Thinking about how to up the game for classroom observations? Check out this interview with Edthena founder and CEO Adam Geller.
The following is an interview by Larry Jacobs with Adam Geller, CEO of Edthena and author of Evidence of Practice: Playbook for Video-Powered Professional Learning. Some of the questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Listen to the full interview using the audio player below:
What’s the story behind the title of the book Evidence of Practice?
Evidence of practice is a phrase that’s sometimes used in the academic literature. But for me, it is actually the antithesis of another phrase which I heard from a friend and advisor to Edthena, Deborah Ball. She’s a well-known researcher; she just retired as dean from the University of Michigan School of Education.
She shared a story with me about two teacher candidates. The first teacher said her lesson went perfectly, but after she looked at the video it was clear that the students didn’t understand the content, and the teacher had totally misevaluated her own lesson.
The second teacher candidate came back to Deborah reporting that her lesson had gone terribly. Deborah took a look at the video, and it revealed that the students actually had learned the topic, and that they were engaging with the material in a completely different way from what the teacher had taken away from the situation.
And without the video, the help and support Deborah would have provided would have depended upon the teacher’s recollection of the lesson. So without video, we’re relying on an anecdote of practice, but with the video we have evidence of practice.
That interaction highlighted for me the power of that phrase. Nothing is a true equal to having video of the teaching. You’re not relying on someone’s memory or an interpretation of data sources. It’s not a coach trying to tell a teacher what happened or convince them. It is just the 100% pure record of what happened, that evidence of the teaching.
How can we make video in the classroom low stakes?
The real secret to having teachers become comfortable with the use of video is establishing a culture of trust around how that video is going to be used. If a teacher is concerned about the repercussions of sharing a video because they fear that the video will be used against them for evaluation, then that teacher won’t trust the process. Teachers must feel safe sharing videos, knowing that even if they reveal places where they need improvement, it won’t be used against them.
Why is important for teachers to choose their own videos?
I sometimes hear people ask a different version of this question, which is, “What’s going to happen if the teachers watch their videos and pick the best ones to share?” And what I believe is that the big goal here is to have teachers become self-reflective practitioners. So if teachers are watching their videos, analyzing them, and determining which ones are the best, then that’s a great thing for improving their practice. That’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked: the action of reviewing your own practice is what we’re aiming for here.
There’s actually research that supports teachers picking their own videos to be representative of their teaching. A study focused on evaluation was conducted by the Harvard Center for Education Policy Research. The takeaway is that when teachers pick their own videos, it’s not changing the quality of teaching that you’re able to observe.
What’s the purpose of the “five focusing techniques for analyzing video” that you share in the book?
The value of having these focusing techniques is similar to the value of the five-step lesson plan often used by schools: having a vocabulary to define distinct phases–intro, guided practice, independent practice–is helpful for talking about a lesson. In the same way, the five focusing techniques are used to talk about video. It’s not enough to have a recorded piece of a lesson and start watching, and just kind of react–do a hot take, as some might say. Sure, you might get some value from it, but you’re going to get more value with a focused effort.
How does this translate into the usage of the focusing techniques with classroom video?
Spot is the technique of noticing a certain aspect of the video as important. The example that I sometimes share is the placement of the homework folder in the classroom. If we are talking about classroom management and procedures as part of our conversation about your lesson, then the placement of the homework folder is very important and is something that we should spot because maybe it’s causing friction.
But if we’re talking about culturally responsive teaching that incorporates the backgrounds of your students into the material that you’re presenting, well, suddenly spotting the homework in a certain place is not important. Being able to distinguish important information is a skill that can be built and practiced, so that’s why we try and name it.
Let’s put that in contrast to breakdown.
Breakdown is the technique where you see a particular classroom event or pedagogical move and break it down into the component parts. So, maybe you might say, “I see the teacher circulating.” In breakdown you might say, “Ah-ha, here are the three actions the teacher’s taking to calm the unrest in that back corner of the room: She has moved to that corner and circulated. When the student continues the misbehavior, she puts a finger on the shoulder of the student to make her presence known. When the behavior continues the teacher then–the third piece–provides a quiet verbal redirection.”
Being able to break it down and see the component parts is a helpful skill for understanding what went right or wrong in any particular classroom event.