By Pam McKeta
Every two weeks while she was student-teaching, Summer Haury took out her iPhone and propped it on a desk, preparing to film herself in front of a class of squirmy sixth graders.
This is a regular assignment for the teacher preparation program she enrolled in as a graduate student at George Mason University. Once she uploaded the three- to five-minute video clip, Haury’s professor watched it and added time-synched comments and questions. Haury then discussed the digital notes with both her professor and her mentor teacher at the elementary school where she completed her internship before graduating in summer 2014.
This video-based observation and coaching allows aspiring teachers to watch, reflect and adjust their teaching performance for the next time.
It’s an innovative approach now in its second year at the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason, one of the first education schools in the Washington, D.C., region to make use of a new, cloud-based technology called Edthena. The secure platform facilitates a coaching approach for teachers that is regularly used with athletes, musicians and others for whom technique is critical to success.
Student-teachers are asked to record themselves as they incorporate a particular teaching method, such as conducting read-aloud mini-lessons with second graders to model comprehension strategies.
“It gives us a rich basis with which to collaboratively discuss with the teacher candidates what we observe, almost in a play-by-play manner,” said Mason education professor Seth Parsons.
“We can revisit precise teaching moments and ask questions such as ‘What was your intention in doing this here?’ By highlighting moments in the video, the teacher candidates gain a deep learning experience that’s a bridge between their course work and field experience.”
The annotated videos are a touchpoint for discussing many aspects of good teaching, from instructional quality to classroom management to student engagement. The videos allow graduate students to consider how their teaching “moves” impact individual pupils and the classroom as a whole.
“I was able to see simple things, like my tendency to stand on the left side of the room more than the right, and complex things, like my preference for asking too many follow-up questions without enough wait time,” said Laurel Taylor, a mentor teacher who works with teacher candidates in the college’s Secondary Education Program. Taylor videotaped herself first so she would be better prepared in mentoring the teacher candidates.
The video approach works well for students who have grown up with YouTube, social media sharing and commenting, Parsons said.
Even so, it’s not an easy thing to see and hear yourself on video in a professional setting for the first time.
“There’s definitely an initial period of anxiety among the students about videotaping themselves,” said Associate Professor Audra Parker, the academic program coordinator for the Elementary Education Program. Parker spearheaded the video coaching approach at Mason.
To ease anxiety, graduate students start off by videotaping themselves giving a two-minute tour of their student-teaching classroom.
“Any initial apprehension quickly fades away once they see the value of video in their professional development,” said Parker. “Soon the students notice things about how they are teaching or about a child’s behavior that they were not aware of before.”
Video coaching in teacher preparation was first piloted at Mason in spring 2014 by the elementary education master’s degree program and also by the secondary English education master’s degree program led by professor Kristien Zenkov. The next year, video coaching was fully adopted by the programs.
“We actually went from zero use of video to pretty consistent use across courses and field experiences, all in the span of a year,” said Parker.
Mason’s experience in implementing the Edthena tool is chronicled in a recently published book chapter, “Exploring the Use of Video Coding in Literacy and English Teacher Preparation,” included in the book series “Literacy Research, Practice and Evaluation.”