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Lesson Snapshot for TEFL Teachers

Francis Ford Coppola at the camera

Watching every move you make.

Lesson Snapshot is a method by which you as a teacher can try to look objectively at the way you teach and check out your style and methods from the point of view of your students.

Basically you video a typical lesson to provide a snapshot of your lesson which lets you see how it works from the students’ point of view.

It is an invaluable method to provide feedback on your teaching and if you are perhaps shy about having a “live” observer in your class, it’s a good introduction to observed teaching practice.

Background

As teachers it is easy to fall into a rut when teaching. After several years at the chalkface we often end up using the same coursebooks‏‎, the same types of exercises and the same jokes! Every so often we might take a short weekend or afternoon seminar or course and come back with a few ideas, but more often than not we get to a certain level and coast along.

By videoing a lesson you take a completely fresh look at the way you teach from the point of view of your students.

More often than not you will come away at the end with a completely different idea of your teaching. You might think that you are a student centered‏‎, exciting teacher but in truth you may discover the complete opposite!

This exercise is about getting your lessons observed by an objective viewer. The last time this happened was probably on your teacher training course and that may have been many, many years ago! However, this time round it’s YOU who will be observing and criticizing yourself.

Setting Up

To video your class all you need is a simple video camera. Of course you should use the best quality camera you can find (and an external microphone is very useful) but even fairly cheap cameras will do fine. This isn’t a Hollywood production here, you just want to be able to see the class and hear what’s happening. (Note that mobile phones don’t usually have a good enough microphone to get the whole class.)

Set up the camera at the back of the classroom on a tripod making sure you can see all the students as well as the whiteboard‏‎ and where you do most of your standing. (In some cases you might like to ask your DoS‏‎ or school owner if this is allowed as some schools have strict rules about filming and photographing in class.)

Make a short test and check that the image is clear enough and – importantly – the sound is clear enough.

And then click the record button and let the lesson begin.

Replaying the Lesson

When all the dust has settled it’s time to look at the footage. Here you must try to be as objective as possible; the more objective you are, the more useful this exercise will be and the more surprises you’re likely to get.

When you first view the footage it’s very possible that one or two elements will jump out at you. Don’t stop there, however, but go through the video several times methodically checking different aspects. You will be surprised at what you see! And don’t just look at what you are doing at the front of the class, look also at how the students are reacting and what they are doing. This can tell you more about your teaching than concentrating only on yourself!

So, keep a close eye on these aspects of the lesson:

  • Who is talking the most? You might even want to take a stopwatch to this and see how long you talk in the lesson and how long the students talk. If your teacher talking time‏‎ is too high then something needs to be done about it!
  • Which students speak in class? Do you only ask those who put their hands up or do you involve the whole class? Count how many students in your class who never actually speak or get actively involved in the lesson.
  • What are the students doing while you are talking or writing on the board or walking around? Are they all paying attention or are some of them messing around? After the initial novelty of the camera wears off the students start to relax and it won’t be unusual to see students getting bored and messing around when your back is turned. If this is the case then you need to ask yourself why they are doing this: is the lesson to easy? too difficult? boring?
  • Is the whole class engaged for the whole lesson? Which elements of the lesson are more engaging than others?
  • Is your lesson well prepared? Did you stumble over some exercises or get lost during a presentation? Did you have everything prepared well?
  • What’s the “tone” of the classroom? Positive? Happy? Boring? Dull? Enthusiastic?
  • If there’s a discipline‏‎ problem how was it handled and what were the other students doing while you were dealing with the issue?
  • Did you use the time well? Good teachers are masters of time and their classes are engaged and busy for the whole lesson.
  • How do you interact with your students and vice versa? Is there respect all round? Is there interest all round?
  • Are you giving positive feedback to the students?

Once you have watched the video a couple or more times then themes will develop. Often behavior is connected: a lesson which is too advanced for the class can lead to fidgeting at the back and disruptive behavior; a teacher who talks to fill silences will dissuade students from participating and so on.

So use the Lesson Snapshot to analyze your teaching. Make it a regular occurrence in your classroom. Get into the habit of doing it at least once per term with different classes (especially ones where you feel things aren’t going as well as they could) and you will find your teaching improving!

See Also

Feedback the Teacher‏‎ – getting your students to judge your style!

TEFL Training Course – perhaps it’s time to learn some new ideas to improve your teaching

Video-reflection for teachers – a blog on one teacher’s experiences videoing themself.

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