Looking at Your Practice in the Mirror #2


Talk about changing the face of professional learning; teachers as self-reflective practitioners can take a few lessons from the world of sports. Athletes and sports teams will gladly go to the videotape to verify a good or bad play, critique the implementation of a play, or just review technique. Imagine if teachers consistently used that practice to study what we do and how well we do it? I know there have been times when I thought I said one thing and the persons listening to me have said, did you mean to say XYZ? My response is usually, “Yes! What confusion have I caused? Let me correct it so that you understand my expectations.”

When we are at the helm, we are so engrossed in teaching. We know our instruction is very clear regarding what we want our students to understand, do or produce. That is until we get, “Can you repeat that again?” questions, until we gaze out into the sea of confused faces looking for clearer understanding, or get a response that we really just never expected!

So why wouldn’t we want to be able to “go to the tape” to review the play-by-play? Imagine the value the tape serves in relations to our instructional practice? That is, as long as we are taping with a focus in mind. Below are my top three areas I ask teachers to consider when videotaping is their choice for self-reflection:

  1. Questioning: Do I utilize higher-order questioning techniques? High cognitive demand questions invite students to explain their thinking, make new connections, describe their process, or critique other ideas. This type of questioning is needed to help students make sense of mathematics. If you need some examples here are a few NCTM higher-order question stems:

What do others think about what ___________________________ said?
Do you agree? Disagree?
Does anyone have the same answer but a different way to explain it?

  1. Think-time/Wait-time: After asking a question do I give students the opportunity to think before they respond or am I offering the answers and explanations to my questions? Research and data have shown that the use of student think-time and wait-time contribute significantly to improved teaching and learning in the classroom.
  2. Student Engagement: Do I provide learning activities to maintain students’ attention and focus? Marzano states that student engagement is dependent upon our instructional decisions. Why not take a look at how students engage with the activities we design for learning? Do students find the activities interesting or relevant?

There are many instructional practices to consider when reflecting on your teaching. Think about your pattern for circulating among groups/students, your explanation of material or specific content,  or even your pattern for calling on students.  Do you consistently find yourself on one side of the room more or calling on one student more than others?

I’m curious as to what teachers do with the tape once reviewed. Is it archived or recorded over? Do you save it so that you can compare the before I recognized I did this and now here’s what I do? Here’s where I believe we can gain even more learning about our practice. Let’s take another cue specifically from football. Imagine if we exchanged our game tape with another teacher just like football teams. Now we both are growing because I am studying my colleague’s change in techniques and reflecting on my practice too. Trading videotapes requires a school culture that promotes collaboration and a sense of trust among the teachers participating. Consider being a change agent and begin the practice without waiting for an administrator to suggest it. I promise being a self-reflective practitioner will help you grow professionally.

Have you used videotaping as a practice? I would love to hear what you gained from your experience. If you have been saying you need to videotape your teaching, there’s no time like the present. I look forward to the dialogue!

Out of the mouth of Joshua!

As you get to learn more about me and my educational philosophy, you’ll learn that I am truly a proponent good teaching and sound pedagogy focused specifically on math! So testing, for me, is just a vehicle to give me some insight on my teaching practice and my students’ confusion with the concepts. It’s basically my guide for what to do next or to redo. Needless to say, even though I am an educator, I was really having some anxiety about my son taking the PARCC in its initial year. Not because of the stakes attached to the test, but more so because I really had no way of identifying his mastery and understanding of the Common Core Standards based upon the type of schoolwork and graded assessments I saw being sent home.  The work wasn’t PARCC like and it definitely did not show his ability to explain himself mathematically or require him to justify his reasoning. It was the work of the teaching I see when I visit many classrooms. Problems and questions from a text or worksheet that just require students to compute and provide an answer with little explanation of their thinking. This is usually because the explanation of the problems and/or the correcting of any thinking is mostly steered by the teacher and not by students discussing their thinking or work. For my friends that are Mathematics Leaders please share any innovative actions that are getting results.  It’s all about learning!

So where am I going with these wonderings? Enter PARCC testing and Deputy Commissioner Peter Shulman’s statement that, “The PARCC assessment can be used as a tool to improve classroom instruction more effectively than any previous statewide assessment” along with research by the National Network of Teachers of the Year supporting the PARCC assessment as an effective measure of academic standards compared to previous statewide assessments and we are on to something here, determining teacher effectiveness. At least that’s what we will believe here in the state of New Jersey by tripling the weight of PARCC results in teacher evaluations. Then out of the mouth of Joshua, my son, came this comment when I asked him how he thought he did on the PARCC math assessment for 5th grade this past school year, “Mom, I had 11 questions to complete in 90 minutes. I finished before time and think I did well. I just don’t know how they are going to be able to tell what I really know about math based on only 11 questions today.” He was telling me that we need to gather more information about students’ thinking than their test performance.

My son didn’t think that he had enough opportunities to show his true understanding of math. Well, in the same sense I have felt that using the PARCC test scores as part of the teacher evaluation system won’t help show a teacher’s true effectiveness. More so, the test won’t assist teachers in reflecting on their instructional practice since it only occurs once a year. So what will?

Well, let’s begin with Math Leaders working with teachers to assist them in creating assessments that will allow them the opportunity to collect data about student learning, student thinking, and their own teaching methods. If we assist teachers in understanding how to promote meaningful opportunities for collaboration and discourse; teachers can do more kid watching and listening to gain immediate feedback that informs their daily practice.  Here are some examples of authentic assessment methods that delve more into student thinking:

  1. Performance Tasks- Research suggests that students show greater interest/engagement and levels of learning when they are required to organize facts around major concepts and actively construct their own understanding of the concepts. This type of assessment allows students to collaborate in the problem-solving process through completing some activity that requires them to produce a product. Imagine giving students a performance task that requires them to act as architects to show their understanding of area and perimeter. I did! How may designs do you think we had? Students got to use their creativity and also explain the reasoning behind their design.
  2. Open-ended/response questions- These questions allow students to explain or justify their answers and/or strategies as a brief written or oral answer, a mathematical solution, a drawing, a diagram, chart or graph.  Ron Pelfrey, a Mathematics Consultant, explains open-ended questions or problems as having more than one correct answer and more than one approach/strategy to arrive at the answer. While open-response questions or problems may only have one correct answer or one strategy to obtain the answer. Both questioning techniques, however; provide teachers with the ability to assess students’ analytical abilities and processing skills. This is one of my favorite questions. Everyone says they have the answer to until I advise that they must use drawings, diagrams or charts to explain how they arrived at their answer.sand-flea
  3. Portfolios- This is a collection of student work, called artifacts, that evidences the student’s mastery of skills and/or applied knowledge. The work may be collected over the course of a marking period or throughout the course of the year. A process oriented portfolio allows for the student and teacher to identify the learner’s growth given it contains work from the beginning middle and end of a learning unit and requires the learner to reflect on his/her work. Process oriented portfolios are most common at the elementary level because of the reflective element and the focus on the learner’s growth.

Product oriented portfolios are more collections of the student’s best work. While the teacher may set parameters around the quality of the artifacts. The student  collects all his/her work during the stated time frame before selecting the pieces he/she deems the highest in quality.  A self-reflection for each artifact regarding why the pieces represent the best work is usually included. Product oriented portfolios are most common at the secondary level possibly due to the student’s ability to evaluate the work and reflect deeply on the reason for selecting it. I think having work in the portfolio that addresses the Sternberg Intelligences in would be great.

Wrapping up…if an eleven-year-old felt that the PARCC assessment didn’t have enough questions to truly help his teacher gauge his understanding of mathematics, why are we, the adults, trying to hang our hats on it as the tool that can determine teacher effectiveness tied to student growth? Let’s spend more time supporting teachers in their instructional practice so that they can effectively teach the standards and design the meaningful tasks that allow students to exhibit their true understanding of the mathematics. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Here are a few other reads by colleagues who also believe that curriculum, instruction and formative assessment truly make the difference in a child’s learning:

PARCC is great because PARCC is great– Eric Milou

PARKING the RHETORIC on PARCC– Chris Tienken


Pelfrey, D. (2000). Open-Ended Questions for Mathematics. Lexington, KY: ARSI

Teacher Vision: Portfolio Types https://www.teachervision.com/teaching-methods-and-management/experimental-education/4530.html