Viewing Guide

Viewing Guide for Videotaped Classes: Improving Your Teaching Through Self Examination

Kenneth Eble wrote about teaching, "It is attention to the particulars that brings any craft or art to a high degree of development" (1988, p. 6). Viewing your videotape will hopefully uncover the "high degree of development" embodied in the particulars of classroom practice. What is it that good teachers in the different disciplines and interdisciplines know and can do in the classroom?

I. Some questions to ask BEFORE viewing your videotape:

1. What did you hope students would be able to do intellectually or physically as a result of this session (e.g., recall, recognize, understand, apply, analyze, synthesize, evaluate, perform, or practice a craft or technique)? Did you hope to change any attitudes? Why did you decide to use these practices to promote these learning objectives? How does reaching today's objectives help students achieve the larger, or final, course objectives? You will probably benefit from taking notes on your answers to these questions and keeping those notes in mind as you watch the tape. Did the class session go as planned or deviate from your design? How so? Why? Did you change direction to take advantage of some new opportunity, to get around an obstacle, to deal with a new circumstance?

2. What context is needed to understand the sample? What questions are you trying to help students learn to answer? What larger questions will these answers illuminate? What reasoning or other abilities are you trying to help students develop? Where are we in the unfolding of this help? What have you and the students been doing up to this point in the term? What topics have you considered? What will you do in the days and weeks to follow? What will you ask students to do?

3. What verbs best describe your intentions (e.g., inform, clarify, inspire, simplify) in conducting the class?

II. If you are unaccustomed to seeing yourself on a videotape or believe that you may feel uncomfortable watching yourself, I recommend that you, first, watch the tape for a few minutes without making any mental or physical notes, simply observing without comment or judgment. Avoid fixating on small, and often insignificant gestures and actions. Concentrate on the larger picture. Play the role of student. What are you learning from this class? Participate mentally as a student, rather than as an observer.

III. When you are ready to observe the tape, rewind it to the beginning and start there. As you watch the tape, you must keep the learning objectives constantly in mind. Will your actions (lecturing, discussion leading, and so forth) motivate and help students to achieve those objectives? Would other methods help even more? How do people learn to do what you want your students to do?

Because you might have any one of several possible learning objectives in mind, no guide of this type could speak to every need. But let's assume, for the sake of illustration, that you want students to understand an interpretation, an argument and its evidence, or some basic principle. Let's assume also that you ultimately want students to learn to use the ideas and information to solve problems; that you want them to know how to take the arguments apart, to identify and distinguish their constituent parts (analyze); that you want them to be able to draw from a variety of sources of evidence and ways of looking at that evidence to build their own arguments and conclusions (synthesize); and that you want them to be able to apply consistent criteria in comparing and evaluating conflicting ideas. In short, you want them to think critically and creatively, not just memorize data. If so, here are some questions you might pose about your videotaped class. These questions reflect recent research on human learning, but they do not suggest a formula you can follow to achieve success. No recipe will always work. You might "break all of the rules" and still have enormous success in helping and encouraging students to learn.

IV. What's the best way to teach? It depends! It depends on your students, on you, on your discipline, on what you hope the students will be able to do intellectually, physically, or emotionally as a result of your instruction, and perhaps on other factors as well. Hopefully, you will find at least some of these questions helpful. They come to me from a variety of people who have viewed themselves teaching, and who have shared with me the questions they asked themselves.

V. Primary Questions: Have you helped and encouraged students to learn? What should they be able to do intellectually (or physically or emotionally) as a result of attending this class? How have you helped them achieve those abilities?

VI. Specific Questions

A. Do you begin by posing the big question for the day, the problem you want students to tackle? People learn by trying to solve problems. You can motivate learning by defining the problem, framing the question in a way that intrigues and puzzles and compels.

B. Do you help students understand and appreciate the significance of the questions or problems under consideration or help them recapture some previously developed understanding and appreciation? Have you shared with students (either in this session or in some previous session) why you and other scholars regard these questions or problems as significant? Does your manner convey your own excitement and interest in these matters?

C. Have you done as much as you can to help students understand and value the learning objectives?

D. Does the conduct of the class (the lecture method, the discussion method, etc.) encourage students merely to listen or to grapple with the ideas and information? Have you created an active learning environment? Does your style suggest that you are engaging in a conversation with the students (even if it is a conversation you dominate), or simply making a presentation to which student simply listen?

E. Do you make strong eye contact with students? Do you talk to and with your students rather than at them?

F. When you ask questions to which you expect students to respond orally, do you pause sufficiently (at least ten seconds) for someone to answer? Do you tend to answer your own question, thus discouraging students from answering in the future?

G. In devising your explanations, have you thought about the level of understanding of your students, selecting words and illustrations that will make sense to them?

H. Does your manner invite questions? Do you explicitly solicit questions? Do you walk toward students who ask questions or make comments? Does your body language say you are listening and considering? Do you stop and carefully formulate answers to students' questions to promote understanding? Listen to your answers carefully. Are you likely to enlighten the novice? The advanced student?

I. If you are making explanations (lecturing in any sense), try taking notes. Can your students take notes and develop an understanding? Do you provide them with any clues about what is most significant? Can they "hear" your outline?

J. How are you getting feedback from students as you talk? How do you know what they are thinking? What do you know about how they are interpreting the material? Do you maintain any "two-way talk" with them? Are you reading their eyes and body language? Are you adjusting to what you see? Have you considered stopping the class a few minutes early and asking each student to respond on paper to the following questions: 1) what major conclusion have you drawn from this lecture; 2) what major questions remain in your mind?

K. How are you providing feedback to students in advance of your evaluation of their work? Do they have an opportunity to get feedback, to try again, to improve before they face an evaluation of their efforts?

L. Do you make any adjustments to compensate for the "fifteen-minute" rule, the research that suggests that the quality of students' notes and their ability to recall information or use problem solving techniques declines severely after the first fifteen minutes of class unless there is a change of pace, an opportunity to stop and think and to digest.

M. Have you stopped at any point and asked students to discuss ideas with each other, to work in pairs to rework their notes, to solve a problem? Have you invited questions and comments? Have you paused at least ten seconds after inviting questions and comments?

N. If you are leading a discussion, does your manner invite participation? Do you dominate the discussion? Do you call on students to answer each other's questions and to respond to each other's arguments?

O. Do you obviously treat students' ideas seriously? Do you evaluate students' contributions honestly and conscientiously? Do you allow and encourage students to do the same for your ideas?

P. What kind of questions are you posing (e. g., exploratory questions--what are the facts, what is the problem, what are the key definitions; testing questions--are there good solutions; relational questions--what solutions have we considered, how do we compare solutions; priority questions--which is the best solution; concluding questions--what have we learned here)? Do you have some plan for developing the conversation, for using different types of questions at different points in that development?

Q. Have you kept any one student from dominating the conversation? What have you done to invite everyone into the conversation? Have you been sensitive to non-participating, shy students? Do you listen attentively to students' comments, setting an example for students to do the same for each other? Does your body language say that you are listening?

R. Have you avoided "dead-end" and inexact questions (e. g., does anyone know. . . ?; who can tell us. . . ?; tell us about. . . .; yes or no questions)?

S. Have you created a comfortable environment for discussions? Have you allowed and encouraged students to get to know each other and to form a community of inquirers? Have you generated curiosity and a sense of anticipation? Have you allowed students to discuss in small groups before speaking in the larger class?

T. Have you routinely responded the same way to both genders? Have you favored either gender? Have you made any special efforts to ensure that both genders participate equally?

U. Have you communicated well? Have you talked to the board or to the students? Have you made strong and frequent eye contact with students? Have you looked at all parts of the room? Are your boards or other visuals clear? Have you erased boards too quickly? Have you planned your boards? Have you talked too fast or too slow? Have you used a monotone? Have you varied the tone, inflection, pace of delivery, etc.?

V. Would others in your field be likely to teach this topic/concept/procedure differently? Are you trying something new? Something you will continue to work at and improve? Do you like what you see?