It’s only this year that I’ve realised that change, as a teacher, needs to be small in order to be sustainable (I am actually surprised it took me this long to work it out). Usually I read about/see in action some kind of new pedagogical approach and I go all gung-ho thinking about how I will implement it RIGHT NOW and ALL THE TIME. It’s taken me a few years to realise that teaching isn’t really like that. It’s a craft that benefits from slight tweaks and changes.
In my first year of teaching I was given the gift of a book called ‘Teach Like a Champion’ by Doug Lemnov of UnCommon Schools. In fact, I think I was gifted this book twice in that year! This guide book goes into detailed description about techniques and strategies that can be implemented to improve student achievement. It’s incredibly granular as it explains techniques on how to walk around the space of your classroom or set up seating arrangements. Needless to say, reading the book in my first year, I avidly took notes in the margins and promised myself I would implement all of the strategies on the spot.
The thing about teaching is that you can’t do it all at once and I certainly didn’t. I held on to some of the techniques, which I still use now, but lost others.
Picking up the book again over the summer break, I re-found an old technique I had long since forgot-the ‘Do Now’. I used this at the start of my teaching a little bit, but re-found it again this year.
A ‘Do Now’ is a primer activity that starts your class. It’s a task that students can start on immediately when they enter the classroom. Lemnov gives 4 criteria for a Do Now:
- A Do Now should be in the same place for every lesson
- Students should be able to complete the Do Now without any help from teachers
- The activity should take 3-5 minutes
- The Do Now should either preview the lesson or review an old one
As I’ve started this year, I’ve gotten in to the habit of writing my Do Now up on the board. I’ve purposefully given detailed instructions of tasks that will become routine for my students. eg. Set up tables into pods, collect worksheet from front, turn in homework. These instructions will become less necessary after a few weeks as students know how our class is normally set up. The learning tasks I give are usually something to do with the text we are studying, such as the powerpoint slide below:
For my Year 11 students this task won’t take long. This is a part of the play we have already looked at, but this is just a short close analysis of some of the key lines. I like that these kind of tasks give them clear instructions, engage them in close textual analysis (which is often lacking from my student’s work) and are quick.
There are also a few added benefits of this approach that I hadn’t necessarily expected. At my school students drift into class from wherever they’ve had to walk from across campus- this means that usually there’s a lag time of 5 minutes whilst people arrive and get set up anyway. This time is no longer wasted, as students can get started immediately. Moreover, the fact that I don’t actually need to give instructions means that I can also chat to students more casually about how they are, I have the time to greet them because they already know where to look for for what to do next. Furthermore, most students can complete this without any help, so it means that there is a little bit of class time that I can use to follow up with students about missed classes/incomplete homework/misunderstandings. In response I feel a lot less stressed as I know I have this window of time at the start of class. This is definitely something that I will keep on doing!
Here’s a blog that explains this technique in full Teach Like a Champion: The Do Now: http://teachlikeachampion.com/blog/now-primer/