The power of video observations – part 1

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My school started a new CPD cycle with some great ideas. The academic team was put into groups where Primary and Secondary teachers could learn from each other. I was assigned to the group working on Videos of Practice, or video observations. Our aim was to record at least one of our own lessons, reflect on it, and share it with our colleagues for developmental feedback. We were given half a term to work on this project.

This is meant to be the first part of a series of blog posts where I document my own professional development journey using the tool of video observations.


There were a few things I had to consider before I could record my lesson. For instance, I had to think about what kind of equipment I was going to need and where I was going to get it. I’m lucky enough to work in a school that has some tripods and cameras, but of course, not enough for every teacher. Also, I find using new technology quite challenging. I didn’t want to worry about that aspect during this video observation project. So I opted for using my own smartphone (an iPhone 7) and a tripod for the recording. Setting it up and transferring the video file was easy enough as I know my phone quite well. For me, the familiarity with the hardware and software was an important aspect. It helped me focus on teaching instead of worrying about the unknown.

Another thing I had to consider was where I was going to place the phone for the best visual and sound quality. My classroom is quite small with only 3 students in the class I decided to record. Since I wanted to see the students and the board at the same time, this proved a bit challenging. What I’ve learned from this is that you have to give yourself enough time to do a few practice runs to ensure you can see and hear everything you want to. Placing the tripod at an elevated place (on top of a stack of books!) meant that I was able to see a wider angle. The payoff was that I had to place the phone further away from the students. As a result, the board work can’t be seen clearly and the sound is muffled at times. Luckily, I can still hear and understand the majority of what was said. To overcome the problem of the unclear board work, I took pictures during and after the lesson as well.

Last but not least, I had to inform my students about the recording. Even though it is only going to be used internally, it’s important that they had a chance to express their reservations. Fortunately, none of them had any. However, had any reservations come up, I would have needed time to deal with them. It’s best to do this ahead of time.

The recording

I set up the phone before the lesson but I only started the recording after I had reminded my students of what was happening. Since I had a latecomer, I had to stop the lesson and tell him too about it. I can’t emphasise enough how important transparency is with projects like this. Cover all your bases so that both you and your students feel safe. Since I work with young learners, this is even more important.

On thing I noticed, although I didn’t expect, was that I actually forgot about the recording during the lesson. I guess when teacher mode takes over I tend to tune out the world. While this might have been advantageous for my nerves and lets me see myself in action for real, it has some downsides too. For example, I walked out of the frame more than once and stood too far from the phone for good sound quality. I guess it’s something to keep in mind for next time.

After the video observation – hot feedback

After the lesson ended I transferred the file from the phone to my computer and uploaded it to the school’s Google Drive. All of this was super easy and all I needed was the charger lead. The whole process took a matter of minutes only.

Once the recording was online, I did a quick quality check just to see if the whole lesson was recorded and whether the visual and the sound was good enough. Since I had a whole day of teaching ahead of me, I didn’t have the luxury of watching the whole video there and then (but believe me I wanted to!).

Something I learnt on the CELTA (a long time ago!) was the importance of hot feedback. It’s worth going through a short checklist after an observation (or any lesson for that matter) as soon afterward as possible. My checklist included the following questions:

  • Did I achieve my aim(s)?
  • What did the students learn/practise today? How do I know?
  • What went well?
  • What could have gone better?
  • If I taught the lesson again, what would I change and why?

In the evening of the same day I sat down with my notebook and jotted down some notes in answer to these questions along with some other reflections. I did this before I watched the lesson though. Think about this as a debrief with yourself after any live observation but before you meet your line manager for the official feedback.

I managed to achieve my aim that my students would be able to complete an IGCSE reading activity. The students practised answering true/false types of reading tasks using reading sub-skills such as identifying keywords, skimming, and scanning. I know this because all of them got at least 6 out of the 8 questions right. The reading practice went well because the students could work independently, however, the lead-in was too long. If I was to teach this lesson again, I’d cut the lead-in in half and add an extra vocabulary practice stage. This way the students could use the new vocabulary in context. One thing I felt I did especially well was giving instructions. I’ve come a long way with this aspect of my teaching. Now my instructions are (most often) to the point and easy to understand.

To be continued…

In the next part of this series I will be reflecting on watching the recording and doing a more in-depth debriefing with myself before showing the footage to anybody else. Stay tuned!

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