Teacher Blogs

First Lesson to Students: "Please Don't Do Your Work"
Posted 09/19/2016 05:01PM

By Michael Chellman, Middle School

September 2016

First day of class–students' attention is locked in. I need to highlight one key theme that will echo throughout the year. Silently, I put up a sign on one side of the room: "I Always DO My Work." Then I say:

"If this sign applies to you, please stand in front of it."

In their minds, a sigh of relief–easy question! All students move confidently to the sign. I look at them impassively for a few moments. Then state:

"That's disappointing to see."

Their smiles disappear, replaced by shock and confusion. This teacher doesn't want us to do our work? I let them ponder this implausibility. Then I put up a second sign, on the opposite wall: "I Always LEARN My Work." After they have time to consider the distinction, I say:

"Would anyone like to move to the other sign? If you are not sure, stand in the middle of the room."

Many students now have an "Aha!" expression as they see the light. Most move to the "I Always LEARN My Work" side. A few stand in the middle of the room; they are the most courageous–willing to admit uncertainty. I survey the room and announce:

"Now let's talk about the difference between DOING and LEARNING."

The first lively conversation of the school year ensues. In fact, it's a demonstration and discussion that students tell me they long remember. Activity is not equivalent to achievement...and we will revisit this first discussion frequently during the year.

Bullis School
10601 Falls Road Potomac MD 20854
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