‘Do Now’ Tasks – Intent v Implementation

In my role as an instructional coach and T&L lead, I get to see a large number of lessons each week. One of the strategies that seems to now be common place is the ‘Do Now’ task, a strategy from Doug Lemov’s ‘Teach Like A Champion 2.0’. However, I believe that it is imperative that the ‘Do Now’ is implemented in the intended manner, rather than a glorified starter task. It is important that we deconstruct the rationale behind the ‘Do Now’ task, and understand it’s purpose in supporting strategic knowledge retrieval, formatively assessing student’s knowledge and understanding, leading to responsive teaching.

Lemov outlines the following with regards to ‘Technique 20: Do Now’ in ‘Teach Like a Champion 2.0’

An effective ‘Do Now’ should conform to four critical criteria to ensure that it remains focused, efficient and effective:

  • It should be in the same place every lesson
  • It should be completed without any direction from the teacher, or discussion with peers
  • It should take between 3-5 minutes to complete and should involve all students putting pen to paper
  • It should preview the day’s lesson or review previously covered content

Interestingly, when I visit lessons, the first criteria is almost always achieved, with the location of the ‘Do Now’ becoming habitual for the students, allowing for a clearly embedded routine at the start of lessons, and for work to start straight away.

The second criteria is often desired, but rarely fully achieved, not through a lack of desire, but because as teachers we are often afraid of silence and therefore fill it. Often, students will be working in silence on the ‘Do Now’ whilst all students enter. The teacher will then go on to explain that the ‘Do Now’ is on the board and the expectations, whilst interrupting the fact that students were already doing the ‘Do Now’. To build resilience with learners, it is important that they complete the ‘Do Now’ in silence and without any interaction with the teacher/their peers. On reflection, how often are ‘Do Now’ tasks completed in complete silence, allowing for students to reflect on their knowledge and understanding? If they aren’t, then they aren’t supporting the students’ self-regulation of their own knowledge and understanding. As a teacher, we want to be able to check the understanding of all students within the class, and therefore silence during the ‘Do Now’ is imperative.

The third criteria is normally not met. The ‘Do Now’ takes a lot longer than 5 minutes on most occasions, especially if knowledge retrieval is the focus, and then the teacher may spend longer going through the answers than needed (Lemov suggests that tactical ignoring is necessary here to ensure that going through the answers doesn’t take longer than the task itself). This often eats into lesson time at the end of the lesson that has been planned for practice, or to show application of knowledge/understanding/skills. Therefore, it is important that teachers plan for which questions/aspects of the ‘Do Now’ that they are going to go through, or circulate the classroom to check for areas of strength and misconceptions among the students during the ‘Do Now’ to choose specific questions/aspects to go through with the class that are most necessary.

The fourth criteria is met almost all the time. However, I do wonder how strategic the thinking is behind the content in the ‘Do Now’ and the lesson that is about to take place. Is the ‘Do Now’ task a low stakes quiz, but then has no link to the day’s lesson for example?

At Farnham Heath End School, we expect every lesson to start with a ‘Do Now’ task. I am going to outline some tips to ensure that they are used strategically and in a manner intended to maximise their impact.

  1. Teach the ‘Do Now’ routine to your class. Teach the expectations you have of the students during the ‘Do Now’ and explain the rationale to your students, so they understand why there are doing the task in silence, and why they cannot interact with others or yourself as the teacher. Explain the need for self-regulation of their own knowledge and understanding and the importance to you, as the teacher, of knowing what they, as students, do and do not know/understand or can/can’t do.

2. When going through the answers (if the ‘Do Now’ is question based) do so in a manner that supports a student’s cognitive load. Bring up the question, followed by the answer and do this one at a time. Students are then able to relate their answers to the questions, reducing the split-attention effect.

3. Use a formative assessment strategy to gain and understanding as to how each student has performed in the ‘Do Now’ task. This strategy needs to ensure that you as the teacher know the areas of strength and the areas where there are misconceptions, or a lack of understanding altogether. This allows for responsive teaching, as you can respond to the information being given to you, through choosing to re-teach content ‘there and then’ or to plan how to re-visit in the near future.

4. Strategically plan the content of the ‘Do Now’ tasks so that there is a link to the content being covered in the day’s lesson. Personally I believe that ‘Do Now’ tasks work incredibly well as spaced retrieval practice, allowing students to ‘hook’ new content/information from the day’s content onto their schema that they have from previous topics/content covered, or that they already know.

5. Explicitly narrate to the students the reasons why you have used the content in the ‘Do Now’ and how it links to the day’s lesson, and the bigger picture with what has been learnt, and what will be learnt in the future to allow for a metacognitive approach to learning over time.

6. Using a similar style of ‘Do Now’ tasks on rotation, and in a strategic manner, means that students have a clear understanding of what is expected of them from the ‘Do Now’ and therefore they can focus solely on the task at hand, rather than having to think about what the task is asking them to do, thus supporting cognitive load and attention on the task.

7. Use the ‘Do Now’ as an opportunity to make every student feel successful at the start of the lesson, with regards to knowing content that has been previously covered. Have at least one aspect of the task that all students will know. This builds confidence and motivation for all students and means that all students should get something right in every lesson, every day.

If the ‘Do Now’ is just another name for a starter task, and it doesn’t fit the criteria above, I would argue that the implementation isn’t matching the intent as set out by Lemov. If the implementation matches the desired intent and the criteria is being met, then the ‘Do Now’ allows the teacher to:

  • Strategically plan spaced knowledge retrieval
  • Formatively assess understanding of the whole class to look at strengths and misconceptions
  • Respond to misconceptions
  • Narrate the links between taught content and new content
  • Hook the new learning onto pre-existing schema
  • Support a student’s cognitive load
  • Allow the student to self-regulate their learning

Hopefully this success criteria will support in ensuring that ‘Do Now’ tasks are as effective as possible for students and teachers alike.

Jack Tavassoly-Marsh

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