Your Best Improvement Tool: Video

“Teachers On Screen,” by Scott Elliott, The Indianapolis Star, 7/2/13

 Teachers who want to be great need to observe their own classrooms.

As a video played showing first-year [Arlington HS, Indianapolis IN] English teacher Katie Bonfiglio at work, Spanish teacher Patrice Patton watched in awe.

“Wow, I’ve never seen those kids behave like that in my class,” Patton gushed, as she watched a room of typically restless ninth-grade boys fully engaged in a discussion.

That’s just the reaction Paul Chin, Arlington’s assistant principal, was hoping for when he asked Bonfiglio if he could show her recorded lesson to 15 of her colleagues….

It was brave of Bonfiglio to agree, Chin thought, and the fresh-out-of-college teacher admitted the idea was daunting at first. But afterward, she found the discussion with her peers so eye-opening she made changes to some of her other teaching routines….

With a nationwide push underway to dramatically improve teacher training and evaluation, the teacher video critiques that emerged at Arlington High School this year could conceivably be the rule in years to come rather than the exception….

“Digital video may be more valuable than an observer’s notes for allowing a teacher to ‘see’ the strengths and weaknesses in their practice,” [Harvard researcher] Thomas Kane said. “Someone cannot remember what they did not notice in the first place.”…

For Marcus Robinson, the CEO of Tindley Accelerated Schools, videotaping teachers started out as just a way to solve a nagging student-teacher classroom conflict.

Tindley runs two charter schools and last summer began managing Arlington after the state took the school over from Indianapolis Public Schools, citing six years of low test scores….

“Teachers who want to be great can be helped by observing what is working in their classroom and what’s not, with some serious coaching about what they can do to get better,” Robinson said.

When Tindley took over Arlington, one of the first things Robinson did was order cameras installed in every classroom…. Chin relies on a bank of videos…to show Arlington teachers examples of techniques done well….

Chin and Annette De La Llana, an instructional coach, began by watching [first-year teacher] Brittany Scherer teach the classic Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird on video…. Chin says [Scherer] has been a quick learner…but she has things to work on, such as “ratio.”

Ratio is a term…to describe how much talking the teacher does compared with the students…. The more Scherer can shift the conversation so the students take on a bigger share of the “cognitive demand” of talking with each other about the book, the better.

Scherer is the first to point this out to Chin and De la Llana on the video…. “I call on the same three students always,” she said. “It’s hard to remember who you called on last when you’re teaching….”

As they watch more video, Chin notes that Scherer sometimes answers her own questions if none of the students speak up. He puts up a video of [another] teacher…and points out three ways he shifts the ratio to the students in that situation — he feigns ignorance of the answers to his own questions, he rephrases the question or he takes a student answer and asks, “what’s next?”

Scherer took those ideas back to her classroom. The next day, she begins a discussion by “cold calling” five students who didn’t raise their hands in the first two minutes….

Kane, the Harvard researcher, believes video can be so powerful that…he’s pushing for all teachers to record themselves teaching and submit video as part of their performance reviews…. Teachers’ weaknesses show up even in their best lessons, Kane has found….

One fan of video is [Indiana] Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, who said she had to submit videos of herself teaching to earn National Board certification, a challenging credential that requires an intensive review of teaching practice.

The key, Ritz said, is that video prompts a discussion between teachers and administrators who oversee their work….

Scott Elliott is an education reporter for The Indianapolis Star.

See also in ClassWise: “I Lie About My Teaching”


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