Sunday, May 26, 2013

Video Reflections Promote Professional Learning among (Language) Educators

This semester I’m teaching Writing II, a second-semester academic writing course for pre-service English language educators (A2).  The fifth of five essays concludes the course by having academic writers develop a five-paragraph persuasive essay.  This past Friday, learners asked for a sample, and asked if I would provide my own based on the criteria students are asked to consider.  The criteria include the following:

·      Develop a five-paragraph essay (i.e., introduction, three body paragraphs, and conclusion).
·      Adhere to the MEAL plan in body paragraphs.
·      Avoid there is/are and the verb to be in topic sentences in each body paragraph.
·      Introduction paragraph should include a hook, background information, and conclude with the thesis statement.
·      Conclusion paragraph should restate and reword the thesis statement, provide the significance of the essay, and conclude with a closing statement.

The criteria above are not meant to restrict writing creativity but rather to improve areas of writing that have emerged in the past: (a) avoidance one-to-two-sentence paragraphs (undeveloped paragraphs), (b) overuse of there is/are which can create non-cohesive moments – avoiding common theme & rheme patterns, (c) overuse of the verb to be in the topic sentence which (i) creation of less descriptive main ideas for body paragraphs and (ii) tendency to limit the use of other (non to be) verbs, and (d) aligning of topic sentences to the thesis statement and supporting sentences within each body paragraph to respective topic sentences. 

Here is what I’m asking my students to consider when writing their persuasive essay so they might critique my work based on the criteria above along with any other concepts discussed in class.  It also gives them an opportunity to see how others outside of our class might critique my work.  So, all feedback (constructive criticism) is appreciated.

Initial argument: video, reflection, professional development, professional learning, peer-assessment,  

Counter argument: teacher burn out, frustration, fear, intimidation, insecure,

Reply:  networking, sharing, daring, caring, collaboration, cooperation

Audience: Novice and expert language teachers who have little experience (or feel opposed to) peer-assessment


I Introduction

II Language teachers learn best when assessing each other with the use of video. 
   a) video reflection in practicum classes
   b) videos for "showing instead of telling"
   c) videos used for peer coaching

III Many IELTs do not feel comfortable using video to promote reflective teaching among colleagues.  
   a)  a threat to the future of relationships in the workplace
   b)  peer coaching based on video reflections is time consuming

IV Learning to assess each other’s teaching practice with the use of video requires a change in culture. 
   a)  over time, educators are less reluctant in receiving criticism from colleagues
   b) benefits of using video

V Conclusion 

Video Reflections Promote Professional Learning among Language Educators

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taughtOscar Wilde.  In language education, oftentimes workshops and conferences are perceived as being the way to “teach” teachers how to teach.  If nothing worth knowing can be taught, then a shift from teaching to doing is in order.  In order to make this shift, video reflections as a way to promote peer-assessment offers a valid solution.  Peer coaching with the use of video reflections brings teachers and administrators together by promoting the value of ongoing professional learning.

Language teachers learn best when assessing each other with the use of video.  While in pre-service programs, pre-service English language teachers (PELTs) rely on video to reflect on their own performance in practicum courses (Eröz-Tuğa, 2012).  The author also finds that using video for self and peer-assessment signals “showing instead of telling” when it comes to teaching and learning practices in the language classroom (p. 183).  Showers and Joyce (1996) and Gottesman (2000) agree that video can also be used in peer coaching programs that allow PELTs “the opportunity to experiment and implement novel ideas and activities in their classes by sharing responsibilities with colleagues of the same status (as cited in Vacilotto & Cummings, 2007, p. 159).  Since all good teachers are life-long learners, these same methods of incorporating video into reflective teaching practice also apply to in-service English language teachers (IELTs).  But as IELTs gain experience in the field, having a video recording of their teaching practice as a means for personal reflection does have its challenges.
Many IELTs do not feel comfortable using video to promote reflective teaching among colleagues.  Teachers “might perceive their association with colleagues as a threat to the future of their relationships at the workplace” (Vacilotto & Cummings, 2007, p. 159). The authors also posit that peer coaching based on video reflections is quite time consuming.  Thus, feeling threatened by colleagues goes against the relationship building that underpins good reflective teaching, and is contrary to the idea that language teachers learn best when reflecting on teaching practice with the use of video.  In other words, everyone has individual learning preferences and comfort levels when it comes to interacting with others (i.e., interpersonal skills).   However, if using video as a means for sharing and reflecting on one’s teaching practice is viewed as a dynamic process that develops over time, then using video to foster peer coaching or assessment still is a worthwhile pursuit.
Learning to assess each other’s teaching practice with the use of video requires a change in culture.  During the first feedback sessions virtually all educators are somewhat reluctant about criticizing their colleagues or classmates regarding their teaching performance, but after the second video viewing, this reluctancy had been overcome (Eröz-Tuğa, 2012).  The benefits of using video in reflective teaching practice are clear: (a) videos nurture reflective thinking and (b) when teachers are given the opportunity to discuss their reflections on their teaching, they seem better able to identify problems and suggest effective solutions in a cooperative and collaborative way (Gun, 2011).  If pre/in-service language educators are hesitant at first in having their classes recorded so that their classmates or colleagues can later assess their performance, over time a change in the learning culture will transpire if teachers and administrators are persistent in using video reflections as a supportive and educative tool.  Ongoing support leads to life-long learning.
Continuous professional growth results from having all educational stakeholders (i.e., teachers, administrators, etc.) use video reflections in a supportive and educative way. Making one’s teaching practice transparent is the first step to creating a dialogue towards improving student achievement.  Informal pedagogical dialogues specifically begin to flow through the school system in a practical and productive effort to help each other, thus helping the students, which is the ultimate goal.  If all education stakeholders subscribe to the notion that nothing worth knowing can be taught, then the same approach might be worth considering when “teaching” students.

Eröz-Tuğa, B. (2012). Reflective feedback sessions using video recordings. ELT Journal 67(2), pp. 175-183.
Gun, B. (2011). Quality self-reflection through reflection training. ELT Journal 65(2), pp. 126-135.
Vacilotto, S. & Cummings, R. (2007). Peer coaching in TEFL/TESL programmes. ELT Journal 61(2), pp. 153-160.