In praise of video self-analysis

I had been delaying it, putting it off, avoiding it and making excuses but the time had finally come…it was time to film myself teaching.

I made a private resolution at the start of the school year that before the half term was out I would film and watch myself teaching. There was only one rule- the filming had to be as ‘no notice’ (or as ‘no-notice as it is possible to be when filming oneself) in order to capture an authentic lesson.

Come the last week of the half term, I still hadn’t taken the plung myself so right before the penultimate lesson on Friday (year 9, four operations with standard form) I grabbed my iPad, propped it up against a set of textbooks and set it filming.

The results were…not as cringe inducing as expected. On the contrary, they were (quite) reassuring. It didn’t set the world ablaze with it’s cutting edge teaching and learning techniques or whizz-bang resources but it was a ‘tight’

lesson with great learning gains for almost all of the students. After the inevitable discomfort that comes with hearing one’s own recorded voice which subsided after the first five minutes I was pretty pleased with what I saw. As someone who has observed a fair few lessons in my time, I was relieved that my ‘bog standard’ lesson without all the out of the ordinary ‘oofle dust’ that (some) people put into their observations was reassuringly ‘solid’.

However, the tape doesn’t lie and did pick up on a few things that I should definitely work on which I don’t think would have been picked up on by an external observer. The inevitable self-consciousness and tendency to be self-critical that inevitably comes with watching oneself worked in my favour. I was that bit ‘harsher’ than some observers might be and thus picked up on things that might have been unchecked by others.

Habits and Body Language- This was the real eye-opener and it is something that no amount of introspection and reflection was likely to identify and something that hasn’t been commented on by those observing my lessons. On more than one occasion when explaining a particularly difficult concept to students I made a strange movement with my hands (picture the ‘whole thing’ gesture from charades but with your elbows touching your sides). Whilst not an issue in itself, I imagine that I would have picked up on this were I was one of the students I teach (and I probably would had a good laugh about it to boot) so it is worth eliminating. I also have a particularly annoying habit of throwing pens up and catch them when circulating the room. This didn’t look particularly professional and I wouldn’t stand for my students doing it. Again this isn’t something that either myself or others have been identified as an aspect of my practice that I should improve.

Choosing Students-I rarely allow hands up when answering questions and instead choose students and differentiate my questioning accordingly. However, I noticed that I seemed to have three or four ‘go to’ students from across the ability range that I called upon more than the others. So much so that when watching the video a week later I was quickly able to predict fairly accurately the students that I was going to call upon after I heard the question I was asking. Whilst an external observer may have noted and perhaps praised the fact that I was moving the questioning around the room to include a range of students, my knowledge of the class and students showed that this wasn’t as inclusive as first appeared.

Video analysis isn’t a complete solution for developing one’s practice and has it’s downsides. Notably, my video analysis was time consuming-I watched a few minutes of video at 10 minute intervals throughout the lesson and made a few notes but this was still a process that took over half as long as the lesson itself. I’d be really interested to hear how others have analysed videos of themselves teaching. However, it was definitely worthwhile and is something I will do again.

I know that many schools use IRIS Connect and other similar systems which I’m sure are great and even include the teacher being ‘miked up’ and technology to ‘follow’ the teacher around the room. However, I managed with an iPad propped against a stack of textbooks. Given the near-ubiquity of tablets (and indeed textbooks) it shouldn’t be too hard to beg or borrow one. Probably best to avoid stealing however.

Take control of your own development and try filming yourself teaching a lesson. You don’t need to share the results or even tell anyone else about it. If my experience is anything to go by, you will notice things that you might never have, it will improve your practice and it might even be reassuring.

Perhaps, like me, the video will even remind you to stay clean shaven unless you are capable of growing designer stubble or an impressive beard!

Comments welcome either here or @NWMaths.


Micro Plenaries

Just a quick post on something I have been trying to reincorporate into my teaching over the past few weeks after really focusing on it last year- ‘micro plenaries’. I first saw this idea on the impressive ‘but is it on the test?’ blog- worth reading for a detailed account of this and a range of other maths-related teaching and learning ideas. The concept is a scaled down, individualised version of the sort of plenary one might have at the end of a lesson. After each interaction with an individual student, ask them a short plenary question to help ensure that the processes used are explicit and thus their work becomes more meaningful. The most common questions I ask are ‘what was the key step in this question’, ‘what was the way into this question’ and ‘can you summarise what you did to answer this question’. However, there is a huge range of questions that are likely to be just as, if not more, effective.

It takes some practice to remember to incorporate this into part of one’s normal questioning, especially if this takes place whilst circulating the room where the temptation is often to quickly attend to other students or gauge the ‘feel’ of the class after interacting with an individual. However, in my experience it is well worth sticking with and has a real impact in helping the student become more aware of the cognitive processes they are using.