Boost Teacher Learning With Video Clubs
When my husband asks me how my day was, I rarely leave it at "fine." Usually I wind up telling a never-ending story about a struggling reader who finally understood how to put letters together to make words … or gushing about a new strategy I used to teach students to count coins. (He's a good listener, my husband.)
He often asks me about what happens in other teachers' classrooms. For years, I didn't take his question seriously. I'd say, how should I know? After all, I spend most of the day in my room with my students.
But one day last year, I really thought about my husband's question—and realized my colleagues and I were missing out on opportunities to improve our practice together. I would love the chance to visit my colleagues' classrooms, to observe firsthand how they managed stations or how they taught writing. But how, when school schedules make it nearly impossible?
Right about that time, I came across Miriam Sherin's articles about video clubs. She'd arranged for groups of math teachers to watch video-recorded lessons, giving them the chance to think more deeply about their students' learning.
I was familiar with the power of recording and then watching myself teach from completing National Board certification. I wanted to share this experience with my colleagues. And that's how our school's video club was born! A year into this venture, I'd like to offer tips for starting a video club at your school:
Gain buy-in and come up with a plan.
I approached my assistant principal, Terri, with the idea of the video club, and she liked it right away.
We considered possible formats for the group. We decided to ask each participating teacher to record two lessons: one that he or she was proud of and wanted to share with the group and one that he or she felt needed improvement.
We created a recording sheet to focus the group and guide our discussions. Using the sheet, participants took notes on events they noticed while watching the video, key comments made during our discussion, and takeaways for their own classroom.
Make it "count," if possible.
Next, we submitted a proposal to the district professional-learning office to offer the video club as a continuing-education class at our school. That way, teachers could earn recertification points—a great incentive for participation. When we received approval to offer the class, we asked the principal for time to present the idea to the faculty at an instructional meeting.
We began the meeting with the same question that my husband asked me: "Do you know what happens in the room next door?" After some spirited discussion, we shared an outline for how the video club could help us learn from one another. Ten teachers agreed to participate.
Agree to go first.
I volunteered to record some lessons in my classroom for the first session, and Terri filmed them.
Before the entire group met, Terri and I watched the videos together to make sure they met the criteria we'd set. The first showed how a Kagan strategy could be easily incorporated into a math lesson about counting coins, and the second documented an unsuccessful classroom activity that I hoped my colleagues could help me improve.
Even though this whole concept had been my idea, I was anxious about sharing my video with the group. The act of teaching is such a private experience. We meet and collaborate on a regular basis in my school, but the teaching is still me, alone in my room with my students. It was a humbling experience to put my work on display for others.
But the six teachers in the group were terrific: They completed the recording sheet as they watched the video and openly shared their thoughts about both lessons. I learned a lot from their observations—and said so. By going first, I modeled how to deal with constructive criticism and showed them I was serious about using the club to improve my practice.
Keep it up!
At the end of the first session, we made a schedule of which teachers would provide videos for the remainder of our meetings. Each time we met, I was impressed by how my colleagues opened their classrooms for the group to see and discuss.
We encountered a few difficulties. The biggest problem was finding time—time to record the lessons and time to meet. When could we leave our classrooms to record one another? When—in the midst of the busy school calendar—could we find time to get together?
Terri volunteered to videotape most lessons, as her days were more flexible than ours. As for scheduling, we had to be nimble: changing our meeting days several times, and accepting that not everyone would be able to make it every time. An average of four or five teachers took part in each meeting—in fact, there was no session at which all 10 of us could be present.
Check your tech.
We recorded lessons with a Flip video camera, which was simple to use, especially with the help of our students. (Unfortunately, the Flip video camera was retired in April 2011.)The camera was preloaded with software that makes it easy to download the videos onto a computer. Most of our technical issues were with our projector, so I advise teachers to make sure they have trustworthy equipment and someone who can offer advice in a pinch.
My greatest concerns about the group were that teachers might not want to share their thoughts or that teachers would take it personally when their own videos were being discussed. Neither of these things happened. Those who joined were dedicated professionals who were eager to share their craft with each other. Everyone in the group volunteered. If the videos had been shown to the entire faculty, instead of a self-selected group, it would have been important to establish norms prior to the first viewing.
We learned a great deal from each other through rich conversations throughout the year. I now realize that if I need advice about math stations, I can ask Christie, who is a master at managing stations. Or I can get tips about writing workshops from Kerian, whose students publish completed pieces at least twice a month. I'm much more aware of my colleagues as resources.
I wish my colleagues and I had more time. Time to observe in each others' classrooms. Time to share our favorite strategies. Time to ask each other for help. Time to listen to and support each other. Video clubs will not help with all these issues, but they are a step in the right direction.
I'm eager to reconvene the group this fall. I am looking forward to being able to answer my husband's question because I now have the opportunity to "visit" my colleagues' classrooms.
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- West Orange School District, West Orange, NJ