Teachers on video

More than 99 percent of teachers are rated satisfactory by their principals, reports a study on “the widget effect” by the New Teacher Project. The Gates Foundation is developing a new model, with the help of social scientists and teachers, reports the New York Times. Outside evaluators analyze videotapes to determine whether teachers are teaching well.

Twenty states are overhauling their teacher-evaluation systems, partly to fulfill plans set in motion by a $4 billion federal grant competition, and they are eagerly awaiting the research results.

For teachers, the findings could mean more scrutiny. But they may also provide more specific guidance about what is expected of the teachers in the classroom if new experiments with other measures are adopted — including tests that gauge teachers’ mastery of their subjects, surveys that ask students about the learning environments in their classes and digital videos of teachers’ lessons, scored by experts.

. . . Researchers and educators involved in the project described it as maddeningly complex in its effort to separate the attributes of good teaching from the idiosyncrasies of individual teachers.

Hundreds of teachers will be trained to review 64,000 hours of classroom video. They will look “for possible correlations between certain teaching practices and high student achievement, measured by value-added scores.”

A companion story gives examples of how evaluators score videos for rapport with students, pacing, transitions, clarity and whether they correct students’ errors thoroughly.

Teachers shouldn’t evaluated by checklist-using strangers who’ve never visited the school or met the teacher, writes Larry Ferlazzo. But there are good ways to videotape teachers.

Our school, led by principal Ted Appel, has begun having Kelly Young, an extraordinarily talented consultant on instructional strategies who we have been working with for years, videotape our lessons (I’ve written much about Kelly in this blog). He then meets with us to review an edited version of the tape, with us initially giving our own critique and reflections followed by his comments. This process is entirely outside of the official evaluation process, and is focused on helping teachers improve their craft.

“It has been one of the most significant professional development experiences I’ve had,” Ferlazzo writes.

At Alverno College in Milwaukee, prospective teachers study videotapes of their lessons to improve, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Ivelisse Cruz can barely watch the video footage from her first time teaching a math lesson.

The video shows Cruz, a first-semester sophomore at Alverno College at the time, hesitantly starting her lesson seated with a group of seventh-grade students around a small table at Fairview Charter School in Milwaukee. She doesn’t quite explain what the focus of their math lesson will be, looks slightly uncertain and speaks in what she would later criticize as a monotone voice.

. . . Fast forward through three more semesters, learning the art of teaching and spending time working with students.

Now the video shows a more confident woman standing at the front of her class, reviewing her work with the students from the week before, forecasting what the next lesson will be, calling a student to stand beside her at an overhead projector to walk through a practice problem.

Alverno is considered a national model for training teachers, “thanks to its combination of clinical and classroom experience and use of video and other tools to evaluate whether graduates are meeting the standards for what makes a good teacher,” reports the Journal-Sentinel.

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  1. My teacher training program used video to help us critique our performance. We had to share our videos with the entire cohort as well as our specific advisers.

    The most entertaining part was when one of my profs started stammering that a lesson I videotaped with a kid with autism was a perfect preview of the next session’s lesson she’d planned for the cohort, illustrating the sort of magical thinking on the part of the older student with autism that Carol Grey’s Social Stories were designed to address.

    Seriously, I think the best use of videotaping lessons is for peer review as part of a school improvement project. For one, a teaching team can look at differing approaches toward a particular cohort of students (including what does and doesn’t work with the difficult students); for another, it’s one way that newer teachers can learn tricks of the trade from more experienced teachers. Doing push-in work in general education classrooms during my early years was one of the undescribed assets of being a special ed teacher in a school that heavily depended upon inclusion and push-in rather than pull out for its model. I got to observe what did and didn’t work first hand, including the ups and downs of good days and bad days.

    There’s a reason why I check in with my very experienced aides on a regular basis. Of everyone in the school, they’re the ones who see teachers most consistently on a daily basis. They know who’s good and bad, and what does or doesn’t work (one aide has 30 years of experience, the other around 20 years). EAs tend to be undervalued in classroom settings, or denigrated to grading papers or photocopying. I always insist that my aides are there first to work with kids, and do grading/photocopying/teacher support only if there’s nothing to do for the kids. One thing I’ve told both our newbie teachers this year is that if they’re not sure about the effectiveness of something they’re doing, to ask the aides what they think, because the aides are an incredibly valuable resource which far too many so-called education reformers don’t think about. Nor do teacher trainers outside of sped.

    My aides are my eyes and ears throughout the building and even into the community. I prize them for that, not for the bulletin boards, photocopying, or grading.

  2. Any evaluation that has to do with value-added (another cute phrase for standardized testing) is no evaluation at all, as standardized tests do not measure true learning. Watching excellent teachers for rapport, pacing, transition, etc., however, could be useful, if those being videotaped are actually good teachers.

  3. Roger Sweeny says:

    Mark Barnes,

    I mean this question in complete sincerity: what does measure true learning? Right now we have tests and quizzes and projects and such, and a few months later, even students who got good grades have forgotten most of what they had “learned.”