Laura Baecher, author and Hunter College professor, articulates the notion that forward planning can actually encourage risks in her conversation with Edthena CEO Adam Geller. Here is part 2 of their 5-part PLTogether Lounge Talk conversation.

Here is a transcript of this conversation.

– Welcome to PLtogether, lounge talks. This is another lounge talk. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena, a video coaching platform. Today we’re talking to Laura Baecher. She is an Associate Professor at Hunter College. She supports and trains teachers of English as a second language and she’s also the author of a book about using video for teacher learning. Laura, thanks so much for continuing the conversation with us.

– Thank you.

– So let’s get into some of the nuts and bolts, or maybe it’s the 10,000 version 10,000 foot version. I’m not sure it’s the actual nuts and bolts, but let’s start talking about what does it mean when we say using video for teacher learning? And so in your book, one of the kind of phases that you talk about is the idea of introducing classroom observation. And you say that when you start doing this process of introducing, it needs to be experiences that are low inference, nonjudgmental observations. What do you mean by that?

– Well, one of the things that is glaringly obvious, but we don’t really talk about it enough is that when we invite teachers to reflect on their practice, most teachers do not have classroom observation coursework and their teacher preparation programs. So for example, if you become a school leader, district leader, you’ve taken instructional supervision courses, you’ve learned about low and high inference note-taking, and you probably get a lot of PD on it in your districts as well, but teachers don’t yet they’re supposed to take in all this feedback and actually maybe do peer observation or self-observation, but they don’t often have the benefit of kind of the groundwork. So that groundwork that I talk about before you even talk about bringing in video is just to help teachers become comfortable with looking at classrooms and classrooms are very, very complex environments with many, many actors in the environment, a lot of materials, a lot of movement, a lot of talk. So they are challenging to observe. And one of the I think really essential pieces that is a foundation for reflective practice is to be able to really notice and attend without judgment. And the reason that’s talked about a lot, of course, not just by me, but in any kind of training for doing observation is because when, once we form a judgment, our biases kind of kick in and we tend to gather evidence that supports the belief that we already have. So if I walk in and I think, Oh, this teacher is the best, this is just the best teacher. I’m just gonna look for things that support that. And I may not see a lot of other things and in fact, some of those really great teachers say, where’s my feedback? And the observer’s like, “Oh, you were just great.” This was great and that was great, but I actually wanted to learn something, sometimes they’re disappointed real strong teachers. So the low inference is really about that. It’s about are we making inferences? Are we making judgments before we really look and see? And of course, we always do. And we always will because we’re humans and we’re wired to notice certain things based on our past experiences, et cetera. But if we work to suspend it, we can actually notice quite a bit more, and noticing more, gives us more data. So then later we can analyze it and if we need to or want to come up with some kind of assessment or evaluation based on what we’ve seen, but it’s kind of, I think of it as like a conversation ender. If I walk in and just say, “Oh, well, that’s good.” Well, what’s good about it? What are you actually seeing? Because how can I even replicate that, if I don’t know what that is. So that helps, I think just see more. And then it really helps with the self-observation process, ’cause once you bring in video and you ask me to look at myself, rewatch an episode of teaching, teachers tend to judge so harshly themselves. And they cut themselves off from really the noticing and seeing. So if you could train me first to just look and notice, suspend the judgment or place it to the side, continuously place it to the side, it slows me down, but I see more. And so then if I can apply that when I watch myself, it helps me from jumping to those conclusions or really harsh judgments of myself and enables me really to see more of the practice.

– In hearing you talk about the idea of the noticing, it really reminds me we have what we call the five focusing techniques and we call that kind of first engagement spot for the purpose of just like you’re saying, like really working to notice for the purpose of seeing it, not for the purpose of making the judgment about it. That really resonates with me. Maybe you can take us through one of the video analysis of teaching activities that’s what you call them in the book, the VATs, maybe let’s talk about tallying. I know this is one of the VATs that you have related to introducing classroom observation.

– That’s a real basic one that helps quite a bit with the nonjudgmental looking. So tallying is just what it sounds like it’s simply marking, instances of a particular type of behavior. So for example, let’s say I’m interested in why Adam isn’t participating as much in the class. Maybe at five-minute intervals, I simply mark down what Adam is doing. Or maybe I feel that the teacher is asking like so many questions, but doesn’t wait for answers. So maybe I just gonna tally the number of questions I hear. Maybe I’m concerned about the English learners in the room they don’t ever get called on. So I’m just gonna watch and see how many instances of times that the teacher does call on an English learner in the room, et cetera. So, or I would do that for my own video if I’m watching myself. And what tallying does is I talk about putting blinders on like as if a horse is with blinders, because it’s very distracting to notice everything and to look at everything at the same time and it’s very tempting to go into the judging. And the truth is of course, watching teaching live is a different experience than watching it on video. It’s not a replacement for it. Being live you do have a gestalt, you do have an energy, you do feel and notice things that you can’t always pick up in video. But video is a different tool. Video is excellent of course for the rewind and review capability, which we can’t ever have in real-time. So tallying is very hard live. For example, I might start out watching something live and I might perceive that something’s happening. Let’s say, Oh, this student isn’t getting called on very much or there’s a lot of disciplinary language in this particular lesson, but I won’t have an exact number. And it’s very hard then to go and work with that. Let’s see if I want to get feedback to the teacher. It’s sort of my impression, but if I can watch a video and tally, how many times students were praised versus criticized, that is very powerful and it has no judgment, it’s simply accounting. And so that helps again with the blinders. It helps us just stay focused. It’s the most low inference way you can possibly intake any of the information you’re seeing in the lesson, because even when I take notes, I’m putting in often some kind of qualitative or judgmental language. Students were engaged is a big one, So if I have to tally something like how many times did students raise their hands? How many different people volunteered answers? Then it becomes much less qualitative and much more quantitative. So it is easier for me to stay focused both while I’m observing and also when I’m receiving that information.

– I’m just thinking about we’re kind of describing it through the frame of the teacher doing the tallying and maybe a role for the coach or the school leader here is to talk with the teacher about what they want to tally might be a way that the coach could be supporting rather than needing to do the tallying themselves when we’re talking about a video episode.

– Actually is really interesting, Adam, just to jump on that for a second. If you have a video record, let’s say my teaching and you’re my coach, and I wanna look at, let’s say how many times I’m asking questions or how many questions I ask, what’s interesting is to compare tallies ’cause they’re not always the same. And that can open up a lot of conversation because some of the things that I thought were questions were often not questions. They’re classroom management moves for example, they have different functions to them. And sometimes even if I’m watching myself and I’m tallying, I’m still not perceiving certain things the way the outside observer is. So it’s still so valuable to have that coach, the school leader, et cetera, facilitating rather than me sitting by myself and just tallying, because you still can reveal a lot about what the teacher knows and is able to notice through the tallying exercise.

– So now let’s translate this for folks that are thinking about the world during Coronavirus distance teaching lots of different things. So maybe give us one or two ideas of something that maybe we should tally and maybe by the way, those are the same things we should have been tallying before in a distance teaching in a distance learning context.

– Well, I think if you were, for example, I’ll give you one example that’s maybe synchronous and one that’s asynchronous. So a synchronistic example, when we think about students, for example, in a zoom or web conference, Google meet, et cetera, and the teacher. So what happens again, as you just said in real classrooms that we know we’re always fighting against is too much teacher talking time. So the teacher is talking quite a bit and there’s not as much time for student talk and very little peer to peer talk. So if in the classroom you would be looking for peer to peer interaction and you might be tallying how many minutes are spent and how many times in the lesson does the teacher asks the students to turn to each other? You could enact that as well in a synchronous classroom. You could have breakout rooms, you could have students partnering or in small groups, and you could actually tally that as well in an online synchronous classroom. And I think one of the things that’s happened is because teachers have just getting, or just getting comfortable with sort of presenting their materials and the online platform, they are talking much longer. They feel they have to do a video lecture rather than really create interactivity. So if, and one of the powerful things about tallying is what I call a feed-forward effect. So if I know that you’re gonna tally in this lesson, the number of times I have students do peer to peer talk, just like I did back when you came into my classroom, but now I’m doing it here online. I’m gonna probably do it more. I’m gonna plan forward in my lesson to have a lot of turn and talks or breakout rooms in that particular session, because I know we’re tallying it and therefore it’s that real positive feed-forward. It’s not a gotcha. It helps me be more aware of my planning of things that I can create in the distance learning classroom. And when I see what happens, it kind of, it provokes me to take that risk. So now afterward we’d sit and talk and I say, I knew we were gonna count our peer to peer talk, so I put in a lot of breakout rooms, well, how did it go? “Well, you know what? “It went really well. “I did feel the students were more engaged “or I did feel this or that.” So that would be one example from an online point of view. With the asynchronous, I think one of the things that happens a lot, going back to how teachers are presenting content, a lot of teachers are doing screencasting, they’re video recording themselves with their PowerPoint or their content, and they’re posting it for students to react to it. So they could, for example, watch their own video just of their presentation. They could look at where do I stop? Where do I pause? How do I give non-examples? How do I present misconceptions to students? Things that I might’ve done in a content presentation in a classroom. Am I still pulling on those when I present myself through content in an asynchronous module? So those are a couple of examples.

– I think you may have revealed the like coaches magic method for helping encourage change, to occur in a classroom with this feed-forward let’s tally it kind of idea. What a powerful change management technique even if you didn’t label it that way.

– It is, it is. It’s very powerful. And I think it’s so strongly linked to planning and that’s where the knowing I’m going to be doing it before I do it really helps me change my plan.

– Well, Laura, we’re gonna take a break for those of you that are watching or listening to this somewhere out there on the internet, you can watch the rest of this conversation and more at pltogether.org Laura, thank you so much for joining us and we’ll continue the conversation in just a minute.

– Great. Thank you.

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