Mississippi Teacher Corps

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Watching myself on tape, Episode 2

Although watching a video of myself teaching summer school back in June ended up being a far less painful experience than I'd anticipated, I was a little bit anxious about watching the videotape of myself during TEAM teaching (for those of you reading this blog who don't know what TEAM means, TEAM was a weeklong training thing where all the first-year teachers were placed in groups with about 5 other first-years who acted as well-behaved students while each day, the group members took turns teaching a lesson. A different veteran teacher observed each day and gave each teacher feedback and an evaluation after the lesson). The anxiety probably stemmed from an experience I had in sixth grade when I watched myself on videotape for the first time. My English teacher had taped a play that my class scripted and performed, and I remember sitting in class and cringing as I watched that tape because up until that day, I hadn't realized that I lisped and couldn't prounounce my "r's" correctly. Those problems are fixed now, but since I've seen so few videos of myself over the course of my life, I still get a little nervous about watching them. But that's neither here nor there.

I knew that I had a great lesson the day I was taped (I felt very positive overall about my teaching during TEAM, but that's a subject for another blog), and my evaluator had great things to say about that particular lesson. The tape confirmed a lot of my positive views. I didn't have too much criticism of myself, but I'll start with the negative things that I noticed.

I had some physical organization problems throughout TEAM: I'd have a clear plan of what I wanted to teach and how, and I'd have in hand a well-organized lesson plan, perhaps with some notes to myself jotted down in the margins, and a copy of whatever fill-in-the-blanks type notesheet the students were given for that lesson, and I'd often put some of my papers down as I walked around the classroom, forget where I'd placed them, and pause for a minute to think about a. what I was supposed to talk about next, or b. where I put the papers. Sometimes, I'd have my lesson plan in hand but take a second or two to look at the plan and figure out where in the lesson I was. On tape, I could definitely see these small pauses, and they're something I'd like to work at eliminating because my seventh grade students might not be patient enough to sit there quietly while I remember what I'm talking about next. It was by no means a major problem, but I'd still like to improve my flow. I have several thoughts on this. First of all, I want to get a brightly colored clipboard so that I know where all my papers are at all times. Second of all, I remembered that one time this spring (you know, when I was in college), I had just taken an oral exam, and my professor commented to me that when I speak, I don't need my notes as much as I think I do. Maybe that is the case when I teach. I definitely need to have some kind of plan written down that I can reference during class to make sure that I remember to say everything I want to, but perhaps having my 2+ page lesson plan as my reference is actually hindering me. The process of writing it out is great for me because it makes me think through exactly what I want to teach and how, and I am the kind of person that needs to feel organized going into a lesson, but maybe I should get in the habit of writing my lesson plan and then taking a fresh sheet of paper and just jotting down some notes to myself about what I want to say, do, etc. This would be easier to reference during class without sorting through lots of other stuff that I've written. I'd also keep my lesson plan on my clipboard just in case I needed to refer to some of the more specific stuff.

Other minor things: I nod my head a lot, which I think I do subconsciously to encourage students when they are answering or asking questions. I'd never noticed that before watching the tape, and none of my evaluators commented on the nodding, so it's possible that I only did it that one day. I should probably nod a little less often, since it made me look like I had lots of nervous energy. I also say, "exactly!" a lot, perhaps a little more often than I should.

On the bright side, I think my lesson did a great job of making students learn proactively rather than just listening to me talk. I switched several times during the lesson between giving notes and doing activities, which I think will be really key for middle school kids with short attention spans (and for this teacher, who also has a short attention span). I explained things in a way that I think was clear enough for seventh graders to understand, and I gave them lots of opportunities to come up with examples. Near the end of my lesson, I did an activity that involved playing games and acting out scenarios where the goal was to earn Reese's cups, and the students had to guess what kind of interaction (e.g. predation, mutualism, competition, etc.) each game or skit represented. I really liked this activity because it was fun and entertaining, but very educational at the same time. I know that I have an easier time remembering amusing things, and I think that students would have an easy time remembering types of interactions after seeing the concepts acted out like this.

During the group work segment of my lesson, in which I assigned groups to draw pictures of what the world might look like with a. no producers, b. no consumers, and c. no decomposers, I noticed on the tape that people were laughing and having fun with the activity, but were actually not talking about anything except the assignment! Of course, it helped that my "students" were a bunch of 22 year old college graduates instead of unfocused 13 year olds, but my hope is that I'll be able to have the same kind of learning environment for my students where I can have them do activities that they enjoy, but that are educational at the same time.

I like the way that I talked to the class. I spoke clearly and slowly, but not slowly enough to sound condescending. I did a good job of posing questions to the whole class, letting the question sink in, and then calling on a specific person. In my summer school classroom, I usually called on volunteers to answer questions because my students were so enthusiastic that they'd ask me in advance if they could do the next problem on the board, but during the school year, I'm not expecting that I'll have so many enthusiastic students. Furthermore, I'm thinking that I will cold-call students who don't have their hands raised even when other students do raise hands because I want to make sure everyone is paying attention. This was a big mistake that I made in summer school; I'd often ignore the two kids who weren't paying attention and focus my energy on the rest of the class because I wanted to teach the kids who were paying attention rather than take up teaching time to give the other two kids a metaphorical kick in the pants. However, I came to realize that if I let the two kids continue to ignore the task at hand, their attitudes would sometimes spiral out and cause other students to lose focus. During the school year, I plan to use the same kind of questioning strategy I used during TEAM where I pose a question to the class and then might call on someone with a raised hand, or might call on anyone else without a raised hand. When watching my tape, I felt that I did a good job of engaging in a dialogue with students who couldn't quite get the answer on their own, but could come to the answer by responding to some of the follow-up questions that I posed. I made students explain their answers to the class so that everyone could follow the thought process behind the answer, and when students asked me questions, I often asked them more questions to help them arrive at the answers to their own questions.

Finally, a few silly and pointless, but mildly entertaining observations: I had a bad hair day that day. Also, two of the walls in that classroom were white and two were pink, and I happened to be wearing a white skirt that day and a sweater that was the exact same shade of pink as half of the walls, so wherever I walked in the room, I almost blended in with the background!

Now playing: Indigo Girls- Moment of Forgiveness


  • At 10:55 PM, Blogger Sinister Mr. A said…

    Wow! Nodding a lot and saying "excellent" (I say that constantly!) are hardly major flaws. I like your positive self-evaluation. As a math teacher, I prefer to carry only my examples that I intend to share with the class. The lesson plan format is basically for others to read and check up on you, not your actual lecture notes that you would speak from.


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