One of my favorite kinds of professional development is having an opportunity to visit other teachers’ classrooms (aka: lab sites). It helps to see how other teachers carry out instruction with their students. Visiting other classrooms provides us with the opportunity to borrow ideas for our own teaching practice.
However, sometimes small classrooms make it challenging (or even a fire hazard) to host a large group of teachers who wish to observe one of their colleagues in action. Another way to improve teacher practice, which advances student learning, is to do video case studies.
Video case studies allow a group of teachers to step into a colleague’s classroom to observe instruction and student engagement without actually setting foot in the classroom. As someone who has been the teacher being taped and has been the consultant who has facilitated video studies in elementary and middle school writing workshops, I believe they’re a less intrusive way to see what’s happening in the classroom. Yes, there’s a camera (e.g., camcorder or iPad) in the classroom that’s often near a child when s/he is conferring with their teacher. However, there aren’t loads of people with notebooks watching over a child’s shoulder, which is anxiety-provoking for some kids. Therefore, video studies can provide a realistic look into the inner workings of a writing workshop.
I was introduced to video case studies in 2005 when I was a teacher at P.S. 171. While my principal, Dimitres Pantelidis, provided lots of coverage for intervisitations between teachers, he also started having teachers get videotaped for the purpose of opening our classrooms to multiple colleagues. For instance, a teacher would be videotaped for 45-minutes doing a reading, writing, or math lesson. Then, during an after school PD session, we’d gather together to watch the video as a faculty. Mr. Pantelidis stressed that we were looking at examples of good teacher, rather than exemplars. (That took the pressure off of everyone!)
Video case studies require several resources for implementation:
- a camcorder or iPad
- microphone (to improve audio quality)
- television equipment, SMART board, and/or LCD projector
- electronic storage for video files
- educators who are willing to be videotaped
- release time to view/edit videos
- a staff member for taping and editing of videos
- time for teacher (who is taped) to observe his/her own practice prior to viewing the video with their colleagues
We followed a protocol for every video study. Here’s an overview of the protocol we used:
- Teacher-presenter provides background information on their video BEFORE first viewing of the video — what we’re about to see, grade level, background of the students, when it was filmed, the class’s prior preparation, goals of the lesson, and any other context. They ask if anyone has any questions.
- Observers ask questions for clarification.
- Observers watch the video the first time with the second response sheet in front of them. “Observations of students during first viewing of the video.” Teachers can stop and jot during and after the video.
- What do the students know?
- What are the students learning?
- Observers can ask clarifying questions at this time.
- Observers share their observations in small groups. Facilitators can listen in. Teacher-presenter should not join conversations.
- Teacher-presenter is on the sideline, listening and taking notes. Presenter should not join in small group conversations.
- Observers share their observations with the whole group.
- Observers watch the video a second time with focus questions in front of them. (Focus questions are determined based on the content of each video study.)
- What evidence showed students were clear in the expectations of the lesson?
- How are the students engaged in the work?
- How did the students monitor or manage their learning (in a whole group, small group, independently)?
- Observers are given time to write and talk in their small groups.
- Whole group discussion of video with each group responding based on the discussion questions their group was assigned. Remind teachers to focus on what was in the video and not what should have been in the video and to focus on student learning. (Talk about possible adaptation of this lesson for their students.) Facilitator might ask, “can you give an example of that?”
- Teacher-presenter is taking notes while each group shares.
- Facilitator asks teacher-presenter, “do you have any thoughts you’d like to share?”
- What might be added to the lesson?
- What might be changed?
- Next steps?
- Reflection at the end of each video discussion (e.g., “What can I take from this video to apply to my own instruction?”).
Video Study Protocol Conceptualizing the Strategy or Practice by Lila Jorge, Jeanne Stein, and Amanda Luizzi.
Video case studies can be replicated in any school. The Stein-Luizzi protocol is easy to follow. All you need are teachers who are willing to hone their pedagogical skills and enhance their reflective thinking. From there, you’ll be able to tap into the power of the teachers in your building by providing professional development from within.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).