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November 1, 2018
Vol. 76
No. 3

Video-Stimulated Recall: Aiding Teacher Practice

Through guided VSR sessions, teachers can take control of their learning—to everyone's benefit.

Professional LearningTechnology
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Reflective practice remains an enduring goal of most professional development initiatives—with good reason. Consider these comments about reflection that two experienced high school teachers recently made to me:
I'm doing it constantly. I'm always reflecting even at the same time as teaching. … I don't focus on any one thing; I constantly juggle things like class management, skills, content, activities, personal issues, personalities, balancing them all to reflect simultaneously.If you don't reflect on what you're doing, how do you know if what you're doing is working? I constantly reflect on what we're doing here. Is it working for every student? How can I facilitate it better? … Reflection is the most important part of teaching.
For most educators, reflective practice is as much an essential way of being in the profession as it is a thoughtful response to the uncertainty they routinely encounter in classrooms. Although the depth and focus of their reflections will vary, teachers are always reflecting—because they must. It is, as John Dewey (1933/1964) wrote nearly a century ago, their responsibility as educators, and crucial to their growth.
However, not all reflective opportunities are as relevant or transformative for teachers as they could be. The demands of teachers' work often leave neither the time nor the structures to reflect with colleagues. Left to reflect by themselves, teachers run the risk of over- or underestimating their effectiveness or believing that the instructional problems facing them rest solely on their shoulders.
Even when schools promote collaborative reflection through initiatives like professional learning communities, conversations can be limited to ways teachers can ensure better outcomes for students on standardized tests (Servage, 2008; View et al, 2016). Such "reflection" seldom nurtures the core inclinations that bring teachers to the profession, let alone inspires them to grow or learn from colleagues.
How can teachers reflect with others in ways that sustain and develop them professionally? Video-stimulated recall (VSR), long used as a tool by researchers to capture and study teacher cognition, is one promising approach. It can promote reflection on teachers' terms and foster a more collegial school culture.

What Is Video-Stimulated Recall?

VSR methodology involves interviewing teachers as they watch video-recorded segments of their own teaching (Sturtz & Hessberg, 2012). Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, researchers used VSR to gain insight into the unarticulated thinking and decision-making processes effective teachers engage in while instructing their students (Clark & Peterson, 1986). During VSR sessions, teacher-participants would be instructed to stop the video to explain their thinking in a given moment or elaborate on the reasoning underlying their in-class decisions. Guiding pre-service teachers through such sessions enabled teacher educators to help them deepen their understanding of effective teaching (Ethel & McMeniman, 2000).
Although the sessions weren't intended as professional development, after participating in VSR studies, teachers often reported significant changes in their beliefs and practices. Indeed, the space VSR sessions provide teachers to review their teaching and make their tacit knowledge explicit not only lets them reflect in the company of colleagues, it also gives them the opportunity to reflect in more meaningful ways than school routines often allow. With VSR, teachers are directly confronted with their actions. When sessions are conducted with care, teachers become practical researchers, capable of generating new, useful knowledge for future instructional situations.
The best VSR sessions aren't critiques of teaching or coaching sessions (Kim & Silver, 2016). In critiques, problems of practice are located and defined solely by those interviewing or working with teachers; teachers may feel they are being tested or that their pedagogical goals are unimportant. In contrast, reflective conversations acknowledge and give primacy to the teachers' agency and expertise. The point is to inspire, not drive, teachers' reflections. The facilitator, be it a fellow teacher or administrator, seeks to learn from and better understand the teacher whose practice is on display.

Inspiring Teacher Growth

Inspired by VSR's potential to promote reflective conversations, I employed the methodology to interview four experienced high school history teachers in a high-poverty urban district. Colleagues had identified these teachers as highly reflective. (At the time, I was on sabbatical from this district.) Although the VSR sessions often took place after school, teachers were eager to participate.
For each teacher, I video-recorded three lessons from a unit of their choice. After each observation/recording, the teacher and I viewed the video of that lesson together, pausing at key points so the teacher could reflect and process what she or he noticed. After the unit finished, I conducted a more traditional interview with each of these colleagues, whom I'll here refer to as James, Brianna, Kati, and Bill. Among other things, I asked them about the VSR experience and how they perceived the unit's overall success in light of their greater purposes for teaching.
During the VSR session interviews, I gave teachers joint control of the video. I instructed them to stop the recording at moments in which they either recalled something unexpected, felt uncertain about something, made a decision, or felt compelled to reflect on a particular problem. In these instances, I asked them to elaborate on what they were thinking during these selected moments and discuss the reasoning that influenced any accompanying decisions. In cases where a teacher identified something problematic, I asked her or him to theorize possible root causes of (or solutions to) the problem. I purposefully made my questions broad and open-ended; I didn't want to limit the scope of teachers' reflections or infringe on their agency as learners.

Opening Their Eyes

The understandings teachers derived from these interviews highlight what sets VSR apart from traditional reflective tools like journaling or autobiographical narratives. The insights these teachers took away revealed the promise this technique holds for everyone's learning.

Becoming Aware of Inequitable Practices

Because the reflection that VSR sessions promote relies on video, as opposed to a teacher's memory, a teaching moment can be revisited over time, alerting teachers to subtle ways their decisions may not be serving all students. During one of James's sessions, he noticed how frequently he used first-person plural pronouns when discussing American history with his students, many of whom were undocumented immigrants. This dismayed him: "I'm not being inclusive, and I'm not being truthful. I can't say 'we' or 'us' … some of them consider themselves Puerto Rican." For teachers who, like James, are committed to creating a classroom that's inclusive of students' cultural backgrounds, VSR can bring to the forefront of their minds how everyday language might contradict those aims.

Analyzing (and Responding to) Student Thinking

The many moving parts and fast-paced nature of teaching can make it difficult for teachers to notice, let alone analyze and respond to, all the student thinking that occurs in a given lesson (Sherin & van Es, 2005). As Bill and Kati's sessions demonstrate, VSR can help mitigate this challenge. While rewatching a classroom discussion, Kati homed in on how one student appeared to be overly cynical about the information being presented in class, a problem that Kati expressed a desire to think through more. Bill's VSR sessions illuminated for him not only gaps in his students' knowledge, but an action plan for how to address them. He noticed how, during a class debate, most students weren't using strong evidence to support their claims, which he thought was likely a result of needing more (and better) opportunities to practice the skill. Bill scrapped his lesson plan for the following day so his students could do just that.

Strengthening Confidence, Autonomy, and Identity

Brianna's interviews illustrated how reflecting through VSR sessions can increase teachers' confidence and awareness of their professional agency. Watching herself teach, Brianna developed a deepened awareness of and appreciation for her decision-making prowess—something teachers can easily take for granted:
Watching myself [I thought], "There is actually a lot going on all at the same time" and, I guess, in some ways it actually made me feel like I am good at what I do … watching it and thinking … "I am making these decisions and I do have this overall objective … it might seem chaotic, but it's not."
VSR gave Brianna a stronger sense of her identity as a teacher, which ignited curiosity about her colleagues' teaching:
When you ask questions about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it, I think it makes me realize, "Yeah, not everybody does it this way, or not everybody thinks about it that way." … It's made me think of what makes me unique as a teacher, not better or worse, but just different than what other people are doing.
She began to seek input from fellow teachers more about how they handled "mundane things," asking, for instance, "When you guys are doing the 'do now,' what kinds of questions do you ask and how do you hold the kids accountable?"
Comments like this suggest that participation in the VSR process can plant seeds for collegiality in a school. The more conscious teachers are of their own thinking and decision making, the more likely they are to be willing to learn from fellow teachers' decisions. When I brought up with Brianna the possibility of her facilitating professional development with colleagues using VSR, she responded enthusiastically.

Three Crucial Ingredients

Making teacher-driven VSR a job-embedded norm within schools is easier said than done. Moreover, just because teachers view video of themselves and their peers teaching doesn't guarantee that learning will take place. For high-quality VSR sessions to happen regularly, school leaders should commit to three practices.
Get Buy-In. Introducing VSR as something teachers "must do" without appealing to teachers' needs or to deeper reasons connected to teaching isn't likely to yield an enthusiastic response. School leaders should be explicit with teachers about the benefits—such as professional and student growth—and explain that the purpose of these sessions is to provide educators space to reflect on issues deemed most relevant to their practice. It's paramount that teachers believe their leaders are as invested in their growth as they are.
Being patient and taking the long view is critical. No doubt, teachers will have many questions or reservations about the VSR process, especially if it's introduced at the beginning of a school year when they are still establishing classroom routines and getting to know their students. Leaders would be wise to consider a rollout strategy that allows adequate time for teachers to learn about VSR and establish ownership over the process. This could include providing opportunities for teacher teams to read and discuss articles about VSR, negotiate norms for how and with whom sessions will be conducted, and brainstorm practical questions to focus their thinking during viewings.
Train Teachers. Considering the varying levels of teaching experience and familiarity with VSR within a school, training is crucial. Without proper training and scaffolding, beginning teachers in particular may have trouble discerning what is and is not worth noticing in classroom videos (Gaudin & Chaliès, 2015). They may focus on matters not germane to student learning, such as minor managerial issues. As one solution, experienced teachers—who are more likely to attend to relevant classroom events—could be chosen and trained as VSR facilitators. Trained teachers might selectively pair themselves with beginning teachers during their own VSR sessions so they can model for them the types of thinking that lead to meaningful reflection.
Strengthen Trust. Trusting relationships are as much an ingredient for quality VSR sessions as they are a possible result. The act of filming and sharing video of oneself teaching with a colleague is a professional risk; disclosing the thinking and uncertainties that accompany—and result from—said teaching is even more of one. If teachers sense that they're being judged or that there will be repercussions for their thoughts (and filmed practices), they will be hesitant to take that risk and will be defensive, not reflective, during interviews.
Trust cannot be built overnight. However, VSR facilitators can lay the groundwork for trust by establishing personal connections with teachers and assuring them at the onset of sessions that they are there to understand them, not evaluate them.
Something as important as reflection shouldn't be left to chance in schools. When teachers have structured, meaningful opportunities to reflect, they stand better equipped to transform themselves, their students, and their schools.
References

Clark, C. M., & Peterson, P. L. (1986). Teachers' thought processes. In M. C. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching (3rd ed., pp. 255–296). New York: Macmillan.

Dewey, J. (1933/1964). John Dewey on education (R. Archambault, Ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Ethel, R. G., & McMeniman, M. M. (2000). Unlocking the knowledge in action of an expert practitioner. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(2), 87–101.

Gaudin, C., & Chaliès, S. (2015). Video viewing in teacher education and professional development: A literature review. Educational Research Review, 16, 41–67.

Kim, Y., & Silver, R. E. (2016). Provoking reflective thinking in post observation conversations. Journal of Teacher Education, 67(3), 203–219.

Servage, L. (2008). Critical and transformative practices in professional learning communities. Teacher Education Quarterly, 35(1), 63–77.

Sherin, M. G., & van Es, E. A. (2005). Using video to support teachers' ability to notice classroom interactions. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 13(3), 475–491.

Sturtz, J., & Hessberg, K. (2012). Examining teacher development: The role of teacher thinking, observation, and reflection. In W. B. Russell (Ed.), Contemporary social studies: An essential reader (pp. 547–563). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

View, J. L., DeMulder, E., Stribling, S., Dodman, S., Ra, S., Hall, B., & Swalwell, K. (2016). Equity audit: A teacher leadership tool for nurturing teacher research. The Educational Forum, 80(4), 380–393.

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