Seeing What You Normally Don't See: Video Can Be a Powerful Tool to Support Teacher Research, Help Teachers Notice What's Not Readily Visible in Their Daily Teaching, Transform Their Practice, and Improve Student Learning

Article excerpt

Traditional professional development has long been criticized for its ineffective "one-shot" and "one-size-fits-all" approach that is disconnected from teachers' classroom practice and fails to bring about changes in their teaching (Wilson and Berne 1999). Lumpe put it in a sharp perspective:

   One-shot, workshop-based professional development is passe. It is
   common knowledge that teachers seldom apply what they learn during
   workshops in their classrooms. In spite of this fact, school
   districts and grant agencies pour millions of dollars into science
   teacher professional development programs that are primarily
   workshop-based. ... Workshop models of professional development
   remain prevalent because they are efficient (2007: 125).

Teacher research--teachers as researchers systematically examining their own classroom practice--represents a fundamental shift in teachers' professional development from the traditional workshop model. In recent years, teacher research has gained increased attention as a 1promising approach to improving teachers' practice (Cochran-Smith and Lytle 1999; Loucks-Horsley et al. 2003). Berliner, for example, in one of a series of open letters to President Barack Obama published in a special issue of Journal of Teacher Education, urges that:

   In business, it is a well-accepted practice to ask the people closest
   to the problems to help solve them. We do not do that enough with our
   approximately 3.5 million teachers and administrators. ... Educators
   across the nation should be given a chance to help move more research
   into practice and to study, and report on, how they can solve
   educational problems at the local level. (2008: 255)

Despite the attention it's received, however, teacher research is by no means an easy task for teachers. As instructors of a teacher research course, Christenson and her colleagues (2002) found it a "rocky road" to help teachers become teacher researchers. Teacher researchers cite a number of challenges, such as lack of research skills (Christenson et al. 2002; Zeichner 2003). Often, teachers have problems asking specific, researchable questions. Their questions tend to be too general and vague. Teachers also have difficulty with data collection and analysis. For example, it's virtually impossible for one to teach and take observational notes simultaneously, particularly when students work in small groups.

Although teachers face great challenges when they engage in researching their own practice, studies that systematically examine how to support teachers as researchers are rare. Little is known about what conditions might lead to productive teacher research.

The context of this study is a professional development program for K-12 science teachers, a five-year (2004-09) project funded by the National Science Foundation. In this project, we designed a collaborative teacher research model to support teachers in studying their own practice. We emphasized teachers' autonomy in deciding their research topics, collaborative learning communities, scaffolding from teacher educators, examination of evidence including teaching video and student work, and the Problem-Based Learning approach to analyzing teaching problems (Loucks-Horsley et al. 2003; Hmelo-Silver 2004; Cochran-Smith and Lytle 1999). During the summer, teachers identified a teaching problem from their practice and developed a data-collection plan for their research. During the school year, teachers implemented their research and met monthly in a small group to discuss their teaching problems. The process was guided by one or two facilitators.

VIDEOTAPING LESSONS

An important feature of this model is that teachers need to videotape their lessons and use video recordings as one of the data sources to examine their practice. Video is viewed as a powerful tool to support teacher learning because of its unique capability to capture elusive classroompractice for later study (Borko et al. …