Do Now Assignments

It's common--and good--practice for teachers to have a short activity, often called a "Do Now," on the board for students to work on as soon as they enter class. Many teachers use the "Do Now" time to handle administrative tasks like taking attendance or organizing lesson materials. Then, after five or ten minutes, they say, "Ok, time's up," before taking another five or ten minutes to review the "Do Now" at the board.

That's right, up to ten minutes to review something without knowing whether students have even done it, let alone how well they've done it. The "Do Now" experience, as a result, plays out in one of three ways for most students:

  1. They complete the "Do Now" correctly on their own, and then sit idly, socialize, or do something for another class as the teacher reviews the "Do Now"--at which point, for these students the "Do Now" has become the "Did Already."
  2. They sit idly, socialize, or do something for another class instead of doing the "Do Now" on their own, since they know the teacher will eventually do it for them--at which time they can copy down the answers. For these students, the "Do Now" is really the "Do Later."
  3. They sit idly, socialize, or do something for another class instead of doing the "Do Now" on their own but, unlike their "Do Later" classmates, they remain off task even when the teacher reviews the "Do Now." For these students, as you could probably guess, the "Do Now" is the "Do Never."

The lesson here is that if something is important enough for you to assign, it should be important enough for you to assess. (And don't confuse "assess" with "grade.") This means
circulating from the start to: encourage would-be "Do Later" or "Do Never" students; identify students' errors; determine how much time students need to complete the assignment; and assist students who've earned your help (see my last post, When Helping Students Hurts Students).

Taking a more active role like this will improve student participation, and let you know what if anything to review with the class. So it's definitely something you'll want to do... NOW.

As for administrative tasks, it's always best if you can handle them before or after class. But when that's not possible, as in the case of taking attendance, at least hold off until students need little or no supervision--e.g., when they're copying notes from the board.


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“Do nows” are brief starters or warm-up activities that occur at the beginning of a lesson. As a teaching strategy, “do now” activities are rooted in constructivist theory (Dewey 1916, 1938) and student-centered learning (Hinton, Fischer, & Glennon, 2012), both active learning theories. 

Today, “do now” activities are widely used across elementary, secondary, and higher education classrooms. The activities usually last between three to ten minutes (Morris, 2007), ranging from responding to prompts to asking questions, and exist in formats such as writing, discussion, quizzes, or games.

Examples from research and practice prove “do now” activities to be effective across educational settings, although mostly in primary and secondary classrooms.  An example from higher education is a roundtable review, where, at the beginning of the class, students write down one important idea from the previous lecture on his or her paper, pass the list to the next person, and ultimately return to the original owner with a list of key takeaways for future review and study (Kohler-Evans, 2009).

Researchers found “do now” an excellent technique for classroom management. It helps to “set the tone for the day” (Perez, n.d.) with a purposeful start. As students are kept on task from the moment they enter the classroom, instructors will save the efforts of getting students back on task when the lecture starts. Also, with a small, non-threatening starter activity that most of the students can work on individually, instructors are allowed to focus on students who are disengaged or have special difficulties, making sure the entire class will be ready to embark on new content.

“Do now” activities are also facilitators of student motivation and engagement. Brief and engaging activities help to create a risk-free environment at the beginning of the lesson (Bonwell, n.d; Bonwell, 1995), and encourage group learning (Michael, 2006). They help prepare students to participate in more traditional class activities. This ultimately leads to improved learning outcomes.

To implement “do now” activities most effectively, practitioners have suggested supporting the assigned activities with proper assessment and feedback to “encourage would-be ‘Do Later’ or ‘Do Never’ students” (Ginsburg, 2011). For example, instructors can create a Do Now sheet for each student and collect the week’s work to rate using a point system (Walton MS Teacher Tools, n.d.). 

It is also important to link the activity with what the students have learned previously and what they will learn in the new class. Instructors are recommended to write the activity instructions on board or project them, to save the time spent repeating what to do and to attract students’ attention when they come in. Finally, the most frequently used strategy involves using Do Nows as a routine, so that students form the habit of immediate focusing on learning when they step into the class.

Written by Danxi Shen, Ed. M., Harvard Graduate School of Education
and Heather Frances, Ed.M., Harvard Graduate School of Education

References:

Beck, D. & Eno, J. (2012).  Signature Pedagogy:  A Literature Review of Social Studies and Technology Research.  Computers in the Schools:  Interdisciplinary Journal of Practice, Theory, and Applied Research, 29(1-2), 70-94.

Bonwell, C. Active Learning: Creating excitement in the classroom.

Bonwell, C. (1995). Building a supportive climate for active learning. The National Teaching and Learning Forum, 6(1), 4-7. 

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: Macmillan.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Macmillan.

Ginsburg, David. (2011). The “Do Now” or “Do Never”. Coach G’s Teaching Tips, Education Week teacher blogs. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/coach_gs_teaching_tips/2011/03/the_do_now_or_do_never_1.html

Hinton, C., Fischer, K., & Glennon, C. (2012) Mind, Brain, and Education. In N.

Hoffman, A. Steinberg, & R. Wolfe (Eds.) Student at the Center Series.

Kohler-Evans, P. (2009). How to Get Wet without Plunging In: Creative Ways to Start Class. The Teaching Professor, 2006(1).

Morris, Harriet. (2007). Starter and Do-Now Activities. Perspectives On Education. Retrieved from https://suite.io/harriet-morris/8qa2g8.

Perez, Sandra. Classroom Management Inventing Your Own "Do NOW" Activities. ESL Teachers Board. Retrieved from http://www.eslteachersboard.com/cgi-bin/articles/index.pl?read=3467.

Walton MS Teacher Tools. BBC2 - Do Now. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/waltonmsteachertools/home/sss---student-success-strategies/sss1---blackboard-configuration-bbc/bbc2---do-now.

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