Understanding: Transitions

We’ve all heard about transition planning. We’ve all made transitions in our life. We all understand the stress that they can cause. Whether it’s transitioning from home, to a vacation hotel – where you can’t get a good night’s sleep, until at least the third day; transitioning from an old relationship into a new relationship, where things aren’t quite like they were before; or, transitioning from eating sugar squares for breakfast every morning to a healthier oat-based alternative, there are always challenges and concerns that arise. By internalizing how transition planning helps you, you’ll gain an understanding of how to use the same techniques to help your students.

From the Experts

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), and other students who need support with changes, will also have a transition plan to prepare for daily transitions, between activities or locations, as their specific needs indicate. Transition plans can be utilized for students to help them cope with change.

Teach Spec Ed: https://www.teachspeced.ca/transition-plans
Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

What do Transitions look like?

One piece to consider here is that transitions do not only occur from year to year, semester to semester, day to day, or even classroom to classroom.  Transitions occur within the classroom.

Imagine if…

Imagine if you were in a professional development session and were given time to have rich and meaningful discussions with your colleagues.  This is a task that you’re engaged with and want to continue.  Now, imagine if a speaker took to the stage with a microphone and began talking over you because they had moved on to the next section of the day. You would likely be annoyed, angry, and resistant to any continued engagement with the day’s activities.

However, if you were given an agenda prior to your discussion that showed when your discussion was allotted for, and when the speaker would begin, you’d likely feel that you had been given fair warning.  Still, this might not be enough to alleviate the feelings of betrayal of having your meaningful discussion abruptly curtailed.  After all, who can remember an entire agenda when rich conversations are taking place?

If you were told, “You will have twenty minute for your discussion,” prior to beginning, that reminder would help you prepare for the eventual transition.  If, at the ten minute mark, you were told “you have ten minutes remaining,” and then later told, “you have five minutes remaining,” until you are finally warned, “there is one minute remaining for your discussion, so we would like to honour your conversation and allow you to bring it to a natural conclusion that can be continued on at a later time,” you would be far more prepared for the speaker to take the stage.

This could be further enhanced by the speaker saying, “Thanks for participating in that last piece.  Are there are thoughts people would like to share with the whole group, before we move on?” which would allow for a natural transition from one piece, to the next.

Why it Works…

In all of the situations you have been given twenty minutes to talk, and then had a speaker take over.  But, in the first case you are left feeling betrayed and have become hostile to future learning.  In the final case, you were prepared for the transition and had your independent learning honoured, while being allowed time to enhance the learning of the other members who are participating.  The only difference was that there was a in-class transition plan.

Parts of a Strong In-Class Transition Plan

  1. An overall agenda (Year calendar, Unit outline, Daily agenda)
  2. Timely reminders (sequence of events, allocated times)
  3. Meaningful countdowns (ten, five, and one minute warnings)

One key piece to remember is that all reminders must be accurate to the time.  If people are told they have five minutes, they will expect five minutes.  Looking at the clock is an important strategy.  If students learn “five minutes” means anything from “one to ten minutes” the countdowns will cease to be meaningful.

While there are times to use visual countdowns, these should be avoided as much as possible, as they can increase anxiety in a number of learners.

Looking at Other Areas for Growth



Written by…

Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, Special Education, and Assessment & Evaluation and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!

Feel free to support the website hosting by buying him a coffee or sharing this post on facebook, twitter, or whatever social media is trending these days.

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