Teaching is personal. In fact, according to my principal, teaching is a work of heart. It's heart work, not just hard work. And not only is it heart work, the only thing more personal than teaching is going to the bathroom.
As part of a district initiative, I started video recording my teaching practice to improve higher-order thinking and student-led conversations. At first blush, I was mortified at the thought of a camera catching every moment of my class. Not because I was fearful of what anyone would find, but because I was fearful of what I might not find. I thought as an experienced teacher, I knew what was happening in my classroom. Why would I need to video record my teaching and watch it when I was there live?
What I didn't realize was the power of recording my instruction, watching, and seeking constructive feedback from my peers.
More and more in education, teachers are joining professional learning communities, watching video of their classrooms, or using rubrics like the EQuIP rubric from Achieve to review current lessons and units. To some, the thought of sharing their teaching practice is frightening. Others freely welcome any and all feedback from their peers to perfect their craft. Regardless, we have to accept and honor where each educator is on his or her journey of professional development.
The professional development in my district uses Authentic Intellectual Work. Using this model, my PLC looks at my instruction, the task I give to students, and/or the student work resulting from the task. The AIW framework consists of Construction of Knowledge/Higher Order Thinking, Disciplined Inquiry, and Value Beyond School.
Using the framework, here are sample questions I gave my PLC to help them identify the points in my instruction and lesson plans where I wanted feedback:
- Does my lesson have students creating generalizations based upon fair knowledge, or are students able to Google, recall, or reproduce knowledge given to them?
- Does my lesson conceptually address the science content, or are my students going from one unit to the next without making transferable connections?
- Does my lesson have students sharing their ideas and building on one another's thinking to come to a common understanding, or am I doing all the talking?
- Does my lesson have students doing science as scientists, or are they reading about the work of other scientists?
- Does my lesson have students applying science to the world around them, or is it only applicable in the classroom?
When teachers submit their videos or bring a lesson or unit plan to be reviewed, we have to keep in mind that teaching is personal. We must give evidence-based, descriptive, non-evaluative feedback. Had I received evaluative or judgmental feedback from my peers, I would've been less likely to share my work with anyone again. Without sharing my work I become a silo, and I don't benefit from the expertise of the incredibly talented people I work with. Because we've built a culture of risk-taking and trust, I'm a far better teacher than I was before.
Over the last couple of years since Iowa adopted the NGSS, I've found the AIW framework is directly aligned with the 3D nature of NGSS. The standards demand conceptual teaching and learning while engaging in the scientific practices. Students are actually doing what scientists do as they learn the content, and they're sharing their understanding with the world around them.
There are several other valuable items I could get feedback on in my instruction outside of AIW. For example, what is the percentage of student on-task time? How often is the teacher talking versus students talking? Who is participating? How often are they participating? I can use video to capture feedback on these aspects of instruction and more to continuously refine my practice.
Sara Brown Wessling, Johnston High School English teacher, 2010 National Teacher of the Year, and Teacher Laureate Emeritus for Teaching Channel, shares her story of using video to refine her practice in this video.
As I embrace the implementation of NGSS with integrity and seek to perfect my craft, I'll continue to rely on resources such as EQuIP, my colleagues, and the AIW framework to refine my practice, but I can only be comfortable doing so if feedback is evidence-based and descriptive.
Did I mention that teaching is personal?
Susan Lyons is a middle school science teacher, Project Lead the Way (PLTW) Master Teacher, AIW Local Coach, and National Board Certified teacher at Pella Middle School in Pella, Iowa. Susan has been teaching secondary science and PLTW since 2000, and is a graduate of Central College and Nova Southeastern University. She currently serves as one of the district’s AIW coordinators, is a member of the district leadership team, and the State of Iowa’s Science Leadership Team. Susan is a part of the Tch Next Gen Science Squad. Connect with Susan on Twitter: @mslyons7207.