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Best Practices: The Trouble with the Do Now

Do Nows have a permanent place on my lesson plan template.  After objectives and standards, before activities and assessments. There it is.  My good ol’ Do Now that allows the students to review yesterday’s lesson and allows me to take attendance, and pass out yesterday’s Do Now (with some feedback of course), graded papers, and discipline passes.  

I’ve been doing Do Nows this way for years. It’s a great way to start your class. Some even say it’s a “best practice”.  But then I started thinking…”what is ‘best’ about having my students review information they have already learned, ignore them while I get some housekeeping tasks finished, and only use their name because I have to hand them their pass down to the discipline office?”  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  

Here’s the thing.  I was taking advantage of the Do Now for my own desires.  I wasn’t using it as an instructional strategy, I was using it to buy me time at the beginning of the class to focus on my own tasks. And I can’t lie, it felt good.  It felt SO GOOD.  The kids were “working” as I was taking care of all the boring stuff that goes along with being a teacher, and if someone walked by and saw my classroom, they would assume some sort of learning was occurring.  It was so easy and satisfying.  But it was teacher malpractice.  

So I’ve started revamping my Do Nows.  I have even re-named them to Success Starters (which is a term from Suzy Pepper Rollins’s book Learning in the Fast Lane: 8 Ways to Put ALL Students on the Road to Academic Success).  She states that the “trouble with warm ups is that they are quite possibly the opposite of what students’ brains need during the opening minutes of class” (2014) and she is right.  When students walk into our class their brains need to be stimulated, and when they are done with the Do Now, Warm Up, Success Starter, etc. their curiosity and interest levels should be high.  

Yeah…I was NOT doing that…

So here is an example of what I do now. (I use the things my students are interested in to convey information that is relevant to them.  Therefore, thank you YouTube for existing.)

We are reading memoirs this marking period and we recently read a short memoir about Kendall Ciesemier, a young woman who started her own non-profit organization called Kids Caring 4 Kids. The next day, as the Success Starter I had my students watch a TEDx video of her speaking at Georgetown about Finding Power in Powerlessness. My students were engaged in the video as this young woman they just read about the day before came to life on the screen.  She spoke about many of the things she wrote about in her short memoir and she added some more details about her life and experiences. Then I had the students “evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums” (CCSS RI.8.7). The following discussion was great!  We talked about how seeing a person and hearing a person speak can be mesmerizing.  We talked about how connecting a face to a “character” in a text made it more real.  Watching the video made the students understand that Kendall, and what she does, is real and that they can be just like her.

This Success Starter didn’t take long to set up.  I found the video and wrote down some questions I wanted to ask to get the conversation started, but the outcome was so much better than asking my students to summarize what they read the day before. Plus, it lead us right into the lesson about finding evidence in order to classify a text as a memoir. And, a little secret, I still took attendance. After this, I couldn’t wait to start every class with a Success Starter.

The best part about it is that the formula is simple: interesting information + exciting presentation of the information + a standard based in academics = Success Starter! I encourage you to try it.  I promise, you will enjoy it just as much as your kids and you won’t want that plain ol’ “Do Now” to ever come back.

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