Mom, Can You Pleeeease Record Me?

7-ways-to-use-video-infographic-final

This post was originally published in @PeterMDeWitt’s blog Finding Common Ground in Education Week.

Today’s guest post is written by frequent Finding Common Ground blogger Lisa Westman. Lisa is an instructional coach specializing in differentiation for Skokie School District 73.5 in suburban Chicago. She taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS for twelve years before becoming a coach.

Making slime from scratch (a combination of Elmer’s glue, Borax, water, and food coloring) is the latest craze amongst school-aged children. This trend is so popular that many stores have completely sold out of Elmer’s glue.

My 8-year old daughter has jumped on the slime bandwagon, and I must admit, this fad is not my favorite (the slime is messy, smelly, and I am constantly searching for more glue).  Additionally, my daughter has “hired” me as her personal videographer, and contracted me to film her slime-making process. But, sassiness aside, there is a silver lining in all of this slimy mess, which is the insight I have gained about kids today:

  1. Children will record anything and everything. Then, they will watch their recordings over and over again.

  2. Children today are accustomed to seeking (and applying) honest, actionable feedback. (Watch the end of my daughter’s video to see what I mean).

  3. Educators are grossly underutilizing the potential of video recordings.

The Power Of Video
I am currently participating in a year-long intensive instructional coaching institute led by Jim Knight of the Instructional Coaching Group.

At our last session, we concentrated on the content of Knight’s book, Focus on Teaching which discusses the many advantageous applications of video as a professional learning tool.

As an instructional coach, I have been quite impressed with the significant impact video has on learning. In Focus on Teaching, Knight explains one reason why video is so powerful:

“– professionals often do not have a clear picture of what it looks like when they do their work….they (many teachers) do not know what it looks like when they teach until they saw the video. And because they are unaware of what it looks like when they teach, they often do not feel the need to change. They might be open to trying new practices, but they don’t feel compelled to change.”

Every time a teacher chooses to use video in a coaching cycle, Knight’s observation rings true. Without exception, after watching videos of themselves, teachers are surprised by what they see. They either recognize tendencies they were completely unaware of and are propelled to take action, or they are pleasantly surprised with the footage as their impression of themselves was too harsh (I call this teaching dysmorphia).  Either way, in my experience, coaching cycles that utilize video are more successful than those that do not (as evidenced by data pertaining to the cycle’s goal).

Could Video Have The Same Effect With Our Students?
Knight’s workshop got me thinking about our students and their perceptions. If adults don’t have an accurate view of their teaching, how can we conclude our students have a clear sense of their learning? If video has such a powerful effect on the likelihood of teacher goal achievement, couldn’t the same process work with students?

According to the National Education Technology Plan Update released by The US Department of Education in January 2017, assessing and documenting the growth of students’ non-cognitive competencies (also referred to as social and emotional learning which includes a wide-range of skills) is as important as assessing and documenting students’ academic progress.

The plan reports some small advances in data collection and curricula addressing social- emotional learning, but stresses there is still a profound need for more reliable and relevant tools (both the learning and data collection pieces).

But, How?
Video learning is one way to address this deficit. As stated, just as a teacher may have a blindspot in their practice, chances are students do not have an accurate picture of their performance either. Video can help illustrate this.

Keeping in mind our students organically record much of what they do, and video is a proven effective learning tool (for adults), educators can capitalize on this set of circumstances to better meet our students’ social-emotional learning needs.

At first, it may seem a bit overwhelming to add something “new” to our repertoire, but as with most things, over time the process becomes less intimidating as the kinks are worked out, and success is experienced.  Also, it helps to keep in mind that while new tools (in this case using video) may be new to us, they are not new to our students. There is no shame in tapping into our students’ knowledge of video to help us with the logistics as outlined below:

Video Logistics

  1. Use any device with video recording capabilities. You can use multiple devices simultaneously.
  2. Set the devices up in the location(s) you wish to record (whole class, small group, individual student desks).
  3. Store videos in an accessible, but not public location (Google Drive, Flash Drive, YouTube listed as a private).

Learning Logistics

  1. Student(s) record themselves for a predetermined portion of a lesson which is likely to garner the best evidence.
  2. Teacher and student(s) confer to identify the skill they want focus on (i.e. appropriate communication with peers).
  3. Teacher and student(s) co-create a list of look-fors for the skill to be observed (i.e. ineffective vs. effective communication of ideas) and cite examples of each criterion:”you are wrong” vs. “I see things a different way. Let me explain.”
  4. Teacher and student(s) co-create a data collection tool or rubric which specifies look-fors. The simpler, the better, tally systems work very nicely.
  5. Student(s) and teacher watch the videos and collect data (separately).
  6. Teacher and student review their findings and set a reasonable, quantifiable goal (i.e. ratio of effective to ineffective comments is 3-1).
  7. Any differences in understanding could be discussed further by reviewing parts of the video together and comparing examples to the rubric.
  8. The teacher and student(s) determine an action plan which includes a learning piece.
  9. After a predetermined interval of learning, the teacher and student(s) repeat the process and determine next steps (adjust action plan to continue to work toward goal or determine the goal is met and set a new goal).

An additional bonus of having students use video to self-assess their non-cognitive competencies is they have additional opportunities to interact with the content of lesson when they watch their recordings.

This model does not have to be used with all students at the same time, nor do all students need to have the same look-fors/data collection tools. This method can be differentiated to meet the social-emotional learning needs of individual students just as we differentiate for students’ academic needs.

Non-cognitive competencies are only one example how video can be used in our classrooms. Check out this post’s accompanying infographic for other suggestions, and please share ways you have used video with your students so we can learn from each other.

Questions about this post? Connect with Lisa on Twitter.

Check Your “Selfie” Advice From a 58-Year Veteran Teacher

tom-obrien-post-image-finalThis post was originally published in @PeterMDeWitt’s blog Finding Common Ground in Education Week.

Today’s guest post is written by frequent Finding Common Ground blogger Lisa Westman. Lisa is an instructional coach specializing in differentiation for Skokie School District 73.5 in suburban Chicago. She taught middle school gifted humanities, ELA, and SS for twelve years before becoming a coach.

 Take a minute and think about where you were when:
1)  JFK was shot

2)  The Challenger Space Shuttle exploded

3)  The Twin Towers were destroyed on 9/11

My answers are:
1) 14 years before I was born

2) A student in third grade

3) One month into my first year of teaching

However, my colleague and friend, Tom O’Brien’s answers are all the same; he was in his classroom, teaching. And, Tom is still teaching. In fact, this school year marks Tom’s 58th year as a middle school teacher.

With close to 60 years of experience, Mr. O’Brien is quite familiar with teaching during times of uncertainty. He understands the intricacy of meeting students’ needs and strives to strike the delicate balance of giving students enough objective information, so they feel safe, but not too much information to cause them fear.

In the days since President Trump’s election and inauguration, Mr. O’Brien has had the opportunity to put his skills to the test as he determines the best way to field questions and concerns from students about the current state of our nation.

A Serendipitous Encounter
Last year, I had the privilege of joining Mr. O’Brien on the last day of school when he met his incoming 8th graders and explained the foundation of his class:

“History is not about memorizing facts. This class is not about me telling you what you need to know. History is about learning from our past. This class is about empowerment. Remember, dates change. People don’t. Make connections, own your learning.”

Lately, this quote has weighed heavily on my mind as I have been struggling to focus on anything other than historical connections. And, the links I am making are frightening.

It has been easy for me to place blame on certain individuals and groups of people whose views, in my opinion, threaten to “ruin” our country.  It has also been very easy for me to confirm my biases. Contrarily, it has not been easy for me to see anyone else’s point of view.

But, I have come to I realize that my feelings are counterproductive. I am perpetuating a divide that is tearing our country in half.  And, while I want to look at the bright side, I am struggling to find one.

In an effort to feel better about our country’s future, I had lunch with Tom with the hope of tapping into his wealth of historical knowledge. During lunch, I rattled off the list of terrifying historical parallels that keep coming to mind (i.e. Japanese Internment Camps, The Holocaust, McCarthyism) and I asked (ok, begged) Tom to share a historical similarity that was promising. What has happened in history that tells us everything will be ok?

What did I learn?
As cliche as it may be, history does repeat itself. But, if we aren’t looking carefully we may not see the reasons why.

I learned there are similarities between society today and civilizations as far back as Ancient Greece. And, more important than the likenesses are the lessons. Specifically, Tom reflected on the difference between The Persian Wars (The Greeks vs. Persia 492-449 BC) and The Peloponnesian War (Athens vs. Sparta 431-404 BC).

During the Persian Wars, Greece was successful in defeating Persia in large part because Athens and Sparta put their differences aside and joined forces. However, shortly after their victory, Athens and Sparta engaged in a series of brutal civil wars known as the Peloponnesian Wars, which stemmed from conflicting political views and contrasting value systems. These internecine battles ultimately led to the implosion of the Greek civilization.

The most notable difference between The Persian Wars and The Peloponnesian Wars was the focus. During The Persian Wars, Greeks’ priority was freedom for Greek citizens regardless of where they were from, and during the Peloponnesian Wars, the focus shifted to what was best for individual city-states with blatant disregard for the common good.

Tom presented me with these two “stories,” and left me to form my own connections. After a few minutes of thinking, I asked Tom if he was trying to tell me that people today are more concerned with self-interests than the interests of others.  Tom answered my question with another question:

Is “The Selfie” A Metaphor For Today’s Culture?
This question gave me the chills. I immediately thought of a disturbing viral video which recently appeared in my Facebook feed called Holocaust + Selfie Culture = ‘Yolocaust’  and, I started to wonder if as a society we are so hyperfocused on ourselves that we are missing the mark on the most formidable threat to our country. Perhaps, our most pressing issue isn’t what our government is doing wrong, but what as a society have we done to allow it to take place?

We Must Come Together and We Can Start In The Classroom
During our lunch, Tom reminded me that an educator’s job is to help students process their thoughts, not to tell them how to think.

He remarked that over the past 58 years students have not changed much. Middle school students still experience the same trials and tribulations of entering adulthood. They still feel the pressures of the world around them. But, with that being said, his students’ reaction to the election has been the strongest he has ever seen.

Students’ heightened responses are likely due to the increased availability and accessibility of information. However, another observation Tom shared forced me to think more deeply about our students’ reactions.

Tom explained that when JFK was assassinated, students were justifiably distraught. They had many questions, with the most common question being, “what is going to happen to JFK’s children?”  Since the election and inauguration of President Trump, the question most frequently asked is, “what is going to happen to me?”

Students, especially students who attend a school with over 70 nationalities represented, have legitimate cause for concern for themselves. Teachers have legitimate concerns for themselves, as well. But, the key is to have that same concern for everyone, including the people on the “other side.”

As educators, we are obligated to present our students with unbiased evidence. Therefore, we have the unique opportunity to help our students find answers to questions about themselves while encouraging them to ask questions about others. By fulfilling this obligation, we promote perspective taking and induce dialogue about shared responsibility for creating a system of values that best describes our society as a whole.

Mr. O’Brien believes educators can accomplish this task by focusing on 4 Cs. And, he is not referring to the 4 Cs of 21st century learning. He is referencing the 4 Cs  of humanity: civility, citizenship, connection, and compassion.

Questions about this post? Connect with Lisa on Twitter.