Ready, Set, Begin!

Do Now and Developmental Designs practices help students stay in the game

For Middle Level

When I look back at the career path I've taken so far, I see I have continually altered my practice and grown. The philosophies I initially held were those of an untested teacher who had a great deal of experience reading and writing about "best" practice, but no classroom experience. After my first year with ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders, much of my idealism had been cracked and shattered!

A coach's advice
My father is all about sports analogies. They make sense to me, and they can apply to teaching. He would look at many of my teaching situations during my first few years and say something like, "When the formation you are using on the field isn't working, make adjustments. Find a new strategy." Perhaps this challenge is what I love most about teaching: keep searching. Find something that you haven't tried, and try it. If it works, keep using it, but be careful, and be ready to make adjustments.

After experimenting for several years with many different types of Do Now "formations," this year I decided I needed a whole new strategy. I've come to understand that no Do Now can work wonders on its own. In my previous attempts I had considered neither the broad picture—routines necessary before and after the Do Now—nor the extremely specific directions that allowed students to understand what was being expected of them to be successful. I turned to a broader Do Now strategy that incorporated several specific steps. After much thought before school started this year, I crafted the following plan that covered everything I could think of about how to enter my classroom:

  1. Students line up quietly in the hallway.
  2. Students self-check the list of materials posted on the wall and then check with a buddy to make sure they both have all necessary materials.
  3. Students enter and sign in.
  4. Students sit down at desks and take out materials:
    a. Binder
    b. Composition book
    c. Planner
    d. Class book
    e. Independent reading book
    f.  Homework
    g. Preparation check sheet 
  5. Students look at the homework board and write today's homework assignment in their planners, without asking questions (the homework will be explained later in the period).
  6. Students quietly begin the Do Now posted on the SMARTboard. The prompt is displayed along with an agenda that shows its relevance and place in the structure of the day's lesson and work period.
  7. Students who finish Do Now early may read silently.

Then the first day of school came. My new groups of students had far more behavioral issues than last year's. I was really glad I had put time and thought into making this routine better; I was going to need it. Developmental Designs practices helped me change my game plan when I needed it most—even before I realized I was going to need it!

Modeling and practicing
Modeling was the key practice I used to establish a routine out of this seven-step procedure. I was not aware of how much modeling and remodeling this strategy was going to require. Working together with my students, we thought about why entering the room in an orderly, learning-centered way was important. We demonstrated the proper procedure for each of the steps. We discussed what students noticed about each demonstration. We practiced each procedure. We followed each modeling with a "what if" session, during which we discussed how we could handle things likely to go wrong.

I created visual reminders to post on the wall. One was a list of all the materials they needed. The other was a "look, sound, feel" Y-chart that we made the first day when we were discussing the routine. We discussed what the Do-Now time would look like, sound like, and feel like. It was a quick visual of words and pictures that one of my students eventually turned into a better looking version that we could post on the wall.

I reinforced the routine by reminding students and redirecting them when they strayed from it, verbally and non-verbally, quick-conferencing sometimes, and asking others to take a break to settle down. When the routine was going well, I said so, identifying specifically what was working.

Flexibility essential
I found out that being flexible with my overall plan was going to be necessary. Elements of the school day got in the way. For instance, we use a fluid passing time, one not formally marked with bells, so it was virtually impossible to know exactly when class had "started." And some students had their previous class right next door, and were in line to enter almost immediately, but others came from across the street and needed more time.

When several students indicated on exit tickets that they disliked lining up outside the door because the hallway got crowded as passing time progressed, I modified the procedure and allowed students to enter as soon as they were quiet and had checked to make sure they had all their things. 

Small changes helped, too. We moved the sign-in sheet to another part of the room when we realized that its location close to the door created a bottleneck. And we all agreed (and modeled) that if you arrive after others are already seated, you should enter silently.

Checking for progress 
I used student preparation checklists as one way to measure our success (the least-organized students tended to lose theirs), made observational notes, and had students answer some reflection questions. I often wondered if we were making progress, but the data I collected and analyzed in November showed overall improvement from September.

Looking at my personal observation notes was very helpful. I saw how often I used the notes to vent my frustration, and wrote more than once: "What part of quiet do they not understand?!" On the whole, though, my notes show a general upward trend in successful completion of the routine. And writing down my frustrations also pushed me to think about whether my expectations for quiet were always realistic and appropriate.

I liked best the results of the student feedback. Some of their thoughts about the routine included: "I like that [the routine] forces us to regroup and focus on English." "We are getting used to it, and it makes the beginning of class flow more smoothly." "We like the Do Nows that are ‘free-writes." These responses, and many others like them, validated our process.

Different folks, different strokes
Looking back on this year's group of students, I can't imagine trying to implement quality Do Nows without using several other Developmental Designs structures as well. I needed the emphasis on all the little things. Last year, I never modeled or remodeled routines. Even though they made enough mistakes that I was prompted to change the routine for this school year, I had been able to "get by" without modeling. 

My father would call this year's group a "different team that required a different strategy." This year's team would have floundered without my new game plan. I've also become aware of how much more modeling they need with other aspects of their learning, such as doing assignments and engaging in social activities. I now see that some groups really need modeling of things as simple as getting out a piece of paper or taking off a marker cap! If I don't give them the chance to practice, we all suffer the consequences, which include a lot of wasted time and student failure to perform.

It's always a stretch
Keeping my focus on student learning requires me to stretch myself to be at the top of my game with regards to classroom management, assessing student progress effectively, and making adjustments. I need to stretch next trimester (and next year) to work on enforcing my expectations. This has always been a struggle for me, and I know it won't be easy. I'm going to focus on Developmental Designs reinforcing and redirecting practices. If I do better with enforcement, the amount of remodeling I have to do should diminish. I also will have the benefit of having used the routine for a while and having made adjustments. I want to rethink what "quiet" means, and whether my version of quiet is developmentally appropriate for 8th graders. I must always be ready and willing to make the appropriate adjustments for the new "team" that arrives in the playing field of my classroom; I am grateful to have the Developmental Designs tools to incorporate into my game plan.

Jessica Mulson teaches 6th through 8th graders at Westside Neighborhood School in Los Angeles, California.

Published May  2012