Using Video to Push Yourself to Become an Even Better Teacher: Strengthening Professional Learning Blog Series

A few years ago, I decided that teacher talk-time was a goal that I wanted to work on. I knew that I was probably talking too much and not leaving enough space for students to talk—throughout the workshop, but especially during minilessons. I didn’t have any other adults that were going to be in the room to observe me and give me feedback, so I decided to record myself on video so that I could see exactly how much talking I was doing.

But I had a problem. I didn’t have a video camera or a tripod. I didn’t have any microphones. I didn’t have another adult in the room to hold the camera. I didn’t have time or resources to get any of these things pulled together. How was this going to work?

So, here’s what I did. I propped an iPad on a bookshelf facing where I would mostly be seated, and simply pressed record before I began. I knew that the video quality would be poor, and that I wouldn’t be able to hear every word the students were saying–but I knew there would be enough to jog my memory of the parts that weren’t captured and there would be enough for me to see more than what I could see when I’m busy teaching. I happen to have an iPad for work, but if that had not been the case, I might have used my own phone, or even a school laptop or Chromebook. Most laptops have apps (like Photo Booth on Mac) that allow you to record video.

The type of video I’m referring to here is not a fully edited, perfect video. I’m talking about informal video you can use for yourself, just to become a better teacher.

SOME PRACTICAL TIPS

I often prop the camera or iPad (or laptop as the case may be) on a shelf or set it on a table nearby the minilesson or conference I’m recording. Another trick that I picked up from a colleague is to designate a student to be the camera operator. This has the added benefit of involving a student that might otherwise become less than engaged–plus you then get to study a video that was made from the point of view of a kid, which is always interesting.

If you are extremely uncomfortable being on video, or if you have students in your classroom that cannot be video recorded, you might instead record audio only, using an app on your phone, laptop, or other device.

And, last, but not least—pro tip: if you open up a Google Drive folder on a phone or iPad and press the “plus” symbol (+) you have the option of using the camera—and the images or video will drop straight into that Google Drive folder. This eliminates the time-consuming process of moving the videos around later from one place to another to keep them organized.

When you are ready to try out a little informal video recording, here are some considerations for before, during, and after you record.

BEFORE YOU RECORD A VIDEO

Have a conversation ahead of time if you’re planning to do this together with colleagues or your literacy coach. Talk through your plans for the lesson you plan to record , and what you hope to see and hear when you watch the video. If you’re doing this on your own, you may want to jot down a few notes and reflections ahead of time.

Jim Knight, educator and coach, often talks about there being the “Big Four” when it comes to setting a goal related to feedback [The Big Four: A Framework for Instructional Excellence (Knight, 2009)].

  1. Classroom Management
  2. Content
  3. Instruction
  4. Assessment for Learning

As you prepare to record yourself, you might choose an area of inquiry, and concentrate on one or two questions that will provide your focus. Here are a few examples, to go along with Knight’s Big Four:

  1. Classroom Management:
    • How many (and when) students are noticeably engaged/disengaged?
    • How many of my comments to students are positive versus negative?
    • Are my expectations communicated clearly and positively to students?
    • How much teacher talk versus student talk is happening in my classroom?
    • What do I notice when watching myself that demonstrates care and respect for my students?
    • Do I call on/talk with/pay attention to all groups of students equally (look through multiple lenses: race, gender, language, socioeconomic status, behavior/personalities)?
  1. Content
    • Are my teaching points clear and explicit? Do students know what I am trying to teach them?
    • Did I teach the content I set out to teach?
    • Was the amount/rigor of the content enough? Too much?
    • Where on a progression of learning did most of the content I taught actually fall?
  1. Instruction
    • What methods of instruction (i.e., inquiry, demonstration, coaching, explanation/telling, experiential) do I observe? (
    • Did my instruction incorporate the latest research/professional reading/staff development? Am I up to date in my teaching methods?
    • Is my pace appropriate for the students I teach?
  1. Assessment for Learning
    • What am I doing/what tools am I using to learn more about my students as learners?
    • What does this show about what students know and are able to do?
    • Where on a progression of learning is the work that my students are doing?

Jim Knight’s books contain even more great questions for inquiry. So does Danielson’s Framework for Teaching. Once you are set up with a clear focus for your video, you are ready to roll!

WHILE TAPING A VIDEO

If the goal of your video is to help you improve your day-to-day teaching, then you will most likely find it helpful not to make a big deal about it with your students ahead of time. Set up your camera in a discrete spot, or invite a colleague or student to record  you as you move about, but generally, it’s best to just make it no big deal. “My teacher friend is here to videotape me today,” you might say to students, and continue on.

Be yourself as you teach. Do what you normally would do. Resist the urge to change yourself or react to students differently than usual–because if you do, you’ll find yourself watching the video later thinking, “Oh, but I normally don’t do that,” rendering the video less helpful.

If you are like me, and you get nervous while being videotaped, you might find yourself wanting to “do over” certain parts of your workshop. You might get part way through your minilesson or a conference and think, “Ugh, please stop and let me just start over.” Go ahead!  But keep the original too because you’ll find it helpful to watch for yourself.

WATCHING THE VIDEO

Lots of people have a hard time seeing and hearing themselves on video. Especially those of us of a certain age that didn’t grow up with such easy access to video cameras. It’s okay though. You can do this.

Harvard’s Center of Policy for Educational Research recommends that you divide your observations into two big categories:

  1. Irrelevant or Reactive Details
    • “My head looks big” (irrelevant)
    • “I keep saying ‘like’ too much” (irrelevant)
    • “It’s not usually like that!” (reactive or emotional)
    • “That was so embarrassing” (reactive or emotional)
  2. Evidence or Important Observations
    • I spoke for 20 minutes
    • Only 30% of my students spoke during the entire lesson
    • Three students did not write at all

Try and focus on objective observations, things that are “right there” in the video, and suspend judgment as much as you can.

Coaching expert Jim Knight suggests you should watch your video in a quiet space where you can focus and reflect. Even if you plan to share the video with a trusted colleague or your literacy coach, watching it on your own first can ultimately help you get the most effective feedback from it. Watching it on your own helps you take it all in, and then pick a section of it to focus on, if and when you watch it in the company of others. It will also help you refine your questions so that your discussion will be that much more helpful.

Jim Knight provides many free resources on his website. There are checklists and reflection guides for watching your video and reflecting.

FINALLY

The last step, of course, is to solidify the feedback from your video and plan changes you hope to make in your practice. As you do this, you may want to do a bit of reflection in writing. Writing it down helps slow down your thinking, and committing it to paper or screen will help you to organize your thinking.

RESOURCES

Instructional Coaching Group

Harvard Center of Policy for Educational Research

Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Welcome to Writing Workshop: Engaging Today’s Students with a Model That Works. Thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a print copy of this book.)
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