Thursday, January 14, 2010

Feedback for Improved Teaching

As a teacher, one of the best self-help tools for me was to tape record a class every now and then and then simply listen to it. We are always going to be our own worst critics, so if we can get to a point where we are pleased with what we hear on the tape, it will probably come across as GREAT to ourkids. Many of my teachers will recall my making this suggestion on an individual basis in a post-observation conference. I never have to ask someone if they have taken me up on that suggestion; it's very obvious in later observations.

I was reminded of this point recently in this short essay. In it, author Steve Pavlina suggests going a couple of steps further--video taping yourself and getting feedback from other people.

I will never forget a certain class my junior year in high school. It was the first day for the brand-new student teacher to conduct a class. Within the first few minutes, it was painfully obvious that she had a few verbal "tics." It seemed every sentence started with or ended with "you know." (Some sentences started AND ended that way.) Add to that a bushel of "OK" and a peck of "and-uh," and before you know it, all my friend Darrell and I could do was count the verbal "tics."

The smiles, suppressed laughter, and glances back and forth between Darrell and me did not go unnoticed. And the end of the class period, this student teacher asked us what we were doing, and we showed her the paper with the tally we had been keeping. The use of "OK" numbered over 70 all by itself, and that was just in a 45-minute class period.

What happened next is what makes this story from almost 30 years ago memorable. Rather than being angry or hurt, this student teacher asked us if we would run that same tally each day for a while, and we agreed. Within two days, this young teacher had virtually eliminated all of the vocal tics even without the help of audio or videotape feedback.

For veteran teachers, "routine" becomes "rut" unless there is a guiding force to shape improvement. Without the feedback, we only become more and more like ourselves. As veteran teachers, we also have the ability to step out of a rut and lay new tracks. The feedback we can give ourselves through audio, or as this author suggests--videotape, is an easy and significant step.
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