The availability of inexpensive HD video cameras, such as iPhones or Flip Cameras, and easy-to-use, inexpensive film editing software, like iMovie, opens up many opportunities for professional learning (in fact, all kinds of learning) in schools. One powerful way to use these tools is to create video study groups.

My friend Jean Clark from Cecil County Maryland has taught me a lot about how to set up video study groups, and pretty much everything I’m going to describe here is something Jean did as instructional coach with teachers at Bohemia Manor Middle School.  Jean loves video, and if you spend much time with her, you will likely find yourself in front of a camera being filmed.

Video study groups bring together teachers who wish to watch and discuss video recordings of themselves teaching. Here are some of the elements of effective Video Study Groups (VSGs) that I have learned from Jean:

Choice

In Jean’s school, the VSG was one of several options for professional learning offered for teachers on their monthly late-arrival days.  Thus, only teachers who were open to this experience participated. (I suspect that if teachers were forced to participate in Video Study Groups, they might not be receptive to the learning.)

Common Teaching Practice

In Jean’s group, all the teachers were implementing the same teaching practice (a teaching routine to ensure students master concepts), and the VSG was a way by which they all deepened their understanding of how to teach the routine.

Recording a Class

Prior to each meeting, one teacher volunteered to prepare and share a video. To prepare the video, volunteers recorded themselves using the teaching routine. Sometimes Jean helped by recording the class, but often teachers simply set up the camera where it would catch them teaching.

Editing the Video

After recording the class, teachers loaded their videos into iMovie.  (Each teacher in the VSG eventually did this.) The teachers then edited the film, with the goal of identifying aspects of the lesson that went well and a section of the lesson that they wanted to improve.  Teachers watched the film multiple times and edited the film into a short movie. While editing the film, teachers had to watch their lessons many times, and, according to Jean, those repeated viewings led them to see many fine details of their lesson that wouldn’t have been obvious after watching the lesson just once.

Sharing the Video

At the Video Study Group, after the film has been edited, the volunteer shares her video with the group, showing each section and asking for comments.

At the very first group meeting, Jean guided her team to collaborate and identify values they would work from while discussing each other’s video. Thus, comments about lessons were positive, honest, constructive, and useful.

Usually the volunteer shares the two positive clips first. After showing each one, she comments on what she saw and asks her colleagues for feedback. During the final video, teachers ask questions as much as they commented.

The Benefits of Video Study Groups

VSGs are valuable for at least four reasons.

1. Teachers learn a great deal by watching themselves teaching, especially after they have watched several times.

2. VSGs provide follow-up to professional learning such as workshops.  We know that workshops by themselves do not lead to significant change in teaching practice. BRIEFLY IDENTIFY Marshall Goldsmith, for example, gathered data from 250,000 workshop participants and found that without follow-up, people do not change.  Members of a VSG commit to implementing a practice and then have multiple opportunities to explore different ways it might be implemented.

3. The dialogue that occurs during VSGs deepens group members’ understanding of how to teach the targeted practice and often introduces them to other powerful and often subtle teaching practices while watching others teach and listening to team members’ comments.

4. When teachers come together for such conversation, they often form a meaningful bond simply because the structure of a VSG compels everyone to stand vulnerably in front of their peers and to engage in constructive, supportive conversations.  Those bonds may ultimately be more important that all of the other learning that occurs.

All in all, Video Study Groups can propel teachers forward as they work to provide excellent instruction for every student every day.  If teachers have the time and the technology, Video Study Groups are an exciting alternative to more traditional forms of professional learning.