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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 01/18/2011

Videotaping teachers the right way (not the Gates way)

By Valerie Strauss

This piece, written by teacher Larry Ferlazzo, provides important context to a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in which teachers are being videotaped while giving lessons and then evaluated by outsiders. Ferlazzo, who teaches English at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, explains why he thinks the Gates project takes the wrong approach and describes a different kind of videotaping exercise at his school that he finds useful.

Ferlazzo writes a popular resource-sharing blog, and his third book, “Student Responsibility and Engagement in Your Classroom: A Practical Guide to Classroom Management and Instruction,” will be published this year. He is a member of the Teacher Leaders Network. This piece appeared on the Education Week Teacher website.

By Larry Ferlazzo
"Today is an opportunity for you to challenge and push me to become a better teacher, and a time for you to challenge and push yourselves to be better learners."

So I began my ninth-grade English class one day before the winter break. My students and I were about to review video clips from a lesson I’d taught a few weeks earlier with Kelly Young, a talented instructional strategies consultant.

Our faculty, under Principal Ted Appel, has been working with Kelly for some years. Lately, he’s been videotaping teacher lessons, then meeting with us to review an edited version of the tape.

We always begin this process by offering our own critique and reflections, followed by Kelly’s comments. It’s a very positive experience that falls entirely outside of the official evaluation process. The total focus is on helping teachers improve their craft, and the exercise has been universally acclaimed by teachers so far.

This chance to closely examine my teaching "at a distance" has been one of the most significant professional-development experiences I’ve had. In concept, it’s far different from the massive Gates Foundation-funded effort to videotape teacher lessons and have them evaluated (using checklists) by people who have never visited the school nor developed any kind of relationship with the teacher—which I criticized in an earlier post.

A Transformative Experience

Kelly, who directs the Pebble Creek Labs, accepted my invitation to share the video and our critique in the presence of my students. I wanted to show them that I was committed to becoming a better teacher and also to model for them the value of being open to constructive criticism of the work we do.

What I didn’t anticipate was how transformative this one-hour class period was going to become.

Kelly began with a quick review for students—using both text and images—of the culture of a Pebble Creek Lab classroom. He asked them to keep these points in mind as they viewed the video:

Leaning In—When we are engaged, we are learning forward, not slouching back.

Who’s Doing the Work?—Students are working and learning, not sitting back listening to the teacher.

Everybody Has a Job—All students are working all the time, listening and taking notes/annotating; asking questions; reading, etc.

Tools of the Scholar—Pen, pencil, highlighter… The vast majority of the time, students have a writing tool in hand.

Multiple Touches on Text—No "light" touches—we read the same text multiple times in different ways to deepen our understanding.

Changing Trajectories—So you can read, do, or be what you want. We work hard so that students can accomplish their visions and dreams.

Next, Kelly asked students to take notes on general impressions as we viewed a five-minute edited clip of me giving directions for the activity—an exercise where students were reviewing the qualities of a good teacher and preparing to teach their own lessons in small groups. After giving students a minute to write and share with a partner afterward, he asked a person from each group to present.

Students, still unsure how serious this activity was and how much they could risk, were all positive—both about my work and (under Kelly’s questioning) their own engagement in the lesson.

Then I heard "Ralph" say something under his breath. I quietly asked him if he would be willing to share what he said if Mr. Young called on him. He responded, "Maybe." I interrupted Kelly and said I thought Ralph had an insightful comment to share, and Kelly asked him to speak. After a short pause, Ralph said, "Mr. Ferlazzo talked too long."

A line had been crossed, and students were clearly wondering what would happen next.

Kelly immediately asked me, "Mr. Ferlazzo, what was your analysis of that clip?"

I replied, "I talked too much."

Other students then began to say that I sometimes spent too much time giving instructions, and others said they would get bored as a result. Kelly pointed out that, yes, I was doing all the work then, and they didn’t have a job for far too long. He emphasized that there were many good elements in the lesson, but that we wanted to be honest to figure out how we could all get better.

Zeroing in on Our Work Together

During the next clip, which showed some class members reading to others in small groups, Kelly asked students to consider whether everybody had a job. After writing for a minute and discussing with a partner, students began to share:

"We were leaning back when the person was reading."

"Sally was making noise with her pen instead of listening."

"Most of us didn’t have a pencil in our hand."

Kelly pointed out that more students were doing the work than earlier, but certainly not everyone.

Prior to showing the last clip, he asked students to consider again who was doing the work. In this portion of the video, I was asking students to write a reflection about what they did well when they were teaching in small groups, if they liked it or not, and why. In the video, students shared with a partner and then with the class. Kelly—after a "pair-share" procedure—asked students to talk about what they observed.

"We were all doing our work."

"Mr. Ferlazzo didn’t talk as much, but he did talk when we were trying to write."

"We were all writing and followed directions."

Kelly pointed out the differences between how "everybody had a job" and had the "tools of a scholar" in hand during the last portion, as opposed to previous portions of the lesson.

There was a sense of an "aha" moment among my class. Students hadn’t been lectured to about how they needed to act to be serious learners. In the period of a few minutes, they had actually seen video showing themselves when they were serious learners and when they were not.

A Final Question

The last question of the day was:

"Having watched this, let’s consider what we are going to do to make sure we are always learning at the highest level. What does Mr. Ferlazzo have to do? What do I [as a student] have to do?"

Responses included statements like:

"Mr. Ferlazzo has to stop over-explaining and talking so much."

"I have to work harder and not get distracted."

Kelly explained that a good lesson should have a few minutes of explanation at the beginning and a few minutes for closure and reflection at the end, with the bulk of the time spent on the learning activity. He described a ratio of roughly15:70:15. My taped lesson was more like 35:30:35.

He and I both told students that they will need to help me stick close to the ideal teaching schedule and not talk so much.

A poster listing the qualities of a Pebble Creek classroom—our classroom—is now hanging on the wall in my room. We’ve begun to take a moment or two at the end of lessons to talk about whether we’ve demonstrated some of the qualities in our time together and what we might need to improve.

Most important, this experience affirms for me that the surest way to become a better teacher and transform my classroom is to get student feedback at every opportunity. Power is not a finite pie. If they get some, that does not mean I have less. When we provide constructive ways for students to feel empowered at school, we create more possibilities for genuine learning to occur.

Earlier this year, our class spent time exploring how the brain develops, and how learning new things results in new growth of neurons and "dendrites," the branches of neurons.

We now have another new poster on the wall. This one quotes Judy Willis, the neurologist-turned-teacher and author.

It says: Remember that the person doing the work is the one growing the dendrites.


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By Valerie Strauss  | January 18, 2011; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Larry Ferlazzo, Teacher assessment, Teachers  | Tags:  evaluating teachers, gates foundation, gates funded project, gates project and teachers, how to evaluate teachers, larry ferlazzo, teacher assessment, teachers, teachers and gates foundation, videotaping teaches  
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Possibly another shortfall with teachers extends from not recognizing the future but reading the past. I recall teachers, and I must admit being part of this from my classroom days, continually reminding students to study what was covered that day in class. It may be one of those things I don't recall, but for the life of me I don't recall a teacher telling me what would be expected the next day.

I have always had a problem studying "old" material already covered. I think having something to look forward to the next day might have encouraged my attention to looking forward.

I've always said, some days it is tough to tell the teacher from the student.

Posted by: jbeeler | January 18, 2011 7:40 AM | Report abuse

Unlike what Gates is talking about - which is extending punitive assessment to teachers - what Larry is describing is an effective way of helping teachers become "better" at what they do.

As with students, the question should never be "compliance masquerading as competence," but the ability to get better at what you do.

I encourage teachers and certainly administrators to learn to be comfortable with student feedback systems. Some of us use to effectively capture the student backchannel. Some of us watch student body movement carefully, understanding student engagement levels through those clues. Many of us seek multiple feedback paths and media for student demonstration of learning so that we can begin to understand the depth of interest and understanding.

In other words, the video camera really should not be aimed at the teacher, unless you believe, as Gates, Rhee, Christie, Bloomberg do, that teaching is a scripted performance to be assessed as if by a theatre school. Rather, the view must be of the learners, and largely from the learners' perspectives, because education is a process - a student-centered process.

- Ira Socol

Posted by: irasocol | January 18, 2011 7:55 AM | Report abuse

I love the idea that it's not part of the regular evaluation and that it allows for and welcomes teacher/student input on what works in the classroom.

So, I can easily see how this approach is helpful and not punitive. However, I'm still concerned about it defining student engagement and teacher effectiveness too narrowly and not considering teacher and class personality differences.

If this works in practice, then I'm fine with it.

Posted by: efavorite | January 18, 2011 8:49 AM | Report abuse

I agree with efavorite.

I like this approach. I like how it helps students focus on their behaviors as well. This is the kind of student accountability that has been missing in the reform proposals. However, I do find Mr. Kelly's approach a little too prescriptive. All lessons (and all classes) are not the same. I also am reticent about applying these ratios to classes in all disciplines. In other words, should all science lessons look like all social studies lessons? Is best practice in art class the same as best practice in world language class? I think not.

Posted by: buckbuck11 | January 18, 2011 9:13 AM | Report abuse

I agree the recording can have a benefit for all. The area gets sticky when the recording gets in the hands of those outside the class. The idea that someone outside could provide a benefit to overall teaching and teachers is borderline senseless.

Posted by: jbeeler | January 18, 2011 9:40 AM | Report abuse

In the words of Jim Rhome, "rack it."
This post needs to be sent to Mr. Gates and those who champion videotaping as they envision it, and have them try to defend their approach vs. this one. Gates' approach seems more like how to perform quality control on a piece of hardware in an assembly line versus this messy, interactive, yet infinitely more useful and instructive approach by Mr. Ferlazzo and company.
As I've said before, instead of folks chasing Gates' money by agreeing to 'his' approach, folks should propose a better way and seek money from those who agree.
Educators have gotten into this money mess by being prostitutes, frankly. Too many have been willing to do anything for funding, thus we make deals with the devil at the detriment of our customers, parents & students, and our most valued resource, teachers.

Posted by: pdexiii | January 18, 2011 9:51 AM | Report abuse

James Stigler and James Hiebert wrote the Teaching Gap in 1999. Their book chronicled how Japanese schools have employed "lesson studies" videotaping a way to perfect their lessons.

If a teacher is going to teach a unit next week on multiplying fractions, they can go to a national data-base and pull out videos on the most effective lessons across the country on this one topic.

This has made teaching in Japan more of a science rather than art, as it is here in the US. It also helps explain Japan's academic success of its schools.

Posted by: phoss1 | January 18, 2011 10:04 AM | Report abuse

His students just might be the first to drop out or quit college since they are unable to deal with or cope with endless college lectures where the teacher talks for the entire class period. Even at the best colleges in the country, where many classes are teacher-oriented, students must have learned patience, discipline, hard work, and delayed gratification to handle that type of learning environment.

Posted by: ericpollock | January 18, 2011 10:15 AM | Report abuse

I am not really sure why "videotaping" can't be used both ways - i.e. as a learning tool and as an evaluative tool. There are many activities being used in the classroom that have both features - when it relates to students. I hope that every evaluation that a teacher makes in a class is not done with a tool that, by itself, has no educational or learning value! I assume that most such tools both teach the child and provide evaluative feedback on the child to the teacher (and to the child for that matter).

Why are teachers so afraid of being evaluated? I have never seen anyone else, in any other job, that essentially wants to say that they should not be evaluated the way teachers seem to. I assure you that staff lawyers are strictly evaluated by their bosses, staff engineers are strictly evaluated by their bosses, staff CPAs are strictly evaluated by their bosses - why are teachers different? Yes, management should certainly employ tools, such as those described in this article, to grow their teachers, but does that necessarily obviate the ability to use the same or similiar tools to evaluate them? Just as not every engineer, lawyer, architect or CPA is going to be good at their job (or maybe just not a good fit at their firm), not every teacher is going to be good at their job (or maybe just not a good fit at their school). Try to grow them, but also strictly evaluate them and if they are not a good fit allow (or force) them to move on to something (or somewhere) where they will succeed and allow the school to put in place someone that will succeed at that school.

Posted by: nhsd | January 18, 2011 11:01 AM | Report abuse

One tires at the absurd ideas such as video taping classes.

What are supposedly the problems in American public education?

1. Large number of children in poverty public schools that have almost impossible to overcome obstacles to learning because of neglect and damaging environments prior to entering the public school system. Many of these children enter schools without any concept of reading.

2. Less interest in scientific areas by the middle class students with no consideration that the shipping of these jobs to foreign workers has lessened the desire to enter these fields. Couple this with the last ten years of testing to supposedly correct the achievement gap that have turned middle class public schools into places of boring drill and turned off students from learning.

And the answer to these problems is supposedly to radically change teachers and teaching. Apparently we no longer can deal with the causes of problems and have to pretend that we can simply ignore the causes in dealing with the problems.

Will video taping in the 1st and 2nd grade of poverty public schools suddenly overcome all those obstacles to learning. Is it a problem of ineffective teachers or a problem of seriously damaged children? Does any sane middle class person really believe that a teacher on their own is going to overcome the 5 years of neglect prior to enter school.

Contrary to Mr. Gates and the politicians the problem for the poverty public schools is the obstacles that children in these schools have in learning and these will not be overcome by supposedly effective teachers.

As for the lack of interest in the sciences, stop making positions in these fields unattractive by using cheap foreign labor. I never knew an investor that wanted to buy stock in a company if they knew the price of the stock would continuously go down. Maybe American students do not want to go into fields where American companies are using cheap foreign labor. Yes middle class students are not interested in learning since we have taken out any incentive in learning and made schools into places of boredom.

What is amazing is that so many teachers have bought into the absurdity.

An effective teacher in the sixth grade or a higher grade is not going to make any change on students that can not read. And as for middle class schools an effective teacher is not capable of making any change or difference in a system that is not geared to learning but geared simply to performing well on tests.

Posted by: bsallamack | January 18, 2011 11:51 AM | Report abuse


"Why are teachers so afraid of being evaluated?"

Teachers are no more afraid of being evaluated than any other person is afraid of being evaluated. However, there are right ways to evaluate people and wrong ways to to it. The area of contention is "how" people should be evaluated. So please cease with the universe-sized generalization that "[you] have never seen anyone else, in any other job, that essentially wants to say that they should not be evaluated the way teachers seem to."

If it was just their bosses evaluating people, I'm sure there would be fewer problems. However, there are teachers who do not get to be evaluated by just their bosses. They get evaluated using value-added measures. Or they get evaluated by someone who doesn't even know them or their students. Know the issues before you put your over-sized ego of a foot in your palsied mouth.

Posted by: DHume1 | January 18, 2011 12:25 PM | Report abuse

To nhsd,
You stated that staff CPAs are evaluated by their bosses. I'm quite sure their bosses were staff CPAs at one time or another, and for more than 1 year. Teachers get evaluated by people who've spent a couple of years in the classroom, at best, before tacking on insignificant titles to their resumes, such as 'dean of instruction'. Let me know the next time a doctor fresh out of residency evaluates someone who's been practicing for 20 years.

Posted by: peonteacher | January 18, 2011 1:55 PM | Report abuse

This article shows how valuable video feedback can be when used appropriately.

Having spent most of my teaching career in sue-happy and - at times - the paranoid Washington area, there are other considerations:

1. You generally need legal release forms to allow children to be videotaped.

2. If the observer/evaluator does not have good training and sound ethics in interpreting/discussing the videos, the
tapes can be improperly used, causing unwanted issues for both teacher and students.

Examples of improper use:

1. Some people/children feel intimidated
being taped and discussed; in the hands
of someone untrained and/or insensitive,
one could worsen the group dynamics and/
or discourage an individual from further
group participation, not to mention
damaging the teacher's position.

2. (true story): in one school I worked
at, a mistrustful parent - also very
difficult to deal with - came to teacher
conferences with a hidden tape recorder,
with no intention of informing the
teachers of intent to record.
This incident makes me fearful of
opening the door to hidden cameras in all
kinds of situations.

Conclusion: Bill Gates & Co. and the public need to be very careful where we go with videotaping in the classroom.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | January 18, 2011 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Why are teachers so afraid of being evaluated?
Posted by: nhsd
Have you stopped beating your wife?

Why are Americans so afraid of students being evaluated?

The tests evaluate the students not the teachers, but this is not acceptable to Americans if any of the students fail.

Only idiots could believe that if some students pass a test while some students do not pass a test the problem must be the teacher.

Wake up Americans. Those schools that have 50 percent failure rates in 4th grade reading are because of students that can not learn. Ship in the supposedly best effective teachers and the failure rate will still be 50 percent.

It is not that easy to undo multiple years of neglect and a poor environment.

If it was very few if any would work hard to live in a middle class neighborhood and give advantages to their children. Why bother when neglect and a poor environment will not matter to your children?

So nshd, Are you still beating your wife?

Posted by: bsallamack | January 18, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse


"Why are teachers so afraid of being evaluated? I have never seen anyone else, in any other job, that essentially wants to say that they should not be evaluated the way teachers seem to."

I worked for almost 30 years in business. I rarely saw anyone evaluated.

nhsd - Where do you work? I did contract work in business for a long time, and moved from one large company to another over the years. The employees I worked with were rarely evaluated, and when they were the evaluations were extremely weak compared to what I see going on in the schools in Illinois.

So where do you work that there is such a strong evaluation system. In my nearly 30 years in business, I never saw any.

Posted by: educationlover54 | January 18, 2011 4:48 PM | Report abuse


"Why are teachers so afraid of being evaluated? I have never seen anyone else, in any other job, that essentially wants to say that they should not be evaluated the way teachers seem to."

I've never seen or known of anyone who is so closely evaluated as teachers are. Why don't you instead ask business why they won't put the effort into evaluations that are already going on for teachers?

Posted by: educationlover54 | January 18, 2011 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Have you ever asked why teaching, the most heavily evaluated profession of all - keeps hearing the demands for more evaluation?

Why are people always demanding more evaluations for teachers when they themselves are not getting as heavily evaluated on their jobs?

Posted by: jlp19 | January 18, 2011 4:57 PM | Report abuse

nhsd - Can we see your last evaluation? Can you copy and paste it into this article?

Posted by: resc | January 18, 2011 5:01 PM | Report abuse


In Illinois, teachers are evaluated at least twice a year by someone with years of experience as a teacher.

Posted by: resc | January 18, 2011 5:21 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher, I've found videotaping my lessons and then analyzing them with supportive colleagues to be extraordinary professional development. I admire Mr. Ferlazzo's willingness to get feedback from his students in order to improve his teaching practice, but both he and Ms. Strauss miss the point of the video component of the Gates MET project. The researchers are seeking to find out what strategies effective teachers use to engage and challenge their students. They plan to disseminate this information to help education training programs and districts support great teaching and create fair evaluations that support professional growth. Ms. Strauss's implication that the core purpose of the video-taping component of the MET project is to evaluate teachers is extremely misleading.

Posted by: feros | January 18, 2011 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Why ARE teacher so afraid of being evaluated? I am an educator who happens to feel there is room for both ways of providing feedback for teacher videotapes. Being evaluated by an "outsider" (by the way those outsiders sre also educators) is one way to keep the inherent subjectivity at bay. Knowing the teacher has its advantanges, but sometimes the line between evaluator and friend is not honored. What is so wrong with having another educator (who does not know the teacher personally) look for the tangible aspects that can be measured in the classroom while the teacher interacts with students?

Posted by: annaa60030 | January 21, 2011 12:08 PM | Report abuse

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