The Importance of Learning to Observe
I distinctly remember when I needed to understand the game of football. Sure, I’d spent years as a fan, cheering the touchdowns and feeling disappointment with dropped passes. But frankly, all I could see was the surface — all the strategy, all the athleticism, all the orchestration of plays simply went over my head.
So I started to ask questions about rules, about positions, and I asked people (patient people) to start pointing things out to me as we watched. And I got better.
If you’re wondering what football has to do with teaching, let me offer this: we’ll never understand the complexity of the work we do if we don’t learn to see beyond the surface. We won’t grow as teachers, or as a profession, if we can’t observe carefully. Observing other teachers in action is what we do at Teaching Channel. Videos allow us to watch teachers in a diversity of settings execute a diversity of philosophies. We watch them in hopes of getting better.
Yet, I know from having all kinds of observers join my classroom, that learning to observe is a tough endeavor. We bring natural bias to it, we can focus on too much or not enough, and we can get distracted by tasks instead of focusing on learning purpose. Therefore, we have to learn to see what’s underneath, what isn’t so obvious. In short, it’s a literacy all its own. It’s a skill to acquire and it’s a skill that empowers teachers to call their own plays. So let’s get better together!
How This Challenge Works
In this blog series, we’ll look at one lesson in three different ways: what you hear, what you see, and what’s invisible. Using an Uncut Classroom* (raw video footage) from Ms. Brewer’s class, we’ll watch 5-minute segments without the benefit of any guiding narrative or graphic scaffolding. While watching, post your observations in the comments section or download the Observation Worksheet in Step 1 below. Don’t forget to include the time code in your comments. Then, after the Uncut, I’ll share a Think Aloud with what I observe. This exercise is even more effective if you do it with a friend or colleague. (Note: I chose 5-minute segments because many of us have about that much time in our instructional rounds.)
We hope these exercises help you hone your skills, engage in deeper discussions with your professional circles, and translate and adapt what you’re learning on Teaching Channel to your own teaching practice.