It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a stressed out teacher in need of improvement finds a traditional live lesson observation debilitating and counterproductive.
There’s a lot of pride and prejudice in teaching. Teachers are proud people who want to do a good job but can often be let down by outdated systems.
Real-time solo lesson observations are full of individual bias, tunnel vision and lesson blindness and these can blur and skew what actually happens in a classroom.
This is why many schools are now using video for high-impact teaching, learning and assessment. It’s more reliable, far less traumatic and actually supports progress because you get to see the whole pitch and not just a few blades of grass.
But there is still a problem.
The focus of videoed lessons tends to be on the teacher and not enough on the students.
Although there might be plenty of discussion around what students are doing and the strategies employed by a teacher to support their learning, students are still very much at arm’s length and the lab mice under observation.
They are tested, talked about and analysed but how often do students actually get an opportunity to take a good and honest look at themselves?
Surely a videoed lesson should be involving students as observers and commentators too in order to build their metacognitive awareness and their continuous development.
Yes, pupils have CPD too and continuous pupil development can be fuelled by using video.
If we share the learning turf then we need to share the technology too and let students zoom in on their learning so they can focus on themselves.
Assessment for ‘Yearning’
Self- and peer assessment play an essential role in formative practice. Teachers can set the targets and help set the stage but it is only the students who do the learning.
Absolutely key to the success of self- and peer assessment is dialogue and students therefore need to see and hear themselves talking to truly appreciate their own behaviour and performance.
Students love talking about themselves and they would yearn to have more control through video technology.
Peer discussion in small groups enables all students to engage directly about an issue or problem together and put their heads together. This helps them articulate what they know, partly know and don’t know.
This intersubjective learning and collaboration is what teachers observe on a daily basis and students do too informally but how often do students get a chance to play-back and look at what they said, how they said it and what role they played in a discussion?
We might want to develop students as thinkers and active participants that communicate effectively but action replays through video are rare.
What students say and do is a remarkably precious learning resource that they need to look at again, listen to and reflect on.
Hand it over
Using video to help students improve their learning has been lop-sided so now is the time to set up opportunities for students to watch themselves.
A five minute small group discussion can be videoed and then time can be given for students to look at the recording of themselves. This video viewing can be a small group affair or shared with the wider class so that everyone has an opportunity to learn.
Dissecting a discussion in this way can help students pay more attention to the finer details and so upgrade their skills and help raise achievement.
This helps students develop more professional responses to their own learning and that of their peers. The more they engage with, and think deeply about their learning and learning behaviours the more they are able to give useful feedback to their peers and reflect on their own learning with greater insight.
The systematic use of video creates a learning environment in which the focus is on personal growth. Teachers watch themselves and students need to see themselves too.
By giving feedback to others and seeing this ‘in the flesh’ for a second time helps create a classroom culture of support for their own learning.
The interactive centre of gravity of any classroom should be student dialogue and discussion. When students can observe themselves they become more self-aware and group-aware and this activates them as owners of their own learning – they become ‘learner intelligent’.
Being an intelligent learner means learning on the job and off the job by editing, fine-tuning, overhauling, reshaping and improving. None of those things are easy to do without input and one of the most powerful self-learning mechanisms is to watch yourself – athletes, footballers, actors and performers all do it.
To become independent and self-directed learners, students need to have a clear understanding of ‘where they are at’, where they are going and how they can get there.
One of the most significant spin-offs of engaging students and self- and peer assessment is that students are better able to help their teacher to help them. By becoming more self-aware then students can open up more, feel less self-conscious and share their understanding.
Go one step further
You could allow students to use video technology to provide feedback to each other. For example, the class could watch a play-back of a small group discussion involving their peers. Groups could then take it in turns to be videoed themselves and provide their feedback for the original group to watch.
This can improve students’ attainment through higher quality feedback and improve their engagement with feedback, encouraging them to take ownership of their own learning and progress.
Students have a dynamic role to play in taking accountability for their own learning, and in supporting the learning of their peers.
Some teachers may be reluctant to make time for videoing small groups, using play-backs and letting students create video feedback but this is time well-used because it invests in learning and enhances learning.
It gives students an opportunity to develop and rehearse responses, become more reflective and use their critical faculties to improve their creativity.
Using video to improve feedback might not immediately strike students as a safe context to reflect on their performance but it does become more comfortable when done regularly.
Making video a norm and not a novelty can have considerable impact and boost progress. Learning conversations are there for the taking and video can help them become more polished and powerful by synthesising contributions and making learning visible.
The most potent single influence enhancing achievement is feedback and video feedback can play its part when learners are fully involved. A feedback-rich environment needs more balance so let students watch themselves and give video feedback.
John Dabell writes for Lessonbox