Sarah Cole, a Harvard teacher fellow training at a charter school in Denver, was frustrated by the lack of participation in her 8th grade English/language arts class.
“It was like pulling teeth,” she said of students’ lack of responses.
Sure enough, the video she uploaded to the coaching platform for her professor and program peers to review showed students in pairs barely talking. Just a few students raised hands in the whole-group discussion.
Cole asked her training group: How can I get more students to participate? The advice flowed in from Cambridge, Mass.; New York City; and her on-site coach in Denver.
Residency training is usually a local affair, with teaching candidates placed in nearby districts and under the tutelage of an on-site teacher mentor. The program at Harvard, which is just in its first academic year, has dispatched fellows across the country—to Denver, New York, and Oakland, Calif., and soon to Dallas and Kansas City, Mo.—and it is capitalizing on video-capture technology in order to turn the distance into an instructional asset. Virtual access allows professors and mentors to give feedback as if they are on site, providing multiple perspectives to help candidates fine-tune their teaching. New York University is testing out a similar model with partner districts in Bridgeport, Conn.; Wilmington, Del.; and in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan in New York.
“We want to have a nationwide impact,” said Victor M. Pereira, the master science teacher for the Harvard Teacher Fellows program and the lead on its use of technology. “We’re pretty proud of the program design with regard to how we’re training new teachers, so we want to establish a network of districts where our fellows can make a difference across the country rather than just locally.”
Relating to Districts
But can Harvard and NYU still forge the close relationships with districts that are often key to the success of such training?
Roneeta Guha of the Learning Policy Institute is skeptical that they can. She co-authored a report on residencies nationwide. Guha said the traditional residency model is effective because it tailors training to district needs.
Because both the Harvard and NYU residencies are in their infancies, it’s hard to say whether they’ll be able to bridge the gap between program and district, according to Guha. But they are making the effort, with professors planning in-person visits to partner schools in addition to video coaching. Even as some candidates are thousands of miles away from campus, they are in touch weekly with professors who provide feedback on their videos. The on-site mentor teacher and fellow candidates can also weigh in.
For their part, the NYU professors realized that video would allow them to put into practice what they know to be true from research: New teachers benefit from more than one observer giving them critical feedback on their teaching.
Diana Turk, the director of teacher education at NYU, said she can watch a five-minute lesson through her expertise as a social studies mentor and advise a candidate on how to boost student understanding of a historical argument. The same clip could be viewed by another professor for input on how to support a student with a disability.
“This method is so much more effective than relying on some supervisor going in to observe,” Turk said.
Technology makes this process easier than ever. Lessons can be recorded using an iPad on a robotic mount that tracks an infrared device worn around the instructor’s neck. Candidates cut the video to highlight aspects of the lesson they want to improve, and upload it to the coaching platform. All observers can annotate the video using written or voice comments.
Feedback Into Action
Cole’s professor-mentor at Harvard, Sarah Leibel, noticed right away the reason for the lack of participation in the video that Cole shared. The discussion question—"Why would it make sense for people to treat a dehumanized group like animals, insects, vermin, or disease?"— was confusing.
“I thought, ‘Huh, how would I answer that?’” Leibel said.
Leibel suggested that Cole focus on an example from a book instead, then draw the answer out through a more pointed question: “Why do you think this character compares this person to an insect?”
Fellows who watched Cole’s video advised her to set expectations for participation. For instance, students should face each other and provide evidence to support particular points. They also suggested reminding students of those expectations before the discussion. Leibel added a recommendation: Cole should carry a list of the expectations, checking them off as students meet them.
Other Harvard fellows learned how to improve classroom participation from the feedback on her video, Cole explained, and she’s learning from watching how her peers address their own concerns, on everything from classroom management to writing an analytical paragraph.
Marliss Platt, an NYU resident who is training at Great Oaks Charter School in Wilmington, Del., said her program is especially helpful when she’s struggling. In one video, she’s dealing with a student who keeps talking out of turn during a 7th grade ELA lesson. Platt holds up a finger, signaling a demerit, but the student is unfazed. Others act up. Eventually, the class settles down.
“I was like, ‘Ahh! That did not go well,’ ” Platt said. “But I shared the video of that lesson because we have to look at things that don’t work. If I have to be the guinea pig, OK.”
Platt said the class, a mix of honors and students with learning disabilities, presents unique challenges. Leaning on her on-site teacher mentor in the moment, and on her professors at NYU for long-term strategies, is indispensable to her growth, she said.
“I’m glad I get this on-the-job training where I learn how to handle these problems before I have my own class,” she said.
Contrary to some NYU professors’ initial worries, remote training actually seems to create a closer relationship with teaching students.
“The faculty worried we wouldn’t foster close relationships and give our students the same level of support,” said Turk. “But I’m finding that I know my students and their teaching better. The campus classroom is depersonalized. Now, I’m meeting with students in their homes and in their classrooms on a regular basis.”
Harvard professor Leibel said video has its merits, allowing the program to expand its reach and find high-quality mentors and “great” schools across the country for its fellows to train in. But the ideal would be to observe teaching in the classroom, with video as a reference for feedback.
“Some things are more easily observed in a classroom,” said Leibel. “I miss seeing the whole room. I like to move around and listen in on student groups. And if I’m physically in the room, I have the option to tap the teacher like a coach at a basketball game and suggest a change.”
Still, Leibel acknowledged Cole’s progress. Little by little, Cole started putting the feedback into action in the classroom, and Leibel has seen the turnaround in a subsequent video. “She nailed it,” Leibel said. “She gave clear direction, students’ hands were raised, their voices were louder. Engagement was clearly up.”
Coverage of policy efforts to improve the teaching profession is supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, at www.joycefdn.org/Programs/Education. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the March 08, 2017 edition of Education Week as Ed Schools Use Video to Mentor Interns