Pre-service teachers can learn to create lesson plans, describe concepts, and re-direct negative behaviors. They can plan to set up their classrooms, provide all the right educational tools for growing minds, and engage in classroom management. However prepared a teacher is for their classroom experiences, a real-time class will never function exactly like an undergraduate practice lesson. When a new teacher’s strategically-designed lesson isn’t hitting home, and students need more support than anticipated, are teachers ready to adapt, course-correct, and adjust their instruction?
Responsive teaching is a practice during which teachers “elicit, make sense of, and respond to students’ ideas in ways that connect developing understandings to key disciplinary concepts”. The act of responsive teaching has been long known to engage students in long-lasting learning. However, it’s incredibly difficult to implement. For teaching to adapt to what students know and express throughout lessons, teachers must adjust constantly, thinking on their feet and reevaluating the process at each moment.
Many colleges of education understand the importance of training pre-service teachers in responsive teaching. However, new teachers enter the workforce blindsided; the reality of responsive teaching is often much more difficult than envisioned.
The Skills Needed for Responsive Teaching
In order to develop responsive teaching skills, teachers must have adaptive expertise. Adaptive expertise allows teachers to course-correct in the complex environment that is the classroom. To break this concept down further, there are four characteristics that adaptive practitioners possess.
A memorized arsenal of responsive teaching practices, such as asking students a variety of types of questions, and knowing when to use each.
Recognition of patterns within complicated circumstances.
The ability to think through the potential results of their actions before performing them.
Identification of one’s own limitations.
In order to determine if these abilities are present in teachers, it’s important to observe them over time in the classroom, also examining their ability to respond to feedback. Video is especially helpful and efficient for this purpose.
Caroline Ebby, Janine Remillard, and Lindsay Goldsmith-Markey set out to study what could be done to prepare teachers to engage in responsive teaching during their novice years of teaching and to make their professional development more seamless and less frustrating. The results can be found in their research article: Learning to Teach Responsively Through Asynchronous Collaborative Discourse Around Video Records of Practice. I’ve summarized their findings here.
The Case for Video in Teacher Professional Development
Before beginning their study, the researchers looked into past studies exploring video use for teacher professional development to understand best practices. They found many suggesting that video recordings encourage both self-reflection and subsequent growth. This growth may be due to the ability teachers have to see quirks in their teaching practice when they use video that they may have otherwise missed.
There is also a phenomenon in which teachers envision their practice differently than it actually occurs, and video use has been shown to decrease that incongruity, giving teachers the chance to actually improve their practice. Teachers also develop more concrete and detailed plans for how they will improve their future instruction when given video-based feedback rather than undergoing live observations with subsequent feedback.
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Reflection Produces Growth in Responsive Teaching
Improving responsive teaching capacities is a broad subject area. In order to ensure substantive results either in the affirmative or negative and progress what we know in the education system about this subject further, the researchers honed their study. Though their original group of participants was larger, the researchers, who served as teacher educators within the study, closely followed a group of four novice PreK-Grade 1 teachers. This group of teachers gave feedback to each other on their math teaching practices.
The teacher participants used Vosaic’s video platform to upload videos of their teaching. Vosaic’s software then allowed them to connect questions and comments about their practice to specific moments within the videos, subsequently permitting teacher educators and peers to leave feedback as well. In this manner, each teacher candidate both left and garnered feedback in the asynchronous, online community.
To guide the research, a specific question was posed: does engagement in self-reflection and feedback related to videos of themselves and peers teaching change teachers’ efforts to use responsive teaching practices? In order to answer this question, teachers in the group engaged in four types of activities, each aiding in different types of reflection and deliberation.
1. Posing Focusing Questions
The teachers uploaded videos of themselves teaching and then posed a focusing question to their peers. Not only did this encourage peers to address the thoughts and concerns of the teacher, but it also encouraged that teacher to critically observe their own teaching routines.
Posing a question helped participants to identify ways they could improve their own practice, and for teachers who felt there was much to improve on, helped them to narrow their focus and avoid becoming overwhelmed.
2. Receiving Suggestions
After posing their questions, the teachers received feedback which typically included suggestions for what to do differently. Often, the feedback given did not just include the suggestion itself, but also the pedagogical reasoning for the suggestion. Teachers often tried the suggestions offered, even using the exact phrasing recommended by peers.
3. Giving Suggestions
When teachers gave suggestions to their peers, they were thinking through best practices themselves, which in some cases seemed to improve their own teaching routines. The suggestions were tied to specific moments within the video, cutting out any confusion. Vosaic’s video platform made this possible, with its ability to help users define exact moments of reference from beginning to end.
Watching peers’ videos helped teachers improve their own practice by seeing how others were carrying out practices that they themselves were struggling with. “Thus, this process was mutually reinforcing and generative,” the study proclaimed.
4. Making Noticing Comments
Besides making suggestions, viewers often made comments that focused on the elements of responsive teaching they saw in peers’ videos. One participant, Emma, explained what she learned from watching a peer’s video.
“I got specific little ideas from watching other people’s videos. You know, even just to say, like… ‘use your big math voice.’ You know? Just certain little things that I was like oh, that’s helpful, let me try that.
So, did the use of a video analysis platform in which teachers could pose focusing questions, receive suggestions, give suggestions, and make noticing comments improve their ability to responsively teach? Put in terms of the researchers' original question, does engagement in self-reflection and feedback related to videos of themselves and peers teaching change teachers’ efforts to use responsive teaching practices?
Yes! There were many positive results of the study that can lead us to believe that giving and receiving feedback on recorded videos of teaching does help teachers improve their responsive teaching skills. Firstly, the teachers themselves claimed that the feedback they received from peers helped them to grow. The study also shows us that giving feedback supported reasoning skills in the participants as well. In fact, the video-based giving and receiving of feedback predicted actual change to their practice.
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In addition, the study confirms that video is helpful in both self-reflection practices and in group efforts to improve practice, even asynchronously. Teachers don’t have to be in the same room at the same time to aid in each others’ growth, a phenomenon that can help schools cut costs on professional development. In addition, the asynchronous nature of the study allowed flexibility in teachers’ already busy schedules. They could complete their professional development efforts at times that worked best for them.
Furthermore, the types of comments that were made within Vosaic’s video platform allowed teachers to learn about others’ pedagogical reasoning and decision-making, which are processes that can’t be physically seen, and therefore often go unnoticed in alternate types of professional development activities.
The researchers concluded that “...video-feedback inquiry groups focused on both giving and receiving feedback around instructional routines…” are a “...promising model for ongoing learning that requires fewer resources than other models”.
Vosaic is a video platform that helps schools and districts provide teachers with the evidence-based feedback they need to improve teaching and, ultimately, learning. The video feedback loop is simple:
Teachers record or upload a pre-recorded video.
Teachers self-reflect, mark important moments, and add comments, just like in this study’s design.
Teachers share highlights with coaches, principals, or peers for feedback.