Keeping Time (Or, Let's Stop and Smell the Pencil Shavings)

First of all, thank you for excusing all of my typos in the last entry. That's what AMC movie marathons will do to you. Make you forget everything you thought you knew about English grammar.

A few weeks ago, I subscribed to Daily Burn. It's the absolute greatest. Seriously, go to Daily Burn and sign up for the 30-day free trial, and just see how quickly you get addicted to doing the 365 workout every morning. (I've started waking up an hour earlier just so that I can prep all of my classes and be free for the live broadcast at 9 AM. #nevermissamonday) Daily Burn was my alternative to joining a gym because, let's be honest, gyms are terrifying -- especially if you're not a seasoned athlete. And I'm not. Whenever the Daily Burn instructors announce THE PUSH-UP CHALLENGE, I'm thinking: "Let's see if I can do four push-ups today, instead of three!"

My lack of balance, coordination, strength, and all other things sporty kept me away from exercise for a long time. Back in college, when I used to do The FIRM DVDs, I would force myself to keep up with the instructors no matter what they were doing. Mountain climbers? Sure. Jumping lunges? Okay. One-handed push-ups? Come on, guys. Really? The moment that I fell behind or needed to take a break, I felt like a complete failure. I'd stop the DVD and go down the block to order a Broadway Shake. Nothing like drinking away your troubles with your two good friends -- chocolate and coffee. (Tom's Restaurant, y'all. Tom's is life, Tom's is love.) Every time that happened, I became a little bit less likely to come back the next day. Why would I want to fail all over again? Eventually, I stopped altogether and The FIRM DVDs started collecting dust on my bookshelf.

When I subscribed to Daily Burn, I was expecting more of the same. The instructors would demonstrate their physical prowess, contorting their bodies into circus-like shapes and scolding me for not being able to keep up. I would end the ordeal by guzzling down an entire pint of Ben and Jerry's. But then I tuned into my first 365 workout. There was no pressure to keep up. On the contrary, the instructors would put sixty seconds on the clock and then say: "Go at your own pace. It's whatever works for you. Do your best, leave the rest." And it wasn't just talk. All of the workout participants were going at completely different paces. A few of them were using modifications which, as the instructor stressed, were "just as effective." (Amazingly, some of the fittest exercisers were the ones using modifications because they'd sustained injuries in the past.) And sometimes, even the instructor would slow down or use the modifications.

I finished the workout. And I came back the next day and finished another one. Three weeks later, I'm logging in every day like clockwork to complete the next 365. I've even started doing an extra workout at home (Cardio Sculpt on active days, Pilates and True Beginner on rest days). Not having that pressure to keep up, being allowed to do the work at my own pace, has made all the difference for me.

This, of course, reminded me of the decision made by the New York State Education Department to implement untimed state tests. I know states that have switched to untimed testing haven't seen any major improvements in scores, but I still completely support the decision. It's just like when I'm doing my Daily Burn workouts. The instructor tells us to go at our own pace so that we can set ourselves up for success. Why should a physical workout be any different than a mental one? Our students should be able to annotate the text, mark up the questions, draft a planning page, and check their work. They shouldn't have to dash off half-finished answers because they ran out of time.

I also like the idea of applying this mindset to class. All too often, I find myself throwing up a timer -- especially when I'm covering a core academic class. "You have five minutes to read the article and complete the short response questions at the end." It's great to bring a sense of urgency into the classroom -- but what if the student doesn't have enough time? Do we take points off because she didn't finish ALL of the short response questions, especially if we're only grading for completion? That encourages her to do a poor job on multiple questions, as opposed to really delving deeply into one.

I'm thinking about when I try a new Daily Burn routine, like 3D Lunges. I couldn't watch that move once and then breeze through a minute of reps at breakneck speed. I need to take it slow and make sure that my form's correct. Is my knee over my ankle? (As someone with an overpronated right ankle, I find myself frequently slowing down and checking.) Am I going down far enough? Is my tailbone tucked under? Am I engaging my core? There are so many things to remember when you're first starting out that you really need the space and the time to focus on getting it right. After you've mastered the basics, then you can start speeding. It's the same for our students. If they don't get the requisite space and time, they might just be temped to quit. Except instead of The FIRM DVDs collecting dust, it will be their textbooks.

So let's all stop and smell the pencil shavings. If you teach in New York, be thankful that state tests are no longer timed -- and maybe try taking some of the time crunch out of your classroom as well.

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