to adjust to and requires lots of discussion. Example of a cover sheet for a learning packet below.

Cellular Packet

IV. Flex time: This is time in class for students to complete what they need to get their learning done. At the start of the semester I begin with a small amount of time and depending on the dynamics of the class, this may only be 10 mins. As students become more comfortable with this open time I increase it.  What amazed me the most is that students can (in most cases and after acclimatizing to the structure) self pace, for example students will go back to units where they struggled and ask for help from me or from other students. Students seem to want to work through their weaknesses first, before they enter new content territory.

V. Hot Seat: Hot Seat is one of many of the Flipped Class terms that comes from Phil McIntosh (@mistermcintosh ). Hot Seat occurs as we are moving towards the end of a unit and students and I meet for a formal appointment (I do get time each day to check in and talk to students as well). This is when students have the opportunity to present, question and reflect on the evidence they have archived to demonstrate their learning. This might look different for each student, and it is definitely not a pile of completed worksheets (this year I am trying e-portfolios for the first time). Students are very proud to share and seem to really value this time.

After a question or two I get a true sense of what is really going on with the student. It becomes very apparent if a student is not ready to challenge an assessment, we might make a plan for the student to write the assessment the following week (but outside of class time). In making this decision I use my both my teacher judgement and intuition. There are the “little monkeys” who are trying to game the system who I work to hold firmly accountable, students who will claim they are not ready but always do well (“stress monkeys”) and then those that are sincerely struggling and need extra support or more time. (“little muffins”). An example of the first Hot Seat of the year, which is more prescriptive.

Hot Seat #1

VI. Outside of Class Assessments: Students must complete an application form and submit to me by the end of day on Tuesdays. Outside of class assessments occur on Thursdays only, either before school or after school (if they cannot make one Thursday, I say “OK next Thursday”). Students have to present their evidence for their learning in advance of the assessment and as I say a time or two, these assessments are a privilege and not a right. This is the classroom practice that I have to repeat and explain the most and for some students it takes literally months for them to appreciate this opportunity. I do limit it to 2 times per student ( but would extend in certain situations) and have a blackout period in the last two weeks of the semester (for my sanity). I have turned students away (they did not complete the form, they had no evidence etc). Application form below.

Outside of Class Assessment Application

What are your favourite tried and true classroom norms? 

13 thoughts on “Establishing classroom routines: flex time, learning journals, hot seat and more!

  1. I like how you mention that flex time is something that increases as the year goes on. I think one mistake I have made with my freshmen classes is giving them too much flex time at once and they don’t know what to do with it. This leads to a little craziness. I think I may need to rein it in a little more and structure pieces of flex time (timed) throughout the period until they are ready for more freedom.
    Love your blog, missed you tonight 🙂

  2. I like the index card idea (among others). I started the year (first flipping) saying that they needed to have something on their desk at all times that told me what they had planned for the day (when they had flex time). After I described what I wanted, one student said “You want us to write our own agenda.” YES! Perfect. But when we hit chapter 2, I gave them assignment sheets/calendars and I stopped pushing for agendas. I’ll keep the index card idea in mind. And I’ll definitely do something like the hot seat before our benchmarks. Thanks!

  3. I love the hot seat idea, but I’m wondering how to find the time. How long does each meeting take? How many students can you see during one class period? What are the other students doing while you are meeting?

    • Hi Kristen, I am time afforded as we are working in a flipped class model, students have time everyday to do self directed work, as well this year I am trying 20% time (Ss driven projects). Each Ss takes a different amount of time, for some it is a very quick check in for others it might be 20-30 min. So Ss are used to using time without teacher supervision during class time. This however takes time to develop, so for the first Hot Seat fo the year Ss are preparing for our first assessment.

  4. Hi Carolyn,

    Since starting to flip and incorporating mastery, I have had very few unit test failures (or more generally disappointments). However, they still do happen from time to time. I love the reassessment form. I’ve downloaded it, and I’ll be tweaking it to suit my needs. It saves me a lot of work in implementing a reassessment strategy, so thank you!

    Take care,


  5. Hi Carolyn,

    I’m catching up on some reading and found this post useful, thanks!

    I’m wondering how far apart your students get in their progress with their self-directed learning and assessments? Do they generally track together in tasks, with the rate at which assessments are taken to be major differentiator?

    In my class, the learning (or first-pass at learning) is homogenous, as I try to incorporate collaborative activities and modeling cycles that require group work. Learning rates were sort of handled through student-initiated-assessments, kind of like your Out Of Class Assessments. For future ideas I’ve put a lot of thought into differentiated and self-paced learning (through blended learning), but I haven’t clarified how, or if, this can work if I also want the class to progress with group work.

    I’d also be interested in hearing about what % of your assessments are tests/quizzes, and if this causes you headaches for students doing assessments at different times. In physics, most of my assessments are test/quiz questions. I’m looking at different ways of changing this too, but it is difficult if I want the assessment to be in-class work. Capstone projects are great alternatives, but perhaps they focus on depth and not breadth. That’s a whole other story.

    I’ll probably also fire this type of questioning off to Graham Johnson too, and start looking into Canflip.


    • Hi Doug,

      1. In terms of pacing I that the find majority of students will travel as a group, it is the extenuating circumstances that happen (illness, family travel, sports) that change things. But find many students will try to work ahead if they know in advance that they are going to be away. AS well although students move with the pace of the course does not mean there are topics that they would like to go back and re-visit, re-assess or just get a better handle on in general. At first when I started self pacing I thought it would be out of control and challenging but was very happy to discover that most students can self track and can (given the opportunity to) off the top of their own heads tell you what they need to do.

      2. In terms of assessment I have gone to 100% test (with the possibility to re-assess and my tests have changed. Quizzes are for formative assessment and I do track the data, and student still do care about them (I know that everyone worries that if no marks given then students will not care). I no longer use multiple choice and have gone to all open ended.

      3. I would love to move to a more capstone project idea, but am struggling within the confines of the curriculum, time and time table. I am going to SLA in Philli in January so am very excited to see this in action.

      Hope that answered some of your questions, let me know if you have any more,
      best to you,

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