Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wagner and the Flip Camera, part 2

Yesterday, I looked at the use of videotaping of instructional lessons for the purpose of calibrating teacher understanding of effective instruction, and Tony Wagner's advocation for this process.

For the record, I'm a huge advocate for exactly this. But I don't want to oversimplify the issue. There are some problems with video that has to be overcome.

1. There has to be clear distinctions between professional development use and evaluation use. This is the same issue teachers had with me when I conducted walk-throughs. No matter how much an administrator says, "this is not for evaluation... it's just to gather data to help you reflect later," teachers are not comforted. And for good reason. There were several times when I made a walkthrough visit where I saw bad instructional practices going on that I had to address. If I enter a classroom and videotape a teacher who is sarcastically putting down a student, that has to be addressed, videotape or no. For this reason, teachers (and teacher unions) are naturally apprehensive. Where's the line?

A successful administrator will make that clear up front, that yes, there are some non-negotiables that will be addressed, video or no. And, a successful administrator will help facilitate a staff discussion about what those instances are, so it truly is a staff norm and not an administrator-created expectation.

2. The elephant in the room is time. Flip helps, but it still requires time to 1) know when a video opportunity exists, 2) capture video, 3) watch video for the opportune moments to share with teachers, and 4) then package the video so that teachers can effectively learn from it. And, time is exactly what administrators don't have. They will need to make time, emphasizing this over other things.

As an administrator, my walkthrough trainer had a good perspective on this. She mentioned that a successful administrator will clearly state to parents, teachers, students, or even their superintendent: "Yes, I'm looking forward to meeting with you. And I'll do that as soon as I am finished visiting teacher classrooms, to help our school become better." In other words, the principal needs to communicate to everyone that this is how their school gets better, and therefore, this is where my priority is.

3. Another problem, but one that will go away quickly, is the disruption videotaping causes. Simply put, turn on a videocamera and a class doesn't function the same way it normally does (which is great for a rowdy classroom).

But like walkthroughs, this goes away with repeated exposure. Once students get used to the practice, it becomes invisible. In fact, when I ramped up my walkthrough usage to "each class, 3 times a week", it took 3 weeks before students didn't give me a second glance. UNI's Price Lab is a testament to this, as their students are more than accustomed to visitors and outside eyes on a regular basis.

• Wagner didn't stop at videotaping classrooms, however. Another big use of videotaping is with student focus groups (especially graduated students... or students who dropped out). A pointed interview with students can get right at what they see as working well and not working well in school. We'll touch on this in a later post.

• Schools shouldn't (unless rare exceptions) show the entire staff the video footage of an individual teacher. That should be reserved for a more safe setting like a PLC. But the whole staff can still benefit from watching video from external teachers. Just as with evaluator training, there are video clips available that can be used (check with your AEA). And Angela Maiers regularly posts video lessons on her website along with a written post of what she is trying to accomplish in her lesson. Those are great places to start.

No comments: