Technology in the Classroom
When I went to school a tablet was something the doctor prescribed when you were ill. Nowadays children have a plethora of new technology at their fingertips and teachers are beginning to realise how valuable it can be in engaging pupils and developing knowledge and understanding. Educational Apps and iPads seem to be the new ‘fad’ in most schools; mine is no different. Should I wish, I can book a class set of iPads and use them to teach with and the kids absolutely love it. If you wish to find advice on using iPads in the classroom, you need only complete a simple google search or follow the right people on twitter. What these iPads also have is a camera. Using a camera, I have significantly improved both my own reflections and my teaching practice.
Evaluating Video Recordings of Lessons
Teachers are constantly encouraged to be reflective practitioners. As such, following lessons we will often consider what went well and what could be improved. Much of the time however, such reflection is shallow and merely skims the surface of what has taken place. A popular new trend in improving schools which is being utilised to great effect is using video recordings to analyse practice. What evaluating a video recording of your lesson enables you to do is evaluate your session in detail. It offers you the opportunity to replay events, examine parts of your practice in depth, slow down the lesson, focus on specific areas and check just how engaged your pupils really were. This allows you to identify real strengths and areas for development in a way that is truly reflective and supportive.
How to Begin
Start small! Nobody wants to take on something new and spend hours doing it. Set the camera at the back of the room or have a TA record you. Record an input to a lesson, or a plenary, or a mini plenary, or a focus group, or any 10-15 minute section of a lesson that you feel genuinely reflects normal practice. Don’t make an ‘all singing, all dancing’ lesson for the sake of the recording. The more honest a reflection it is of your daily practice, the more you will serve to benefit from this process.
Next, you may want to make a brew or pour a glass of wine. Seal yourself in a secluded place and hit the dreaded ‘play’ button. I guarantee the first time you watch it back you won’t notice the kids. You won’t even concentrate on your teaching. You will sit and say things like “I don’t sound like that, do I?”, or “Who is this exuberant person at the top of my class? When did they appear?” The first time you see or hear yourself can be shocking. I didn’t think it would be, but it was. Bite that bullet and get over it.
So yes, now you know you really do sound like that and yes, that is how you act in the classroom, it is time to get down to business. This time when you watch it, focus on your teaching. This is quite a wide scope, and it will need to be narrowed down eventually, but for now watch it and see if anything jumps out at you. Some things you may wish to think about here are:
- Are the pupils engaged?
- Do the pupils enjoy the lesson?
- Are the pupils well behaved?
- Are behaviour policies being used consistently?
- Have you asked a range of open and closed questions?
- Have you asked a range of higher and lower order questions?
- Are there a range of pupils answering your questions?
- Are pupils given a chance to explain how they know something?
- Are the pupils given an opportunity to ask questions?
- Is there a good balance between teacher/pupil talk?
- What are the pupils actually doing?
- Is pupil talk as effective as it could be?
- Does the lesson give pupils the opportunity to show their progress?
- How are the higher ability pupils stretched?
- How are the lower ability pupils supported?
From this activity alone you may find that you have found an area that you need to develop. For example, the first time I watched myself back it became clear to me that I needed to ensure that my questioning was more open in a way which encourages pupils to explain the ‘how and why’ of things. This gave me a far better AfL and enabled me to gain a better understanding of the pupils’ thought processes and how secure their knowledge and understanding of the topic was.
The next time you record yourself, which can be for a similar amount of time, you may want to have a focus in your head prior to the lesson but again this works best if it is an honest reflection of your daily practice. When you come to evaluate yourself, focus in on a particular aspect. For example, if the focus was questioning, you may wish to make a tally of how many open/closed and higher order/lower order questions you have asked. You may wish to assess if where and when you have used these questions in the lesson has been the most effective time to use them or if they might have been better served earlier/later in the lesson. You may record who answers the questions and how often (you will quickly find out who is your ‘banker’ if you don’t already know). The point is at this stage to have taken an area you have identified for development and to reflect in detail upon your practice.
Moving Forward Still
If you wish to do this on your own, that is all well and good. It can be used to develop your own practice in a way which enables you to take control of your own CPD. However if this is used consistently across a school it has the potential to dramatically improve practice. Once you have evaluated parts of a lesson in detail, you can begin to record longer segments and focus on different areas. If used in a supportive and open way, teachers can work in small groups (2-4 teachers) to share practice and help each other to develop professionally. You may soon find that common themes appear across a year group, or a phase, or a subject area which can then become a group/phase/whole school focus to work upon.
Why Should You Do this?
Lesson observations, which are often used in schools to guide teachers development, can frequently seem intrusive, unsupportive and unnerving. Evaluating lessons is not. It enables you to take control of your own development in a way that is supportive and unobtrusive. It differentiates perception from reality and allows you to reflect upon a lesson in a deep and meaningful way. It enables you to see things in lessons you may have missed, or remember things you had forgotten. It is a sure-fire way to ensure that you improve your practice in a way that supports the needs of the pupils you teach.
- Don’t show off for the camera! Ensure the recording is a fair reflection of your classroom.
- Don’t be discouraged if your first attempt isn’t very clear, or if you feel uncomfortable watching/hearing yourself at first.
- Begin slow, and build up your use of recorded lessons.
- Share with colleagues you trust. There is nobody as critical of your teaching as you are! While you are looking for all the things you are doing wrong, your colleagues will point out the great practice displayed in the lesson too!
- When you have eased yourself in, ensure your evaluations have a real focus.
- If, like me, this impacts positively upon your practice, share it with other teachers!
So what are you waiting for?
Have a go! Over the past number of years I have gone from training event to training event gathering a multitude of strategies to improve my practice. To date, nothing has had such an immediate and positive effect as evaluating the recordings of my lessons. Working collaboratively in a group with other teachers, we have identified good practice and areas for development in a time effective and supportive manner. My pupils are now challenged in a way which supports their learning and stretches them in a way they weren’t before. For me, this is a way that we develop together and take ownership of our development ensuring our daily practice is as good as it could possibly be.
If you have used anything like this before, please let me know how you used it and how it impacted upon your teaching. If you have any useful tips or guidance, please also share them in the comments section. If you have a go, let us know how you get on.