Saturday, October 01, 2016

Observation and self-reflection in the classroom

This article originally appeared in the Discovery Education blog "Kathy Schrock's Katch of the Month" in October 2016 and is re-posted here with permission.

On the Discovery Education in Action page, Discovery Education has been showcasing educators from around the world as they use Discovery Education services such as Discovery Education Streaming and Techbooks to enhance teaching and advance learning in a meaningful way. The Discovery Education in Action project allows educators to step inside the classrooms of these master teachers and watch their strategies and methods for use of the Discovery Education tools.
These videos can be used in a number of ways to enhance classroom instruction. In a study group or professional learning community, educators can dissect the lesson and methodologies used in the videos and come up with ideas for use in their own classroom when using Discovery Education Streaming or Techbook.
Administrators can view the online lessons on the Discovery Education in Action site and evaluate them as if they were doing a walk-through or formal lesson evaluation in their own school or district.
In addition, students in teacher education programs will be able to assess these lessons and adapt/adopt them for their own teaching practices and for student-teaching. Here is some research to support teacher education students using video to develop reflection skills.
Come learn more about Discovery Education and from great teachers who will share their info, tips, and resources at the Discovery Education Fall VirtCon 2016, Discovery Education in Action,  to be held online on October 22, 2016 from 9 AM – 1 PM ET. Participants can ask questions of the live presenters whose content will focus on learner agency, supporting literacy through content standards, STEM, and professional learning. Register today!


There are many ways teachers and administrators can self-reflect in a school setting. Janelle Cox, in a TeachHub blog post, offers a few suggestions for collecting information for self-reflection.
Self-reflective journal: After each lesson, simply jot down feelings and reactions about the lesson and also include observations about the students. This can easily be done in a paper notebook or with a journaling tool such as Penzu which is available online and for both the iOS and Android operating systems, syncing the information between the online tool and the app.
Student observation: Having students complete a simple survey with their thoughts about the lesson can provide valuable information for the teacher, too. This can be a paper survey that is handed out, or students can enter information into a Google Form or SurveyMonkey online survey. Here is one sample survey which has students evaluating teacher performance.
Peer observation: Having a peer observe a lesson can provide useful information for self-reflection. A peer observation can be one of two types — a whole lesson observation with a follow-up discussion about objectives, materials, student engagement, classroom management, and effectiveness — similar to one an administrator might complete. The second type of peer observation is one in which the two educators meet ahead of time, identify a certain component of teaching or learning for observation, and follow-up with a targeted discussion about this one component. An example of these specific components would be wait-time, mentoring, asking higher-order thinking questions, or anything else the teachers wants to work on.
Video recording: Video recording is probably the method that works best for both observation and self-reflection. Instead of having a peer review the lesson, the educator can simply video record the lesson and self-reflect and self-correct while viewing the recording.
There may be other times when a teacher is just interested in reflecting on his/her speaking and questioning skills in the classroom. An audio recording, rather than a video, can be just as useful in this case. One audio recording app that allows unlimited recording length, is the iRig Recorder app, available both for iOS and Android. The teacher can just press record and carry the smartphone around or put it in a pocket, and the entire lesson can be recorded!
Jordan Catapano, in a TeachHub blog post entitled “A technique for self-reflection: Video recording“, offers a short list of questions educators can ask themselves while viewing a recorded lesson.
  1. How loudly do I speak?
  2. Do I get off track at all? How often?
  3. Do I do anything annoying or distracting with my voice, gestures, posture, etc.?
  4. How clear are my instructions for activities?
  5. How clearly do I communication the big ideas in a lesson?
  6. Am I interacting with students effectively?
  7. What are students doing as I am speaking?
  8. Does my method of instruction seem appropriate for the content and goal I have in mind?
  9. How much time do I spend talking about things that don’t need to be talked about?
One way for teachers to internalize these questions and practice self-reflection is to view other teacher-recorded lessons. These can be found on the Discovery Education in Action site, in the video section of the Teaching Channel site, and by searching on YouTube.


One way to record a lesson is to simply set up a camera or smartphone on a tripod and record the entire lesson from a fixed location. At first, students will be painfully conscious of the camera and either try to avoid it or “ham it up”. However, once a camera has been in a classroom for a period of time, it becomes “invisible” to the students.
One of my favorite instructional videos for learning the basics of how to successfully video a classroom lesson comes from the Teaching Channel titled Using Video to Improve Practice: Video 101. Richard Hart, a teacher and TV reporter in the area of media technology, provides tips that are applicable to any video creation. He talks about camera location, how to hold the camera and stop any shaky movement, panning and zooming, and how to effectively record audio. This great video, found on the Teaching Channel, showcases a teacher who uses this simple method to record in her classroom. For those that want additional specifics on more formal recording of video in a classroom, this working white paper by Daniel Kilburn offers additional information and a more technical overview of the process.
There are new technology devices that can provide a better classroom recording experience for reviewing by teachers and administrators. The 360° spherical panoramic cameras, like the Ricoh Theta S, can be set up on a tripod in the center of the classroom and will record everything in all directions for up to 25 minutes. Below is a 360° video I took of a BreakoutEDU session at iPadpalooza in June of this year.  Notice you can drag the video in any direction with your mouse or finger. Imagine being able to see what went on behind you while you were teaching!

The toolkit for taking these videos includes the camera, a tripod, a smartphone and, if you want to view the finished product in virtual reality mode, a Google cardboard head-mounted display.

Another new technology tool that can be used to record a classroom lesson for both observation and self-reflection is Swivl. There are two main components of Swivl– the Swivl “robot” that follows the movement of the teacher and a small, handheld, wireless device (called a “marker”) that is carried to both have the Swivl robot follow the teacher and for recording audio. Swivl is best used with a tablet versus a smartphone, and the software is available for both iOS and Android. The recordings can be saved to a cloud service to share with others, or they can  be kept private for self-reflection. There are a few options for additional accessories, like a wider view camera that attaches to the tablet and additional software for creating presentations and lessons with Swivl.
Here is a short video overview of how Swivl works.
While viewing the recordings from Swivl, the teacher or administrator has the opportunity to leave time-stamped comments for the observation results or self-reflection thoughts. Multiple teachers can leave comments on a single recording, so Swivl would also be a nice support tool for a PLC that is focusing on improving teacher practice.
Do you have ideas and thoughts on other observation or self-reflection techniques? Do you take advantage of these methods or others to self-reflect on a regular basis?