Students assess the teacher

Letting students assess his teaching was transformative, writes Larry Ferlazzo, a ninth-grade English teacher at a Sacramento high school, in Ed Week.

Before students watched a five-minute video of a previous lesson, Kelly Young, who directs the Pebble Creek Labs, asked students to look for certain things.

• Leaning In—When we are engaged, we are learning forward, not slouching back.

• Who’s Doing the Work?—Students are working and learning, not sitting back listening to the teacher.

• Everybody Has a Job—All students are working all the time, listening and taking notes/annotating; asking questions; reading, etc.

• Tools of the Scholar—Pen, pencil, highlighter… The vast majority of the time, students have a writing tool in hand.

• Multiple Touches on Text—No “light” touches—we read the same text multiple times in different ways to deepen our understanding.

• Changing Trajectories—So you can read, do, or be what you want. We work hard so that students can accomplish their visions and dreams.

At first, students had nothing but positive comments about their teacher and themselves. Then one boy said, “Mr. Ferlazzo talked too long.”

Kelly immediately asked me, “Mr. Ferlazzo, what was your analysis of that clip?”

I replied, “I talked too much.”

Other students then began to say that I sometimes spent too much time giving instructions, and others said they would get bored as a result. Kelly pointed out that, yes, I was doing all the work then, and they didn’t have a job for far too long. He emphasized that there were many good elements in the lesson, but that we wanted to be honest to figure out how we could all get better.

After watching the next short clip of small-group activity, students noticed themselves goofing off.

“We were leaning back when the person was reading.”

“Sally was making noise with her pen instead of listening.”

“Most of us didn’t have a pencil in our hand.”

In the final clip, with most most students working, produced an “aha” moment.

Students hadn’t been lectured to about how they needed to act to be serious learners. In the period of a few minutes, they had actually seen video showing themselves when they were serious learners and when they were not.

In low-performing Newark schools, students are helping train teachers, reports the New York Times. Using a federal grant, the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education runs workshops in which students teach mock lessons and talk with teachers about what works and what doesn’t.

Joint student-teacher training is being tried in San Francisco, New York, Connecticut, Indiana and Georgia, the Times reports.

About Joanne


  1. Everhopeful says:

    That sounds like a really productive exercise for everyone.

  2. I strongly disagree with the premise that students must be DOING something visible all the time. Listening to a lucid explanation is the soul of education, pace John Dewey and his acolytes.

  3. wait, the students couldn’t handle 5 minutes of direct instruction? sometimes it takes me 5 minutes to work through an example problem with my AP algebra class. i wouldn’t take that as a sign of poor teaching.

  4. Mark Roulo says:

    Off-topic: What is an AP Algebra class? Can you get college credits for *Algebra*???

  5. georgelarson says:

    Maybe maia means Abstract or Linear Algebra? Do these exist as AP classes?

  6. Mark Roulo says:

    Maybe Abstract or Linear algebra. But neither have an AP test:

    I asked because I don’t know.

    -Mark Roulo

  7. Joanne,

    Thanks for sharing my experience with your readers.

    Just today we did another related lesson and series of activities after students read what I wrote. I’ll be posting it on my blog later tonight. It, too, was a great learning experience for all of us.


  8. Teaching is and should be an exercise in mutual feedback. Video just gives us a chance to review and augment that feedback for both teacher and students, and develop a common code to be able to meta-analyze what’s going on.

    Now this is a useful thing and what real reform can look like.

  9. Yes, this is wonderful stuff. Somebody taught me how to do this (but low tech — no video) early in my career and it has served me extremely well.

    And yes, kids should be doing the work. It’s related to the piece above about testing to learn — they have to struggle with the material to learn it. Don’t steal their struggle.