Why Instructional Routines?

I’ve been digging into the book Routines for Reasoning, by Grace Kelemanik, Amy Lucenta and Susan Janssen Creighton.


The book focuses on instructional routines — activities that use a consistent structure to reach a range of mathematical goals. Here are three quotes from the book that have framed my thinking:

 It is significant to realize that the most creative environments in our society are not the ever-changing ones. The artist’s studio, the researcher’s laboratory, the scholar’s library are each kept deliberately simple so as to support the complexities of the work in progress. They are deliberately kept predictable so the unpredictable can happen.

-Lucy Calkins, Lessons From a Child

Mathematical reasoning requires students to be attentive to both the content and to one another. Listening to students’ ideas and building from them to a rigorous mathematical curriculum requires extraordinary concentration on the part of the teacher. New instructional routines were needed to make it possible to manage thirty students in one room while they were reasoning and critiquing the reasoning of others, as well as to make it possible for students to construct new kinds of relationships with their classmates, in which it would be safe to say what they think and appropriate to raise questions about someone else’s thinking. Instructional routines could enable both students and teacher to focus on the mathematics rather than on who is supposed to be doing what when. And they could change what we think it means to learn in math class.

-Magdalene Lampert, Routines for Reasoning, Foreword

When people are first learning to drive, they are faced with a million small details to attend to: when and how to adjust mirrors, how to operate headlights, how to operate wipers, how to operate the radio or music, finding money for tolls at an upcoming toll booth — and all this on top of the crucial skills of steering, accelerating, braking, and paying attention to the movements of other drivers around them. As drivers become more familiar with their vehicle and the act of driving, many of these small, repeated actions become automatic and require little attention or thought, allowing drivers to focus most of their attention (we hope!) on their own movement and the movement of other drivers around them. Instructional routines serve the same function: they make more predictable the design and flow of the learning experience: “What is it that I’m supposed to be doing?,” “What question will I be asked next?,” or “How will things work today in the lesson?” The predictable structure lets students pay less attention to those questions and more attention to the way in which they and their classmates are thinking about a particular math task.

-Grace Kelemanik, Amy Lucenta, & Susan Janssen Creighton, Routines for Reasoning

I’m excited to apply these ideas in my classroom because instructional routines have the potential to:

  • focus student thinking on learning, rather than classroom procedures or the structure of the lesson
  • provide opportunities for repeated, focused practice exercising the mathematical practices
  • provide effective support for struggling students to access challenging mathematics
  • scaffold discourse for students to more effectively share ideas

Routines for Reasoning complements many ideas from David Wees, Kaitlin Ruggiero, and Jasper DeAntonio’s morning session at Twitter Math Camp in July. That session inspired me to begin implementing an instructional routine called Contemplate then Calculate and to experiment with other routines. Reading this book and diving more deeply into what routines can look like and their various benefits for students has me thinking about how I can take other elements of my class and adapt them, using elements of instructional routines to do better by my students. More to come on both of those goals.

5 thoughts on “Why Instructional Routines?

  1. David Wees

    Hey Dylan,

    One point to bring up is that the ideas that were shared in the TMC workshop ARE Grace’s and Amy’s ideas, as Jasper, Kaitlin, and I interpret them, so it’s not surprising at all that you see parallels.

    I’m interested in seeing how this work evolves so please let me know how it’s going.


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