Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What I Learned From Observing A Colleague

I mentioned in a previous post (here) that one of our PLC goals was to observe and learn from other members of the group.  Yesterday I did my first observation of a colleague.  I even managed to convince the person to let me video tape their lesson.  She agreed as she said she is always telling her students to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, so she thought she should be able to step out of her comfort zone too!  The agreement was that she would view anything I edited first before I showed it to the rest of the group.

I feel it went really well.  My initial plan was to observe her use of popsicle sticks for questioning random students.  I wanted to see how that was working for here.  However, I learned three things during my time in her class.  We both teach the same course and I had just taught the same lesson the previous day.  She began her lesson a little differently from what I did.  She did a word association for two new terms.  I really liked the idea and will consider doing something similar as I move forward.  I liked that the students had some good ideas and were okay with sharing them. That was my first learning experience of the class.

 Second learning experience:  I did get to see how she incorporated the use of popsicle sticks to ask questions and I will likely be starting this with my grade 9's once I find time to go and buy the sticks!!!!   I have a few "blurters" in that group and the same ones are always putting up their hands.  I generally try to stop the "blurting" and typically don't allow a person to answer once they already have until we have been through the entire class, but I think popsicle sticks will assist with controlling this.  I could tell that her students are already used to this process.  When called upon they were ready with an answer.  She was sure to say that they needed to be prepared with an answer, but it was okay to be wrong.  I believe that is very important.  I try to instill that in my students as well.  It is important to be thinking about the question and it is okay to be wrong - that is how we learn!  I liked that when she was doing her word association, the third student she asked said all of their answers had already been used, so instead of letting the student off the hook, she asked the student for a real life example.    There were some great questioning techniques that I had an opportunity to observe.

My third learning experience was quite a surprise to me!  My colleague was working on Venn Diagrams with the group.  This is a relatively new topic for me.  I did have two strategies for working through problems with intersections, but I learned a third strategy from a student!  It is always nice to find multiple strategies to solve problems, and always exciting when you can learn from the students.

I had video taped the entire lesson, and was able to edit a 3 1/2 minute video for our PLC group to watch.  I think the video captures three effective teaching strategies.  1)  Word association - we need to let students develop and explore terminology first, before it is defined mathematically.   2)  Random questioning - this keeps all students engaged.  If a student knows that the teacher will only call on those students who put up their hands or blurt out the answer, it is easy to disengage.   If they don't know whether they'll be called on, it is important to be following along.   3)  When a student doesn't feel they have an answer to contribute, you don't let them off the hook.  You also don't leave them out to dry.  You ask the question another way or try to scaffold the question so they can answer.  This is how they will learn.

I was really happy that I could get all three of these ideas in a short video clip.  We will be watching this at our next PLC meeting so we can reflect on those practices.  Hopefully one day we will all be comfortable enough to share these video clips outside of our PLC groups.  When this colleague and I were discussing this, we talked about how we as teachers, need exemplars.  It is one thing to read about a strategy, or listen to a colleague talk about it, but it is another thing to view a strategy being done effectively.  It is funny how we always talk about needing exemplars for our students so they know what is needed to show deep understanding, yet we don't think about that for ourselves.  We need to start thinking about ourselves.  If we want to improve, what is the best method to move us forward?  I believe part of it is learning from others and that involves observing them.  I look forward to going into another colleague's classroom at some point.  I am hoping they will also be open to my video taping so that everyone can learn from the experience.  I went into this one hoping to learn about one idea, and came away with three ideas.  I'd call that a success!


  1. Glad to hear the observation was such a success! I have learned so much from watching colleagues. Half the time I end up feeling like I must be a terrible teacher because I never thought to do something as simple as popsicle sticks or word association.

    It's great that the teacher let you videotape the lesson, and even better that you took the time to edit it down into something you can share with your PLC group. How long did it take you to edit the video?

    Your observations about questioning made me think of something I learned in my own classroom. Sometimes if I called on a student and they didn't have an answer, I would tell them to keep thinking and I would move on to another student. After that student answered I would return to the first student to see if they had come up with an answer. Often the student just needed extra time to think, but it removed the peer pressure of all the students sitting in silence waiting for the student to answer.

    Another thing I would do is not tell the student if they were correct or not. Instead I would listen to their answer and then ask another student if they agreed or disagreed with the answer. Depending on the question, I would sometimes stop it there, but if it was a meaty question sometimes I would pass from student to student to make sure several students agreed or solicit other reasonable answers. It can lead to some great discussion.

    I look forward to hearing about the discussion you have with your PLC group after you share and discuss the video. I hope they get as much out of it as you did.

  2. Hi. It didn't take me long to edit because I happened to find all three things within the first 3 minutes of the lesson! It likely wouldn't have taken too long anyways - I have a mac computer with imovie and it is pretty easy to edit videos with that program. It took longer to burn the disc, but you don't have to sit and wait! We watched the video yesterday in our group and the others had some good questions for the teacher, mostly about how the popsicle stick use is going and how the kids are responding. I have a feeling a few more might start trying it pretty soon!