Setting things up

Within a school, it is possible to make use of video as part of the usual pattern of staff meetings. In this context, if there are volunteers to have a lesson video recorded, then watching video could become a pattern in meetings a few times each a year.

Working with teachers across schools we have found that 6 meetings is a good number to allow significant opportunity for development and without being too onerous a commitment. If meetings are 1½ to 2 hours long, then there will be time to work on two videos each meeting and so a group size of around 10 is ideal, allowing everyone the opportunity to show at least one video recording of their classroom.

It is important that teachers who join the club have a commitment to something in their teaching they want to develop. It is also important that participants come to the first meeting having done some thinking and we frame our clubs around the idea of teachers doing ‘action research’ in their classroom.

Once the participant list of a video club is confirmed, we set up an email group. We take from Laurinda Brown the importance of people coming to a first meeting with something to offer and having engaged in some activity. We choose, as a starting point, the same activities used by Laurinda at the start of an action research Master’s module at the University of Bristol. The activities are from ‘Teachers Investigate their Work: An introduction to the method of action research’ (Altrichter, Posch and Somekh, 1993). As well as asking them to read the first chapter (about action research and the use of research diaries), we invite participants to do one of the following tasks to help refine their area of interest:

  • Select one of next week’s lessons. Write a memo about the course of events in your diary. Include all thoughts that come to your mind during reflecting and writing.
  • Tape one of next week’s lessons. Select 5 minutes of the tape for transcription … Leave a margin for comments beside your transcription. Then note in the margin all associations that come to your mind when reading specific sections of the transcript …
  • Prepare a ‘cluster’ of all associations that come to your mind when you think of the phrase ‘Being a teacher’ …
  • Every day next week cut out from a newspaper some words, phrases or pictures which you intuitively like of which you spontaneously feel concern your profession. At the end of the week prepare a collage from the cuttings. Feel free to complement the collage by handwritten words and your own drawings.
  • Imagine an extraterrestrial visitor entering you classroom (or your personal workroom) from the top left corner without being noticed by anybody in the room. Describe in a short piece of writing what he or she would see and think. (pp.30-31)

At the first meeting, an initial brief discussion is about what ‘action research’ means and what it means to keep a ‘research diary’. We want to make the point that it is useful, in a research diary, to distinguish between descriptions of events and interpretations or judgments. We then usually give each participant some time to introduce the ‘issue’ they want to work on in their teaching. Their ideas might be very loosely formed, which is fine; part of the work of the club can be to help the participants refine what they want to develop. A discipline during this phase is for one person to have the floor (for 10 minutes, say), during which time the others do not attempt to offer ‘solutions’ or their own anecdotes. When someone has the floor, the rest act as a reflective group, asking questions to help take thinking on. It might be that at the start of each meeting you briefly return to give participants time to talk about where their investigations have taken them.

It is important that sufficient time is left in the first meeting to work on one video clip, 30-40 minutes will be needed.

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