Teaching Opinion

The “Do Now” or “Do Never”?

By David Ginsburg — March 27, 2011 2 min read
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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:

  • 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.”
  • 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.”
  • 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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