2061 Connections
An electronic newsletter for the science education community

November 2004

Using Classroom Videos as a Vehicle for Teacher/Researcher Dialogue

The research study Improving Mathematics Teacher Practice and Student Learning through Professional Development is providing researchers with unexpected results. One of the most powerful intermediary outcomes of this AAAS Project 2061 research has been the effect on teachers’ reflective disposition after examinations of their own videotaped lessons. Watching themselves teach on videotape has encouraged teachers to think critically about their own practice and to make changes in the classroom.

At the mid-point in Project 2061’s study, researchers have collected hundreds of hours of carefully selected videotaped lessons taught in middle school mathematics classrooms, recorded for the purpose of exploring how the interactions of curriculum materials, teaching practices, and professional development can lead to improved student learning in mathematics. The five-year study—being conducted in partnership with the University of Delaware and Texas A&M University—is funded by the Interagency Education Research Initiative (IERI), a joint program of the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (Read an overview of the study.)

Using Videotapes for Teacher Reflection
The videotaped sessions are intended to be used to develop a quantitative analysis of the implementation of exemplary curriculum materials and to study and document the impact of professional development on teachers’ practice over a span of several years. Specifically, the videotapes are meant to show researchers the kinds of pedagogical events taking place in the classrooms, and assist them in designing professional development institutes to target specific instructional strategies and practices. However, once Project 2061 researchers and the teachers in the study started to review the videotapes, teachers became captivated by what they saw and found the tapes useful tools for studying their instructional practices in greater depth. Researchers came to see that high-quality classroom videos can serve as a primary resource for supporting teacher reflection, improving professional development, and changing classroom practice.

This breakthrough in the utilization of classroom videotapes opened a door for teachers and researchers alike. With the researchers focused more closely on the teachers’ examination of their videos, they not only learned how the teachers viewed their practices, but also discovered a whole new set of questions ready to be explored. As a result, the researchers, after first setting out to gather data from classrooms in order to answer questions of their own formulation, were now seeing that the teachers posed discernibly different questions about the data gathered in their classrooms.

Teachers Pose Content-Specific Questions
While researchers were looking for specific instructional strategies and how teachers’ use of the strategies impacted student learning, teachers were looking at more content-specific issues related to lessons that they found consistently confounding. One example of the types of issues that concerned teachers is demonstrated by two seventh grade teachers who had used curriculum-specific strategies for students in the process of developing the algebra ideas being studied. The two instructors were concerned that over time the strategies that were intended to help students better conceptualize the mathematics were becoming proceduralized, with students just plugging in numbers after a short time rather than thinking about the meaning behind their work. These teachers wanted to talk to researchers to acquire a better sense of what the problem was and how they could address it successfully.

With this perspective in mind, researchers worked with a group of teachers to formalize the process. This provided an opportunity for the wider professional research community to consider questions of immediate importance to classroom practitioners. Because the questions posed by teachers regarding their own lessons were frequently different from the questions motivating the larger study, it was important to provide teachers with the opportunity to pursue their own reflections. Setting the discourse in motion was a small group of middle grades mathematics teachers who worked in pairs or alone to examine many hours of their own videos, while they paid attention to aspects of the lessons and mathematical ideas that consistently created questions or difficulties for them and for their students. The teachers selected excerpts from their classroom videos and crafted questions that centered on the difficult curricular ideas that had stumped the teachers or hindered their progress in teaching the ideas on the video excerpts.

The two seventh grade instructors mentioned earlier focused on lessons related to symbolic equations and the notion of change. They were concerned that the representations in their textbooks led students to attack problems procedurally once they had learned the strategies, rather than having those strategies help them to develop better conceptual understanding, as intended by the textbook. Their questions were threefold:

  • Do the "tools" used by the curriculum become algorithmic when used repeatedly?
  • Can these "tools" be effectively applied to novel situations?
  • Do the representations used in the textbook lead students to a thorough understanding of the concept of variables?

A pair of sixth grade teachers found that despite their best efforts to teach ideas related to equivalent forms of rational numbers, there were students who came away from the lessons without an increased understanding. This pair of instructors posed the question: For those students who do not seem to be successful during the investigation phase of a lesson, how does the teacher facilitate learning?

An eighth grade teacher examined videotapes of her lessons focusing on functions and equations and was reminded of a problem that came up year after year. She posed this question: What would enable students to be successful in constructing a linear model for the Fahrenheit to Celsius relationship? Teachers spent several months developing their questions and thinking about how to present them to the research community for the most productive input and deliberation.

Teachers and Researchers in Dialogue
To broaden the discussion, the Project 2061 team and the teachers in the study invited members of the mathematics education research community to review the videotapes and transcripts at the 2004 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Research Presession. In small group discussions, the two sixth grade teachers, two seventh grade teachers, and one eighth grade teacher shared the questions they were investigating and participants offered conjectures and support to the teachers as they sought answers. Following the small group sessions, the whole group came together to share the outcomes of the discussions.

Teachers came away from the groups with new ideas and new approaches to the problems they had posed. Each teacher had food for thought about how to approach the very lesson they had brought to the table and make it work better. And each came away with a new sense of the bigger picture, including how to deal with similar instructional situations when teaching an idea or set of ideas beyond the lesson at hand. They considered the implications of student difficulties and misconceptions related to specific mathematical ideas.

For the researchers, this was a grounding experience. They were reminded of what happens when you come face-to-face with real-life students! Those who work with pre-service and in-service teachers had the opportunity to contribute ideas based on extensive experience with other teachers tackling similar issues. Those who are curriculum and materials developers came away with a better idea about what teachers find helpful as well as confusing. The developer of the curriculum materials used in the study used by the seventh grade teachers sat in on their discussions. The researcher was able to gain a sense of the kinds of support that would have been helpful to teachers, and the teachers found out more about the developer’s intentions and the reasoning behind the structure of the material and its use of representations.

In addition to coming to a clearer understanding of one another’s perspectives, researchers and teachers considered how this use of the classroom record might support teacher reflection and professional development. They explored the importance of collaborations between researchers and teachers, and questions such as “ What are the obligations of the research community?” and “Who has right of access to the data collected?” There is much left to consider, but all agreed about the value of opening a door to dialogue and of keeping that door open for further exchange and collaboration.

For more information, please contact:

Senior Program Associate: Dr. Kathleen Morris

Principal Investigator: Dr. Jo Ellen Roseman, (202) 326-6666

[Table of Contents]