November 11, 2015

How do you reflect on your craft?

Page 3 by Epershandrea on Flickr

Page 3 by Epershandrea on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When I paint or draw or work on some sewing, it is easy to lose myself in the details. I can spend hours – days! – on a small corner of an art project. Many more times than once, I have had to paint over or rip out stitches from that small corner because it just didn’t fit with the bigger picture. Each time, I am reminded of the importance of stepping back on a regular basis to make sure the details support the project as a whole.

That is why I call teaching a craft – the same process applies. Sometimes I can be so intent on teaching a specific concept or skill that I lose focus on the big picture. In fact, it happened the other day: I was working with some teachers, doing some professional development around the idea of using stations in adult ed. Usually when I work with teachers, I feel a sense of flow but…not that day. I had tried to fit in a specific activity that I really liked but it just wasn’t right for the kind of work we were doing and the afternoon ended up feeling … disjointed. More tragically, I felt I had wasted the teachers’ time.

Luckily, I had facilitated the afternoon with a colleague and we were able to de-brief right away as the session ended. The centre’s pedagogical consultant participated in the afternoon session and she gave us some immediate feedback as well.

Like I wrote, we were fortunate in that we were able to receive immediate feedback and reflect together. But what about the teacher who is alone in the classroom? How can you reflect on your craft?

Sure, there is lesson planning but I know that what is planned is not always what actually happens when I am live with students! And classroom time always goes by so quickly – how are we able to capture and reflect what actually happens with students in a classroom?

As a student teacher 20 years ago, my advising teacher used to videotape me from the back of the classroom. Some of my richest learning as a student-teacher happened while viewing those videos. I had no idea that I put my hand in front of my mouth each time I spoke! Seeing it happen and hearing my muffled voice was a much more concrete lesson for me and my teaching than if she had written me a note on my evaluation.

A few weeks ago I shared Daniel’s story about why he records his lessons. In that video, he talks about how the recordings help his students to be more successful in his math courses. That was the first reason why he records, the second reason is as a tool for reflecting on his own practice, his own craft of teaching.

Hear it in his own words:

Daniel’s video is part of a new PD Mosaic tile called Reflective Practice: Using Video to Improve Teaching.

Posted in: Blended Learning, PD
October 14, 2015

Why Daniel records his math lessons

Teacher voices are incredibly powerful.

They are powerful for me because they teach me how I can best support them.

They are powerful for each other because they can support each other in this extraordinarily complex and important profession that can often feel so lonely.

They are powerful for their students because it is their teacher’s voice, their teachers’ voices, that are their prime models for learning – their anchors in learning.

And this is why Daniel records his math lessons. As he explains in this video, he records himself every day so that his students can have access to his lessons when they are ready for them – at their pace. Sometimes it is during class time when he explains things live … but sometimes it isn’t and that is ok. By recording his lessons and posting them online, he can model learning to his students wherever they are in the learning process without having to do much more than press record when he starts speaking. No extra prep, no circus sideshows with apps that do or do not need wifi or login credentials or fancy devices. As he concludes in the video:

It assures the students that, you know what? If I don’t get it now, it’s ok! I don’t have to beat myself up about it right now. I can always go back later and then learn this thing.

And if this weren’t enough, it is only one of the areas where teachers voices hold power.

It was through feedback sessions with teachers that I learned of the need for videos like Daniel’s. Last spring, my colleague, Avi Spector, and I went to an adult education centre to present something that the teachers ended up absolutely hating but that particular afternoon became incredibly valuable to me (to both of us, I think). Why? Because some of the teachers let us know that they hated it (beyond just falling asleep in the back of the room) and let us know what they needed from us. They said, you know what would be valuable to us? Concrete examples of good teacher practice going on in Quebec Adult Education Centres. Some might think that flop of an afternoon PD session was a disaster but it changed the course of how I support the educators I work for. This is the power of teacher voice for me and I am hopeful that videos such as Daniel’s story above (and Julie and Michelle’s story, here) hold proof of the power of teacher voice for each other.

(If you are interested in Daniel’s approach, a good place to start to learn more about it is on this PD Mosaic tile about Blended Learning.

If you know a teacher who is doing something great in their classroom with technology or if you are doing something interesting yourself – please let me know about it so we can share even more stories. Find me @tracyrosen on Twitter)