Video Analysis: Beginnings

For the past week and some, I’ve been at the Klingenstein Summer Institute for Early Career Teachers. We’ve been kept so busy that I haven’t had a lot of time to post, so I am losing insights left and right. Sigh! But I am making it a priority to talk about the reorientation I’m having with regard to math curriculum before I head off to PCMI.

One thing we’re doing today is having others watch videos of us teaching. And it’s terrifying. It was terrifying when I was being videotaped. I don’t know what will happen, how we will structure the conversations (they give us free reign to do what we want with regard to the conversations),

Something that I’ve heard happens with video analysis is that the teacher, before doing it, has one conception of who they are and what they are like in the classroom. They have this impression based on what’s going on in their head. When they watch the video, they suddenly see a very different person, someone they might be unacquainted with. It breaks you down.

That’s what happened when I watched my video last night.

But I’ve held, for about two years now, that I felt that video analysis of teachers is actually going to be the most powerful and next form of serious professional development… So I’m trying to overcome my fear, and so I asked a couple of our mathemablogotwittersphere cabal to watch my video and send me feedback. It’s terrifying. I feel like my blog gives one big false impression of who I am as a teacher (read this), and so it’s scary to think that people who I respect a lot will suddenly think: WTF this guy sucks.

But then I decided: heck if I’m not okay with that, because isn’t that the whole point of me blogging and twittering. I reoriented my thinking to say I own this class (I felt when I finished it was one of my better classes) and I’m using this to suck a little less. Going with that mindset (Dweck’s growth mindset” anyone?) has made me feel like I can do this.

Anyone who has any experience with videotaping their classroom and self-analyzing their tape, or analyzing other’s tapes, or online resources which give a “method” to analysis, or any notes about their experiences, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

UPDATE: I just want to clarify, I am taking things slowly so I don’t think I’m ready to share it with more people, yet. i just want to slowly edge myself into this.



  1. I would like to watch your video and see you in action! Send it to meeeee!

    I really really want to incorporate videotaping myself and having other people rip it apart into my development, too, but have not made that happen yet, so I won’t be much help right now. My local colleagues don’t seem that interested, and not sure about the legalities of posting kids on the internet (even if I make sure you can’t see their faces.)

  2. I would really like to do this. I don’t think I’d be terrified during, but I would surely be horribly uncomfortable when watching it. I’ve been videotaped while teaching (at my request), long, long ago. The only thing I remember is that I ran my hand down my pants leg an awful lot.

  3. Hi Sam,

    Congratulations on having the guts to do this. If I were you, I would look at the class as being a bunch of decisions that you make—at every point in the class, you made a decision about what to do.

    While watching the videotape, pause every now and then to decide what decision you made. Then think about other decisions you could have made, but didn’t. Weigh the merits of all of the decisions, figure out what you would do if you had the exact same situation over again, and move on.

    This has the effect of giving you more “tools” to use in the classroom, since you will have thought through scenarios more deeply. When they come up again, you will have more options (rather than just going by instinct).

    And remember: you are more concerned about your quirks/tics/etc than your students are.

  4. Yes! This made a HUGE difference during my first year teaching, for two reasons. First, I accidentally left the videocamera in my room for a month, and kids thought they were being taped every day so I could catch minor misbehavior. Oops.

    More importantly, I found it incredibly useful in bridging the intention-implementation gap. Language that sounded great on paper sounded incredibly awkward out loud. Explanations that were clear in my head became unclear because I repeated them so many times, or paraphrased beyond the point of usefulness. The desire to appear friendly came off as apologetic or self-deprecating.

    I think watching myself teach was most useful for me in catching technical execution– helping me be more aware of the value of each spoken word so I stopped saying too much, be more aware of wait time, be more aware of physical choreography (where I am with respect to where students are), and the tiny cues that indicate a student has just had a light bulb go off, that a student is bored and about to do something I don’t want, that a student is confused but doesn’t want to say anything. It helped me see myself as students saw me, which didn’t always align with the way I saw myself.

    When it came to more in-depth analysis, or what I should have done instead (as opposed to just identifying all the things I wanted to change), I found it more helpful to have other teachers observe live, because what they focused on invariably differed from what I focused on and that perspective was really valuable. And because I was too self-conscious to share video.

    I love video analysis and think it’s so, so powerful, both in improving individual practice and in moving beyond the “individual teacher behind a closed classroom door” script. I’m eager to hear how it goes since I’m sure you’ll be way more insightful than I ever was! I’d also love to see video if you think another viewer could be helpful :)

  5. Sam,

    You are spot on in your assessment of the value of video analysis. When I went back to school to work on my ed doctorate this was one of the most valuable experiences I had. I had to really trust my classmates and my prof (I did!) and I felt more naked during those vid analysis sessions than I ever do in class. We had some very productive (and protective) protocols about analysing each other’s videos. I felt that I had a much greater sense of self awareness afterward and I really had to figure out which prejudices I had about teaching that were worth keeping (such as being strict about my math language usage) and which ones I had to loosen up (such as a strict belief that follow up questions (at almost all times) are more useful than straightforward answers) after answering the very smart questions my classmates and professor had. Good on you for taking the plunge and sharing your videos with some of the virtual community online.

    When I was job searching last year Packer was a school that was recommended to me by some folks I knew. Everything I read from you makes me think that those positive comments were probably right on.

    Jim Doherty

  6. I started doing this this year too. None of my colleagues really seemed interested and I also didn’t want to send it out randomly on the internet.

    Anyways, it was a horror show. When I talk to NBCT people they always say that having a framework is the big thing. You have to give yourself something to focus on. I mainly sat there and stared at body and verbal tics and it was a downward spiral from there. After the first few times it was ok though and I learned a lot.

    1. Jason,

      I think that it would be really hard to do this in a meaningful way with no other person to bounce ideas off of. Are there administrators in house that you trust that you can sit with while watching? Are there friends whose opinions you trust?

  7. Kudos on doing this. I’m way to wigged out about watching myself on video (really just hearing my recorded voice back is squicky enough), though I agree it must be the most useful thing. You rock for working to get better and better!

  8. Hi Sam, this scares the crap out of me, which is probably evidence that I should do it. I feel like having a framework would help me focus on just a few things rather than freaking out about the giant scariness (why is it so hard to take the advice I give my students?). In light of that, I might try SATIC coding, which focuses on the form (not the content) of a teacher’s verbal behaviour. Here’s an introduction and example, and here are some guidelines.

    Good luck, and don’t forget to pass on your advice for those of us who will follow in your footsteps.

  9. The National Board prompts gave me targeted things to look for in my video tapes. This .pdf file has some very good questions on pages 27 & 28 about analysis of a whole class discussion.

    Other things I have looked at: What were the kids who weren’t talking doing? Did I realize these things in the moment? How did I respond to student’s statements/questions? Did I answer/respond to them or did I encourage peer to peer conversations?

    When I’ve been observed I have sometimes been asked what I wanted the person to look for. Sometimes I’ve asked about gender imbalances (is it mostly the girls or boys talking?), sometimes I’ve asked for feedback regarding wait time, questioning techniques (open ended vs. yes/no questions).

    The problem is there are SO MANY things to look for in a classroom setting. I think you/I/we each need to pick one or two on which to focus our own efforts. Then work at improving that practice. Then when we feel we’re “better” at that, start again by adding a new focus.

  10. I admire your courage in doing this voluntarily. I had to do it several times to receive my credential and although it was truly horrifying in some ways, I found it helps to remember that eventually, those nerve endings will die.

    Ironically, I found that my “amateur” video critics (colleagues, classmates) were WAAAY more constructive, insightful, and helpful than any of the professional video reviewers or scorers I encountered. They seemed more inclined to start from a place of believing in the possibility of me as an effective teacher, and that helped me to relax about the whole thing. In that way, each time I videotaped myself, it got less stressful.

    The “professional” video scorers/reviewers were all over the map in their observations and comments. Some loved it and found great things in it. Others found it shallow, vapid, and devoid of educational merit. A number of their comments were so clueless I started to wonder if they had actually watched the video clips or understood the rubrics. Or maybe they were watching Wile E. Coyote cartoons. The “professional feedback” part of the experience was pretty worthless. Those NBPTS document linked above seemed a lot more sensible than what I had to use.

    The most valuable thing about it for me was just doing it and experiencing the reality that doing it did not cause me or my head to spontaneously combust. I did not fall over dead and was able to do it repeatedly. That alone was cause for some pride.

    As for Kate’s question, we were cautioned to be extremely careful not to let the video out onto the intertubes. I don’t know how NYS thinks about this, but out here it is considered a no-go.

    – Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)

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