At one of the conferences I spoke at last week there was some discussion of the idea of teachers filming their own lessons in order to inform their professional development, an idea I have come across before, and tried a few times myself.
The speaker suggesting this described the reaction of most people he had worked with who had tried this out as ‘OH. MY. GOD.’. The expression of surprise, it was suggested, was due to the amount of things which the teacher noticed happening on video that they were totally unaware of when the lesson was actually taking place.
This was described to be because as a teacher, one is constantly interacting face to face with pupils, and is so caught up with the constant attention this requires that much of the activity in the classroom goes unnoticed.
As teachers we seem to have this constant pressure on ourselves that we must be involved in this constant interaction. It is as if we are not doing our jobs properly unless we are constantly engaging with or structuring pupil’s learning experiences. It is almost a guilt driven thing, I suspect possibly based around the negative connotations of the image of a teacher sitting at their desk marking whilst the class gets on with their work un-challenged. One of the first things I remember from my own training is a lecturer telling us that we should always plan to have a ‘focus group’ for every lesson, who we should intensely engage with to move their learning forward.
Obviously the teacher marking oblivious to the learning taking place is something that should remain in the 20th century, but I can’t help but feel that by constantly guilting ourselves into engaging in this way we are missing an awful lot. Sometimes observing is far more powerful.
Rather than bombard a child with questions to ascertain where their learning is at, why not just watch, carefully consider, and then ask the one question that they need to really guide their thinking forward.
This idea of observation is something that is very strong in the practice of those educating very young children, but it seems to be sadly lacking most of the time for those of us educating older children and young people. Early Years practitioners know that they need to observe what children can do, and how they interact, unaided before they can even begin to think about intervening in their learning. Teachers of older children seem to be more interested in evaluating the learning after the event through testing or marking. This might show you the finished product, but it often tells you little about the process.
Take a creative writing exercise for instance, how long did the child think about that sentence before they wrote it? Which parts of the piece flowed quickly, which did they labour over? When they were stuck for ideas did they turn to a friend, or look around the room for inspiration? Did they actually use all those ‘reminder’ displays you toiled over the laminator to produce? If you only look at the finished product rather than observing the process you can never know…
Next week, in your classroom, why not take some time in a lesson to ‘just’ watch. Put aside the feeling of guilt and you might just see some very interesting things.