Monday, March 8, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action

A few months ago, my school head suggested that all the English and History teachers videotape themselves teaching. He wants to use these tapes as another way to help us be reflective of ourselves.

There was a lot of shifting eyes.

I volunteered to be first.

Am I the sort of teacher who likes to show off? Enjoys the sound of his own voice? Toadies up to the boss? Yes, yes, and no. But the real reason is because I have done this sort of thing before, both in my academic career as well as in my not so academic career. I am used to being taped, monitored, observed, and discussed: it doesn't bother me. I think it is a valuable tool at our disposal and helps us as educators and colleagues, no matter how ridiculous you think you look on video. Let me explain.

First of all, we never get to see what our colleagues and supervisors see. If we tape ourselves we can beat them to any punches they may throw. It is surprising to me how my pacing has changed in over eight years since my last taping and I was pretty impressed with my improvement. I also was not surprised that I went off topic, yet happy that my non sequiturs were much more brief that when I first hit a classroom. This last tape also served to remind me that my sense of humor is still pretty dark and still has an edge to it from my urban school days.

Another good reason is to see how the students respond to you when you are not looking. Let's face it, we can't see everything all of the time, and it gets worse when you are running a cooperative lesson. My students do great with the first five minute warm-up activity, quiet down promptly, engage with each other during the lessons, and pay relatively close attention when I am giving direct instruction. There were times when it was clear that I may have lost a few for a minute or two, and the video helps me see where some of my blind spots are: literally and figuratively.

Finally, this particular session helped me with a current goal I have this semester. I am trying to focus on a more inquiry based lesson strategy and a video of my class from soup to nuts helps me see how well I am progressing. For the most part, I am making more interrogative statements than I am declarative. I have yet to do it, but I will go back and keep score on how many. Ideally, I want to ask five open-ended questions to every one opinion.

I hope that this effort will make it easier for others to do the same and gain some benefit from the exercise. We rarely get to see each other teach, so this is a great way to use technology to help us as teachers. Remember to put the camera in a conspicuous place, tell the students it is there, leave it out for few days, and turn it in when you have lesson ready to go. If you don't like the results, just rinse and repeat.

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