According to dozens of studies conducted over the last four decades, videotaping instruction and providing feedback offers many benefits to classroom professionals, such as improving their ability to identify mistakes that went unnoticed during actual teaching, as well as enhancing “self-evaluative” skills and decision making. However, teachers’ growth remains insignificant unless video observation is accompanied by ongoing, supportive, and professional conversations with a colleague or supervisor, according to several studies reviewed in Joel K. Brame’s 2004 dissertation on the topic.
Effective vs. Ineffective Feedback
Feedback is information that helps individuals determine how close they are to meeting specific goals. In her 2008 study, Valerie Shute noted that effective feedback is like a good murder. It requires motive (the individual needs it), opportunity (it’s received quickly enough to use), and means (the individual is motivated and able to use it).
In general, peers and supervisors should avoid feedback after videotaped performances that…
- Neglects to mention specific points in the video where the teacher can watch effective instances of teaching
- Focuses on person instead of performance (“You’re a really great teacher.”)
- Offers generic praise (“Keep up the good work!”)
- Doesn’t relate to an agreed-upon criteria for student learning
- Overwhelms the teacher with too much information
- Doesn’t allow time for the observed teacher to ask clarifying questions
Identification of weaknesses is a necessary component of growth. However, take care not to overwhelm the teacher, instructional coach Brian Clearly cautions. “What is not constructive is destructive.”
A 3-Stage Model for Using Video
A popular protocol for coaching teachers with video includes these three stages:
Several days before observing and recording a lesson, coaches, administrators, or peer observers should meet with the teacher to identify the lesson goals and agree upon the criteria for success. Valdosta State University’s Guidebook for Peer Evaluation and Harvard’s Coaching Conversation Planning Guide recommend pre-conference descriptions of:
- The lesson
- The previous and subsequent lesson
- How you’ll determine that learning has occurred
- Noteworthy characteristics of the students or classroom environment
- Activities and strategies that you’ll use
- Anticipated obstacles and how you’ll overcome them
- Recording, Note Taking, and Viewing the Video
Find an unobtrusive location in the classroom to set up video equipment. Although recommended equipment provides better results, recording with a tablet device will suffice. Whether you’re observing your own lesson or you’re a coach, make time-stamped notes descriptive, not interpretive. Before stage 3, the teacher should watch the video and take notes. Harvard’s Best Foot Forward study cautions against a number of observation mistakes, such as excessive self-criticism.
Hold a conference after the teacher watches the video, keeping the teacher’s goals in the forefront of the conversation. Discussion points for the debriefing session include:
- While observing the video, what did the teacher learn that she or he didn’t realize while teaching?
- Were learning goals (or rubric criteria) met? Provide evidence.
- Is there a specific part of the video that you both should rewatch together?
Based on the debriefing insights, collaboratively write an action plan specifying new goals and identifying how the teacher will document progress. Also discuss resources to support improvement.
Evaluations and Checklists
A number of teacher performance evaluation tools can support the feedback process.
- The Tripod Survey reliably predicts student achievement gains, according to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
- The Insight Core Framework is specifically aligned to the College- and Career-Ready Standards.
- Vanderbilt University’s My Student Survey shows a correlation between high ratings and achievement.
- Deborah Ball’s 20 “high-leverage practices” apply to all grades and subjects.
- Following Marzano’s Causal Teacher Evaluation Model or scaled Classroom Observation Form typically increases student achievement by “16 percentile points.”
- Other exemplary evaluation instruments: Florida’s Teacher Evaluation System Causal Teacher Evaluation Model; the University of Minnesota’s Classroom Teaching Scaled Observation Form (Appendix I); and The University of Sheffield’s Semi-Structured Observation Guide.
With advances in videotaping and the science of feedback, every teacher can now view their classroom interactions like scientists and find inspiration to narrow the gap between their current performance and highest aspiration.