Using Digital Video in Professional Development
This resource is licenced under an Open Government Licence (OGL).
This article is a slightly edited version of the article produced here http://www.ite.org.uk/ite_topics/identifying_digital_video_clips_of_good_pedagogic_practice/index.html for Initial Teacher Education - English. We have made use of sections of this article across this wiki, in relation to Digital Video and Professional Development, under the OGL licence.
Subject leader, PGCE English and English with Drama Institute of Education
Introduction: a cautionary note (or two)
‘Good pedagogic practice’ is not a stable entity. What counts as good practice is contested, variable, irreducibly situated in a specific context.
Digital video footage does not show anything: it always has to be interpreted. But this is also the case with any other form of classroom observation: the observer never merely observes what is happening, because any act of observation is also an interpretation. The meanings that are attached to classroom observations depend on a number of variables:
- the purposes of the observer;
- the focus of the observation;
- the observer’s knowledge of the contexts of these interactions;
- as well as what happens in the classroom.
Observation provides an opportunity for the observer to render explicit the criteria as well as the values, assumptions and prior experiences that shape and inform the act of observation. Because observation necessarily involves interpretation, different observers will disagree about what they are observing. Student teachers will not see a lesson in the same way that experienced teachers and mentors will see it – and what a student teacher can see will change rapidly during the course of their education.
Identifying Digital Video Clips of Good Pedagogic Practice
Why use digital video footage?
Teachers analyse and reflect on their own practice in order to improve learning and teaching. They seek to improve their practice through professional development including engaging with and contributing to the development of new knowledge and ideas.
In recent years the field of education has been characterised by innovation and change. Teachers use their experience and professional judgement to assess the benefits of adapting their practice through critical analysis of any innovative pedagogy, strategy or theory. In the context of new professionalism teachers find themselves increasingly both developing their skills as coaches and mentors, and benefiting from the coaching and mentoring that they receive.
Within this context, I want to suggest that the use of digital video footage of classroom interaction offers five main benefits:
1.1 It provides a window on other classrooms
As teachers and teacher educators, we are always wrestling with the problem of particularity. We teach and we observe others teaching in very specific contexts – particular schools, particular classrooms, particular classes taught at particular moments of the school day. Digital video provides us with the chance to see inside other people’s classrooms, to learn from others’ practice, to make comparisons about teaching and learning across different sites. (Of course, the window of DV provides a particular perspective on these other classrooms: we don’t get to see everything, and what we do get to see has been framed in particular ways. I will say more about this later.)
1.2 It enables us to review what happens in the classroom
Classroom interaction is evanescent: it happens in time, and then is gone. Digital video gives us a way of capturing the complexity of these myriad interactions as they unfold in any lesson, so that we can observe them again and again. DV footage provides a means for us to check our impressions against the evidence, to confirm or refine our judgements by looking again.
1.3 It brings a multimodal lens to the analysis of teaching and learning
… classrooms are places where communication extends far beyond the modes of spoken and written language; they are multimodal sites, sites where meanings are made through many differing means, and where resources such as gesture, gaze, posture, and the deployment of visual objects are crucially important to meaning-making. … In other words, to understand English in its full dimensions, and to understand the ways in which it creates new kinds of identity for students and teachers, we regarded a multimodal approach as essential
(Kress et al., 2005: 13-14).
In the classroom (as elsewhere), meanings are constructed and negotiated multimodally. Classroom interaction is embodied: how the furniture is arranged and what is displayed on the walls, where and how teachers and students stand or sit, their movements and gestures and facial expressions, as well as what they say and how they say it – all of these resources contribute to the semiotic work that is carried out in a lesson. Digital video enables us to attend to any and all of these modes as they are deployed in the classroom, to consider how each contributes to, or detracts from, or is in tension with, the pedagogic intentions of the lesson.
1.4 It encourages discussion about the criteria used to interpret and to judge
When we carry out classroom observation, we don’t always see the same thing. We can reach different conclusions about what is going on. In real-time, in-the-flesh observation, however, it is rare (and problematic) for more than one or two people to observe the same lesson. Digital video footage enables large numbers of observers to see the same lesson. Hence, in sharing their analyses of what they have seen, the observers are obliged to render explicit what they bring to the act of observation: the assumptions they have made, the values that underpin their judgements, the criteria by which they are operating.
1.5 It can focus attention on the importance of other forms of evidence, other kinds of knowledge
The most productive question to ask of a piece of DV footage is, What else do we need to know to make sense of this? Digital video allows us into other classrooms (though only virtually, and only in the two dimensions of the screen – it cannot place us there, ‘in the round’). And what it cannot provide is a historical perspective – a sense of how the interactions we see are products of the (shared and separate, individual and institutional) histories of the participants.
In Teaching Talking 2 (see below, see also Section 5), we see a Year 8 student make a one-word contribution to a plenary. But the significance of this contribution cannot be understood from the video clip itself. It is the teacher, Kate, who provides the information that Paula, the student, is a newly-arrived beginner bilingual, a Portuguese-speaker who has never before contributed to whole-class talk in her English lesson. Knowing this history, we can begin to appreciate the utterance as an important moment in Paula’s development and as evidence of the effectiveness of the collaborative group work that had preceded the plenary.
2. How to use digital video footage
Some guiding principles:
2.1 A little goes a long way
Footage of what happens in a classroom is rich, dense material. Tiny fragments of lessons are worth analysing in detail. Concentrate on small episodes – generally only a few minutes is plenty.
2.2 A clear focus for the observation
What do you want (student teachers) to look at?
- Classroom management?
- Orchestration of feedback?
- The layout of the room?
- Student interaction?
- Evidence of learning?
2.3 What don’t we know? What can’t we see?
Be explicit about the limitations of our knowledge about the data and about the limitations of the data themselves (see also Section 1.5).
2.4 What issues does this raise for your practice?
What have the student teachers learnt?
- Show the same footage more than once, with a different focus each time
- Provide transcripts of the footage – either before or after showing – or (more arduous but worthwhile) ask student teachers to transcribe a brief episode themselves: suggest that they indicate facial expression, body posture and gesture as well as language, and note the different kinds of contributions made by individual pupils
- Run the footage without sound
- Allocate different foci to different observers, such as:
- selecting a particular pupil to watch during a sequence (so that a group of student teachers would be watching different pupils in a group);
- observing the teacher’s gestures as well as the language used;
- noting the board work/materials used (this would help in the discussion about differentiation);
- noting the questioning – both teacher’s and pupils’…
… and some prompt questions that might help to guide observation
The learning environment of the classroom
- What do you notice about the classroom – about layout, displays, resources?
- What evidence is there in the classroom about learning and the learners, about the subject, about values and relationships?
How does the teacher organise, shape and structure the lesson?
- How does the teacher manage the class?
- How do we know that the lesson has started?
- How does the teacher explain the task(s)?
- What do you notice about the teacher’s and students’ use of language in the opening stages of the lesson?
- How are transitions from one activity to the next signalled and managed?
- Is there any sign of resistance from the students? If so, how does the teacher react?
- How is the lesson brought to an end? Is anything said about future lessons?
Language and learning
- What are the students learning, and how?
- What tells you that work has started – the nature and level of talk, the posture and physical attitudes of students, reading and writing activities?
- What do you notice about the students’ language in different parts of the lesson?
- What is language used for?
- Is the learning the same for all students? If not, how is it different?
- What has the teacher done to make the lesson accessible to all the students?
- What resources assist in the process of differentiation?
- What obstacles are there to participation and understanding?
- Do you notice any differences in the ways in which different students understand and make sense of the lesson?
3. Teachers TV
The channel and website was an unprecedented attempt to exploit the possibilities of the new digital technologies to make accessible to as wide an audience as possible a diverse range of examples of classroom practice.
What can make the resources a little difficult to use is that they are so tightly framed, so heavily mediated. To a very large extent, the programmes are constructed within the conventions of television documentary, so what the classroom footage means is presented to us, the viewers, as a neat package. Each programme explores a clearly defined aspect of curriculum or pedagogy. The evidence provided by closely edited classroom footage is explained to us by expert voices, thereby confirming some meanings and excluding others. This tends to limit the interpretive space of the viewer – and to limit the possibilities of open exploration of the footage by student teachers.
(One possible activity is to ask student teachers to view a programme and to discuss the frame that has been used: what is the point of view of the specific programme? What different contributions do teachers, children and ‘talking heads’ of academics/’experts’ make to the programme?
If student teachers carry out an analytic activity like this they will be more aware of how video programmes are filmed and edited with a specific focus in mind. However, it is worth remembering that framing does not necessarily mean distortion, but a point of view.)
In any case, it is still possible to use these programmes for purposes other than those which are presented in the Teachers TV categorisation of the footage. And there are distinct advantages to looking outside the category of English. For example:
3.1 Messy Art at KS2
Messy Art at KS2 provides opportunities to explore:
- how space is organised in a primary classroom
- how learning is organised in a primary classroom
- the physical resources that are available for learners within the classroom
- the cultural resources that learners bring to the activity
- questions of planning over time
- how and why the teacher intervenes (or does not intervene) in the activities and in the learning
- how agency is distributed in the lesson
- the ways that language is used by teachers and by the pupils:
- How does the male teacher, who has come in to demonstrate how to run a lesson, explain the purposes of the work to the viewer and to the pupils?
- What is noticeable about his use of language? (Consider the use of conditionals and language which suggests possibility rather than certainty…)
- The children give explanations of their work and make some evaluations. These could be useful starting points for discussion about how to create opportunities for explanation and evaluation, particularly as many of these pupils are bilingual.
- There is a very specific issue here about the children’s understanding of the word ‘abstract’. The footage provides powerful evidence of children’s developing understanding of the word and of the concept, of the web of meanings and associations that cluster around the words as their activities enable them to participate in the making of abstract art. Making sense of a term like ‘abstract art’ is shown to be a long-term process: it cannot be achieved by the giving and receiving of a dictionary definition, but the children’s participation in the classroom activities is the route whereby they can begin to grasp something of what ‘abstract’ might mean.
3.2 Gifted and Talented – History – Causal Reasoning: WW1
This video clip presents a mixed-ability Year 9 class grappling with the linguistic and conceptual demands of constructing an argument about the causes of the First World War. The activities and the issues involved in this lesson are familiar territory to English teachers, while the unfamiliar curricular context – the fact that this is a History lesson and not an English one – makes it easier, in some ways, to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the pedagogical interventions that are made in the lesson.
3.3 Changing Teachers - Finland Comes to England – Secondary
This video clip starts with a situation which is both very different from that of a student teacher and also very similar. I would very strongly recommend using this with student teachers because of the unique insights it provides. It helpfully complicates the pictures of classroom management, teacher role and teacher identity that student teachers tend to have at the start of their training.
Maija Flinkman, deputy head and teacher of biology and geography at a secondary school in Finland, visits a south London girls' state comprehensive school to teach science.
We see her difficulties with classroom management and her reflection on these difficulties (as she says, it is hard for her to command attention when she doesn’t know the girls’ names). The classroom footage thus demonstrates very clearly the centrality of relationships to the whole process of teaching.
Equally fascinating is Maija’s reflection on her experiences - reflection that might serve as a model of that which we would encourage in our student teachers: in a lesson on respiration, she expects that what will enthuse the students is the practical activity of dissecting lungs, whereas what catches their attention is her first-hand account of her experience as a diver. (And here, too, all the questions that might be posed in relation to the primary art lesson in Section 3.1 would be equally relevant.)
3.4 KS3/4 Drama – Engaging with a Difficult Text – Dr Faustus
This video clip demonstrates the potential of physical, drama-based activities as ways into complex, demanding literature.
Student teachers could be asked to consider the relationship between secondary English and Drama as school subjects, as it is instantiated in this lesson. Particular foci for discussion might be:
- the contribution that the warm-up activities make;
- the significance of the Drama Studio as a pedagogic space (what difference would it make if this lesson were in a ‘normal’ classroom?);
- evidence of the teacher’s knowledge of the students;
- the teacher’s skill in organising and structuring activities;
- the teacher’s skill in questioning – and in listening to what students say;
- the space for the students to draw on and share their own funds of knowledge (Bedazzled, The Simpsons, etc.) as cultural resources that enable them to engage with Marlowe’s play;
- the opportunities for students to use a wide range of semiotic resources (gesture, movement, sound, expression);
- the learning that is made possible by collaboration among the students;
- how students gain confidence and ownership over the text;
- the ways that peer- and self-assessment are used in the lesson.
4. Literacy in the primary classroom
KS1/2: Literacy and Enjoyment 1
This 15-minute programme provides an example of the CLPE’s (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) Power of Reading project in action. We see Catherine Gdula, a Year 2 teacher at a school in Lewisham, South London, working with her class in a range of literacy activities. Classroom footage is interspersed with the teacher’s reflections and with expert commentary from Olivia O’Sullivan, Assistant Director at CLPE.
What follows is an attempt to itemise what seem to me to be the salient features of the practice that is captured in this programme.
4.1 Reading for understanding and enjoyment
The first – very obvious – point is that there is an insistence on the importance of enjoyment and on the connection between affective and motivational factors and understanding. So the emphasis is on the involvement of children in books and in stories, for intrinsic purposes (the pleasure of the text) as well as extrinsic purposes (raising standards).
This point is made explicit in the voiceover, but it is made more eloquently in what we see – in the engagement of the children in books and in conversations about books. Enjoyment is here seen not as a soft alternative to the standards agenda but as an essential precondition for literacy and learning.
The reading of the text is thus embedded in many different kinds of semiotic work. Children’s classroom experience – their learning – thus becomes coherent; meanings and meaning-making extend over time and across activities.
Vital to this approach is the choice of text: the book has to be a rich enough resource to invite (and reward) the children’s intellectual and emotional engagement with it.
4.3 The power of retelling
Children get to know the story well by retelling it – by making their own versions of the story that they have shared. In this activity, children become makers of multimodal texts, storytellers as well as listeners and readers.
Children’s talk about the images enables them to think about characters’ motivations and feelings, origins and perspectives. The shared text thus becomes a resource that encourages children to draw on all kinds of prior knowledge and experience, to make hypotheses and speculations as well as engaging them in empathetic and imaginative work.
4.5 Reading as performance
The teacher’s reading of the story aloud to the class is presented here as a vital pedagogic intervention. Olivia O’Sullivan describes this process as ‘essential for children to be drawn into a book, to feel enthusiastic about the story, and for all children, whether they can read the book or not, to actually hear the words on the page, read by a teacher who is giving a real tune to the story’. (This point – like much of the pedagogy that is represented in the video footage – is developed in more detail in Barrs and Cork, 2001.)
4.6 A little at a time – and time to talk
Not reading the whole story at one time creates space for the children to assemble and share their knowledge, to make and revise predictions, to inhabit the text imaginatively. Throughout the sequence of activities, we see the crucial role of talk in the development of literacy.
4.7 Inhabiting a role, inhabiting the text
Get them to be that person in the book and it becomes real, it becomes meaningful’ as Catherine Gdula says. What the footage demonstrates, very powerfully, is the developmental potential that is unlocked by imaginative play: drama is a means of entering into the world of the story.
The teacher uses the children’s ideas in such a way that the diary writing is genuinely collaborative – and simultaneously a product of their intellectual/imaginative work and a validation of it.
Similarly, when the children have been working on their own diary entries, the teacher’s reading of the diaries to the class is a celebration of what has been achieved and a way of enhancing the learning that has taken place.
5. The pedagogy of an experienced secondary English teacher
Sabrina Broadbent at Hornsey Girls’ SchoolYear 9 (mixed ability)
Just watching an experienced teacher really helps because you kind of think ‘What can I do with that?’ and apply it to me as a person, me as a teacher; and the tasks that she did or the way she moves around the room – it’s made me think – maybe I should be more vocal or sometimes step back and let them do it; and the pace [of Sabrina’s lesson] is fantastic … I guess it comes with experience
(from Macbeth in the Classroom 2: a Secondary English NQT commenting on watching Sabrina Broadbent in Macbeth in the Classroom 1).
What follows is an attempt to itemise the approaches to Macbeth that Sabrina Broadbent is shown using in Macbeth in the Classroom 1.
In Macbeth in the Classroom 2, a group of newly-qualified English teachers watch Macbeth in the Classroom 1. They identify and comment on the approaches to teaching Shakespeare that they have observed. The list of strategies emerges from the NQTs’ discussion – it is not something that should be presented as a tick-list. It is also important that there is space in this discussion for the new teachers to be critical of the practice they are observing – to say what they would do differently, or not do at all, and to be honest about the activities that would not work in their own classrooms.
First, a cautionary note. Something that needs to be stressed is that what is presented in the programme showing Sabrina with her Year 9 class simply cannot be boiled down to a string of isolable techniques. What happens in the classroom is a product of a set of historically-constituted relationships (how well Sabrina knows the class, how well they know her, the length of their relationship and position of Sabrina as an experienced and established teacher in the school). This is not just an important context in which the lesson takes place; rather, it informs and inflects every interaction by means of which the lesson is conducted and the learning is achieved.
5.1 Quick run through to get the story- using the resources of video (Polanski) as well as the text.
This is not part of the lesson, but it is an essential precondition for the lesson. The detailed work on particular scenes can only happen because students have already acquired a fairly secure sense of the story and the main characters: they know who does what to whom, and so have somewhere to put the more detailed and analytical knowledge that they begin to gain in these lessons.
This is a vital general point: with complex texts, start big and then zoom in.
5.2 Quotes – speaking, knowing and owning the lines
- ‘Key quote’
- ‘I want you to know and own this quote’
- ‘Mutter it to yourself’
- Then (pairs) conversation just using quotes
- Then jabbering without listening – repetition of your own quote
- Then say it out loud (whole class) in a persuasive tone, then in a whisper
- Then shout as if suddenly terrified
What this does is to give students – all students – confidence in handling Shakespearean language. What it also does – simultaneously – is to open up an interpretive space, to suggest that performance matters and is part of the meaning of the play: the lines are not simply on the page, but are there to be spoken, performed and interpreted by actors.
5.3 Quotes: attribution to characters
- ‘If you’re not sure you can check with your partner’ (thereby giving responsibility to students and allowing SB to intervene with individuals who need more support/guidance)
- ‘Is it the kind of thing the witches would have said?’
- Movement/grouping around the room
- Each of the 3 groups says their lines – then SB turns to the group in the middle and says ‘Shall we help you sort out your quotes?’
- Use of idiomatic translation ‘It kind of means ‘whatever’ … I think Macbeth is a very ‘whatever’ kind of bloke…’
- ‘What’s really good about this is that our confusion is really part of the play’
In this activity, students are already drawing on – and hence developing collaboratively – their knowledge of the text, the play …
There are important teaching points here too about misreadings. When do you intervene? When do you not? And what does Sabrina gain by holding off the teacherly intervention?
5.4 Acting out the play (see also Section 1.3)
- Casting – and actors who are reading through at the front.
- ‘Shakespeare is giving you a bit of time to wander onto the stage…’
- ‘Do you see, you got a stage direction from Banquo’s speech?’
From the start, there is an emphasis on staging – not just text, but how the performance creates/communicates meaning – so the question ‘I don’t think the witches are visible to Macbeth and Banquo, are they?’ or ‘What do you think we should advise at this point?’ both directs attention of the students to staging issues and also positions SB and the students as co-constructors of the performance.
It is also worth emphasising that the translation into modern equivalents that occurs in the lesson focuses attention not on the words but on the ideas: a focus on translating the language emphasises what is difficult – and hence tends to solidify the barriers to understanding; translating the ideas into a modern context/contemporary frames of reference, on the other hand, enables students to make sense of the play.
5.5 Pairs of opposites: scanning with a purpose: revisiting the same scene with specific focus
- Hunt for as many pairs of opposites as you can find
- 10 minutes to make a list
- SB says that this is hard: alerts students to the challenge
- Then report-back, SB scribing on board
(SB asks the class then to come up with an overarching explanation: she is self-critical of this – could just have said – ‘This is a play about uncertainty and confusion and good and evil.’)
5.6 Class: speaking and reading text
- Text on OHT
- ‘What we have been trying to dig for is meaning, but there is another place that the meaning sits in and that, strangely enough is the punctuation’
- Class divided into two groups – choral reading – change of readers at punctuation mark.
- Then discussion of the meaning – arouse curiosity by encouraging speculation about psychology – close reading
5.7 Viewing the RSC Macbeth
- Stage production – choice of adaptation (Anthony Sher) to bring out the modernity
There is also the point that the students have now been exposed to two different productions. Again, this foregrounds the issue of interpretation – and helps to ensure that students do not simply identify the play with a single realisation in performance.
7. Do It Yourself!
Digital video cameras are relatively cheap and very easy to use. Editing footage using MovieMaker (PC) or iMovie (Mac) is fairly straightforward.
Some schools are now equipped with observation rooms, complete with built-in cameras and a range of other gadgetry. My very strong advice would be not to use them. The benefits of filming in usual classrooms – the places where teachers and their students are used to having their lessons – far outweigh the disadvantages, particularly when the objective is to provide a record of something that is as close as possible to normal practice. (School students will, of course, behave differently in the presence of a video camera – but it is surprising how little notice they take of it, particularly if it is mounted on a tripod in a corner of the classroom.)
Several years ago, two of my colleagues at the Institute of Education, Anton Franks and Caroline Daly, filmed lessons taught by three of our English PGCE students and one experienced teacher. The DVD which they produced has proved an invaluable resource for us.
We show very short clips – usually the beginnings and endings of the lessons – to our student teachers in one of the sessions before the start of their school placements. Here our focus is on lesson observation and the DV footage is used to develop in our student teachers the skills of focused observation. Before showing the footage, we ask the student teachers to read transcripts of the first few minutes of each lesson and talk about the transcript as evidence of what was happening in the lesson. Then we show the clips and engage students in discussion about what they have observed.
A few weeks later, when the student teachers are just starting to make their first tentative steps towards teaching whole classes, we return to the DVD. This time our focus is on classroom management and on language. We generally show the last few minutes of the lessons, again as a way of generating discussion among the student teachers. We show the same sections twice, the first time concentrating on the language that is used and the second time looking at classroom management.
For one of the lessons that had been filmed, we provide our student teachers with a copy of the lesson plan and invite them to compare the plan with the lesson that they have observed. We direct their attention towards the objectives that had been made explicit in the plan and ask them to consider to what extent these objectives would appear to have been realised in the lesson.
There are specific advantages for student teachers in having the opportunity to observe the practice of other student teachers.
8. Students are doing it for themselves!
The website of Parkside Community College, the first Media Arts Specialist School in the UK, with examples of the potential of new digital technologies to enhance learning in English (and elsewhere in the curriculum).
The homepage of the City Voices, City Visions project, a partnership in New York State between the University at Buffalo and the Buffalo Public Schools, aimed at developing innovative approaches using digital video arts and communication technologies in mainstream classrooms.
9. Reference and further reading
BARRS, Myra, & CORK, Valerie (2001) The Reader in the Writer: the links between the study of literature and writing development at Key Stage 2, London: CLPE
BOURNE, Jill, & JEWITT, Carey (2003) Orchestrating debate: a multimodal analysis of classroom interaction. Reading literacy and language, 64–72.
BURN, Andrew, & DURRAN, James (2007) Media Literacy in Schools: Practice, Production and Progression, London, SAGE/Paul Chapman.
FRANKS, Anton (2003) Palmers' Kiss: Shakespeare, School Drama and Semiotics, in JEWITT, Carey, & KRESS, Gunther (eds.) Multimodal Literacy. New York, Peter Lang.
HEATH, Christian, & HINDMARSH, Jan (2002) Analysing Interaction: Video, ethnography and situated conduct, in MAY, T. (ed.) Qualitative Research in Action. London, SAGE.
JEWITT, Carey, & KRESS, Gunther (2003) A multimodal approach to research in education, in GOODMAN, S., et al (eds.) Language, Literacy and Education: A Reader. Stoke on Trent, Trentham/Open University.
KRESS, Gunther, et al. (2005) English in urban classrooms : a multimodal perspective on teaching and learning, London, RoutledgeFalmer.
KRESS, Gunther, & VAN LEEUWEN, Theo (2001) Multimodal Discourse: the modes and media of contemporary communication, London, Arnold.
TRAINING and DEVELOPMENT AGENCY (2007) Professional Standards for Qualified Teacher Status and Requirements for Initial teacher Training, London: TDA