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A Technique for Self-Reflection: Video Recording

Jordan Catapano

It might be awkward. It might be funny. It might be embarrassing. But one thing it undoubtedly will be is helpful. If you haven’t video recorded and watched yourself teaching yet, then now is the time to undertake this unique reflective task.

When athletes want to improve their performance, they “go to the tapes” and watch hours’ worth of recordings of themselves practicing and playing. They also study their opponents by doing the same thing. When politicians want to improve their message, they watch recordings of their previous speeches. One of the most tried-and-true methods for actually seeing and evaluating what you do is to watch yourself doing it. So, one fantastic method you could employ to make yourself a better teacher is to watch yourself teach.

“I Said That?”

When I’m teaching, I feel like I’m in complete control of what I say and do. I feel like I’m being clear to students. I feel like a good communicator. I feel like a good role model. I feel like an effective teacher. Don’t you?

Unfortunately, what we feel and what the reality is can often be two different things. Watching myself on a video recording helps show me the reality. It shows me that I do, in fact, ramble quite a bit. It shows me that I do pace incessantly around the classroom. It shows me that those jokes I thought were so funny actually fell flat. It shows me how many “umms” I actually say. It shows me how many tangents I go off on. It shows me how I mumble a little at the end of each sentence.

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Basically, it shows me a lot.

When I video recorded myself, I was finally able to see myself as students see me. This gave me great insight into what I do well, but also into the many flaws that I have as a teacher too. While just watching myself doesn’t fix my flaws, it definitely makes them more apparent and gives me ample opportunity to reflect on how to improve.

How to Record Yourself and What to Look For

What’s best going into the process of video recording is to have a few questions in mind that you’d like answered. Try to think about some specific aspects of your teaching that you’d like to focus on. Here are some sample questions I’ve used for myself:

 

  • How loudly do I speak?
  • Do I get off track at all? How often?
  • Do I do anything annoying or distracting with my voice, gestures, posture, etc.?
  • How clear are my instructions for activities?
  • How clearly do I communicate the big ideas in a lesson?
  • Am I interacting with students effectively?
  • What are students doing as I’m speaking?
  • Does my method of instruction seem appropriate for the content and goal I have in mind?
  • How much time do I spend talking about things that don’t need to be talked about?

Once I establish a few areas that I want to look at, I procure a video recording device from my AV department and get to work. It’s rare that I’ll record just one lesson or just one classroom. What I’ve found works best is if I record lessons for about a week in at least two settings. What happens is that the first day or two the recording kind of makes both me and the students a little uncomfortable. We’re extra cognizant of it and this affects how we behave. After a few days, however, it just becomes part of the classroom and we all forget about it being there.

Usually, by the way, I just put the camera on a tripod in the back of the room and let it run on its own. Occasionally I’ve asked students to operate the camera for me if the lesson involves more moving around.

After recording myself in multiple classes for a week, I don’t sit down and watch every recording. That’s a lot, and I don’t recommend you try to watch all of it either! Instead, I identify a few of the lessons I’m particularly interested in. I find a nice private place where no one will ever find me, and I prepare myself for the awkward experience of watching myself.

How to Evaluate Yourself

There’s no getting around the initial discomfort you feel when you watch yourself. But it’s temporary, so don’t sweat it. It really is incredibly eye-opening to witness your own teaching! When watching, it is extremely easy to become overcritical of yourself. We have an image in our heads of how we look, sound and behave, and the camera has a way of deconstructing that image. That’s OK.

Your first task is to resist becoming too critical of yourself. Your second task is to simply identify one or two key areas that stand out as areas you want to focus on. If you try to suddenly target all kinds of things about your teaching that you want to work on, you’ll get overwhelmed and frustrated. Focus instead on just acquiring those one or two “takeaway” kinds of insights that you can then go back into the classroom and work on.

Don’t neglect, by the way, to identify at least one awesome thing you did in the video. Find a reason to pat yourself on the back. Watching yourself isn’t about changing yourself – it’s about improving in areas that need improvement and also celebrating how we merge our personality with our teaching.

And Then …

Make some definite goals for yourself based on what you observed. Video has a way of pointing out some of our biggest defects and highlighting our largest strengths. If you watch yourself but do nothing different afterwards, then the exercise has been worthless. If, however, you identify those small areas that you’d like to make growth in, then it gives you a definite aim and purpose.

Consider repeating the process later in the year. This might give you an opportunity to self-reflect on the improvement that you’ve made, and help you identify further areas for growth you could possibly focus yourself on.

So are you going to film yourself teaching? Try it out and tell us what you learned about yourself in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com.