Tell Me Why We Don’t Do This, Again

Henry Abbot:

The NBA is working on something truly splendid. A video rulebook. The idea is that, eventually, there will be an online, multimedia showcase of what is legal and what is not. It will help to settle many an argument.

Until that’s ready, there are all kinds of video clips available and the NBA uses them all kinds of ways. As part of ongoing training, the NBA recently sent referees a series of clips showing different kinds of travels.

The idea that a teacher could call up a gallery of, short clips of say, “classroom dialogue” or “authentic questioning” or “silent, sustained reading” – examples both good and bad – probably shouldn’t seem like the vainglorious pipe dream it does to me right now.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. I was indirectly involved in a big foundation project to do just this almost a decade ago. My advice to make it as much like iTunes as possible was not regarded as serious by the head of the education department at Stanford.

    But yes we can do it, and we have been doing it. At Brown I went into the little curriculum library and watched a few Annenberg Foundation VHS tapes (and felt like a huge geek). But they were quite good.

    The problem is that all this stuff is done and then it all completely disappears. It is hard to see how openness could hurt.

  2. Dan
    Have you done any experimenting with screencasting? I know that they can be effective in demonstrating different ways to attack the core curriculum(ie, things that need a definite answer). But I wonder if one might be able to create a series of exemplars that demonstrate questioning techniques, open ended discussion prompts, etc.

  3. @David, I dunno about speaking into my laptop’s webcam, simulating the experience of teaching students, but I’d very much like to see a wide shot of a) a teacher starting a class, b) a teacher ending class, c) a teacher pulling her class out of silent sustained reading, d) etc. I’d rather see a technique applied to flesh-n-blood students, in other words, than a demonstration of the technique.

    @Joe, I don’t know what kind of “capacity” you’re talking about but I’m looking for something comprehensive, tagged, open, and indexed, none of which describes the NCES link to me. If you see anything like that, categorize my interest as “high.”

  4. Point taken. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like that either. Please share if you ever find it, as my interest would be high as well. Couple it with a solid research based, and that would be gold. Get on that will ya?

  5. I made a video of synthetic division and long division for a student the other week doing an independent study of Algebra II. The student reported that the videos were really helpful examples. They’re boring and dry, but clear examples of how to do the process, and the fact that he could replay them, stop them, fast forward them, and see how to do the problem was helpful. I know this is a crappy example, but I think the potential is greater.

    I definitely agree, having a ton of good videos on the techniques of teaching as well as the specific content that were sortable would be awesome. And I’m on board with Tom’s position: that the more like itunes the better. I’d love to work on a programming project to make something like this happen, but I’m nowhere near as good as a software developer. Having a nicely layed out database of content and data related to teaching that was easy to navigate and had the power to pull up different videos or explanations would be great.

  6. I also just realized that I’ve been to a PD on the east coast that is almost just like what you are describing in terms of teaching techniques. I can’t remember the name of the principal who runs it, but he worked for a charter school in Boston – I thought it was the Academy of the Pacific Rim, but I didn’t see him on their website. Anyway, he gave a session titled the 100 habits of highly effective teachers, where he’d show little 30 second clips of a teacher in a classroom performing a certain technique identified as highly effective and then he’d open the floor to reflection. It was really fast moving. I actually signed up for it twice in a year, it was so good. Even if you saw some of the same clips, you’d hear different ideas come out in the blitz discussions. The thing about the clips, was that they would be less useful out of context, though even presenting them with a blurb might improve the quality.

  7. Nick, I once saw this device that turned expired coffee grounds into pure hydrogen energy. They ran a car off for 200 miles off the remains of a fresh pot. I saw it at this store downtown I just … I just can’t remember the name of it.


  8. Dan, the store was named “Sky Mall,” unfortunately it’s only on planes – but I remember that coffee pot also. Additionally, the dude’s name is Doug Lemov. I believe he’s now a director within the Uncommon Schools organization (a Charter Management Organization) in NYC.

  9. Dan
    No you’re right, talking into a webcam won’t get you what you are looking for. But how difficult would it be for teachers in the blogosphere, many of which read your blog, to do exactly what you are talking about and then have a common place to post the videos? Or…The videos could easily be turned into vodcasts and submitted to places like iTunes, Lycos, etc.

  10. I’m actually working on trying to do that for our county right now. I’m filming an elementary math class tomorrow. We’re focusing on specific classroom techniques for particular content areas and grades. I’m hoping to end up with very short, to the point videos.

    Where it will end up living is somewhat up in the air. We do have a site license for PD360 which would put it behind a wall. We’ve also got iTunesU. Maybe I can do both. If it ends up public, I’ll submit it for review. I’d be interested in your review of our attempt.

    I think a lot of this stuff ends up behind walls. You get a lot of paranoia around showing students etc.

    You’ve also got a lot of different vocabulary around things which makes it harder to find what you want. Opening up the tagging would help that but making it time relevant would be more difficult but probably more interesting.

    I also wonder what happens to all that video that’s done for National Board teachers. I’d love to see that thrown out somewhere for chopping and tagging as a requirement for the process.

  11. I’m not sure “paranoia” is the right word for “showing students”. Technically what we’re talking about here counts as research on human subjects, and you have to follow the “do no harm” rule. So, absent legitimate research protocols and waivers and all that legal paperwork, much of this remains behind closed doors for good reason.

    Some of the best schools I have seen make this an internal reflective practice, and it’s highly effective. I’ve learned so much from watching myself teach. So, I’m with on this one. But how to pull it off? There are many obstacles.

  12. Paranoia is what I meant. The fear around these videos on the Internet isn’t driven by anything to do with research ethics. It’s because of the fear of Internet Super Pedophiles who will see children on video and then abduct them. Oprah told me all about it.

    I’d be willing to bet very few people in k12 would consider this research. I’d pitch it as an educational documentary.

  13. Frank Noschese

    March 11, 2009 - 4:21 am -

    Nick: If you students found your screencast useful, and you don’t have time to make one, here’s a great library of instructional screencasts for students in math and physics:

    Dan: I think these two websites are close to what you had in mind for videos of teachers:

    Lots of good stuff!

  14. Yuck. Not to put too fine a point on it.

    Not that I dislike video. But Dan, I don’t believe your prodigious talent at the *art* of video has its place in this particular arena. I think it excludes itself because it is art, frankly.

    Here’s why: seems to me that videoing snips of teaching a) lends them a surreptitious visual credence that they don’t necessarily earn; b) takes them out of the whole-class context that is integral to their success; c) crystallizes their format so as to make them appear immutable; and perhaps most importantly, d) makes no apparent distinction between a “habit,” a “technique,” an “approach,” an “activity,” and so on– definitions which are essential to pin down pedagogically.

    That catchy title “100 Habits” actually sent a little shiver down my back. I mean, not to toot my own horn here, but when I asked Marzano this very question over on ASCD’s blog

    he was clear on the answer, and it wasn’t “Every teacher needs to learn a certain 100 things to be good at what they do– and here they are.”

    The latter is salesmanship. It ain’t teaching.

  15. Either:

    a) you misunderstand what I’m after here, or
    b) you’re baiting me with rhetorical excess.

    I’m guessing at (a) because you state, “I don’t believe your prodigious talent at the *art* of video has its place in this particular arena,” and the arena I have in mind has nothing to do with the art of video – not screenwriting, editing, or cinematography.

    I simply want a good/bad teacher who lives far away from me to put a camera in the farthest corner of her classroom, with the widest possible angle on the student/teacher interaction, and turn it on. The other artistic choice will involve turning it off.

    If you think that, because every new instructional choice leans so heavily on instructional choices made months before it, these clips would lack a certain contextual meaning, then I’ll agree. But you go as far to imply that they’d be meaningless, which I can’t hang with. If that’s the case, is there no point to observing other teachers at all if you can’t observe every class?

  16. Frank, for reasons I elaborated on in my comment to Dina, and don’t offer what I’m looking for, what I think new teachers need to see.

    I don’t want a polished production with lighting set-ups, screencasts, a makeup team, and two-camera interviews. I want to watch a ten minute video segment from a fixed tripod position in a classroom where something interesting will happen – you know, classroom management done well, classroom management done poorly, an interesting dialogue between teacher/classroom, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc, because there is literally no end to the list of Things I Would Like To See Other Teachers Do. But it’s gotta be real. It’s gotta be raw. I can’t be canned.

  17. Dan
    All this begs the question: Why don’t we do it? I am sure you have quite a few readers who might be willing to turn the camera on in the corner of the room and get after it. The rewards would be two fold: the teacher doing the recording could reflect on themselves and the resulting video could be used for others to check and reflect as well. Would it really be that hard to do? Even if there are just a few teachers who participate, the benefits could be huge. If the only real concern is paranoia about having students identities posted online, then get a parent signature and get to work.

    By the way, after checking out your vodcast series, I will no longer be making suggestions regarding your use of tech. I have a video production class and you make me look like a hack. Nice job.

  18. Why?

    Maybe I’m being a bit obtuse, perhaps I’m missing the point (which, I’m sure was already composed, but as always, I tend to miss some of the reasoning around here), but what would I do with these ‘clips’?

    When I first started teaching, I had my management issues. So I asked my dept chair how to handle the side-talking going on in my class. He told me to snap quickly and loudly, and do so without looking at the chatterers.

    So I did that.

    And they kept talking.

    So I went back to my dept. chair. He said, “Well, that’s how I handle those moments, doesn’t mean it will work for you.”

    What would be different if I watched the video segment entitled, ‘Snapping to eliminate side-talking during instructional time’?

    Not much. And I’d probably never watch. The title is death.

  19. At its heart, this is a metadata problem. Tags are too coarse grained: “algebra,” “cooperative learning,” “etc,” yeah, that’s going to zero in on the good stuff. Nobody wants to do the work of coming up with a detailed taxonomy for all this crap, and nobody would use it if they did.

  20. @Tom
    If Dan (or any other teacher whose blog you follow) had a series of vodcasts that he did on classroom strategies, would you view them? I would. I don’t know any of the teachers who respond on this blog, but based on the comments they leave, I would love to spend an hour in their classrooms. So why couldn’t a group of teachers do the same thing by taking footage of classroom practices, examples of not only good questioning techniques, but examples of good questions and then post them to a common site (ie,, iTunes, etc. )? If the videos were posted to a common channel on blip or a common podcast on iTunes, then the tags wouldn’t be such a problem.

  21. Dear god this post has contracted either a severe surplus of cynicism or a severe deficit of imagination, I can’t decide which nor do I speak the language.

    I mean, I get that teachers, historically and as a group, fail to collaborate meaningfully every chance they get. But the idea that this project would fail on principle (“our situations are not the same so I cannot learn from you”) is beyond my grasp.

    Because I see teaching in television. I see better practice when I pore through my reader, when I fight with my wife, when I listen to Li’l Wayne rap, and for sure for sure for sure I improve my teaching when I watch other teachers teach, whether by their example or their cautionary tale.

    I don’t know how teaching has become what it has to me but reading some of the comments in this thread, I’d certainly rather this than the alternative.

  22. I can think of one compelling reason why not to do it.

    Privacy. of the learners.

    To create something like this in my district, with my district’s rules, I would have to blur all of the faces, edit out all of the names, and even then it may not be enough to satisfy the requirements of the privacy laws.

    It sucks, but it is an issue that we have to deal with. We created the laws to protect the learners, but those same laws also keep us from doing something very important and helpful.

    I agree with Dan, I would like to see some good and bad scenes from real classrooms. I would have to use a personal day or prep time to do it, and then it would only be in my building or close by.

  23. I’m uncompelled, Glenn. Every student in my sixth period class returned a parental consent form. I have two cameras and a lapel mic ready to go. Some districts make that kind of consent a requirement of enrollment.

  24. Dan, I’m with you. I don’t know why there is so much resistance here, at least on the merit of the idea.

    I studied under UW’s Lani Horn, who regularly showed us video of classroom interactions. She then started a Video Club research project for teachers in the Seattle area where each teacher in the club was filmed once a semster (I think). The video was taken back to the group, shown to all the other teachers, and discussed. When I was in grad school under her, she filmed us (fixed-tripod-style, like you like) doing microteaching. The discussions that followed were *very* enlightening. I learned a lot from watching the other people and then a ton from listening to the discussion of the others watching me.

    If you want to contact her, her UW page is I cannot speak highly enough about her. She changed my teaching life. Before her, my teaching focused on procedures and algorithms, and I thought I was very good, but I didn’t like my job. After her, my teaching focuses on problem-solving and independent thinking, and I realize that I have a lot to learn–but I like my job.

  25. One thing I’ve missed sorely since my days in Brooklyn was a chance to sit in on other classes either similar or dissimilar to my own and just watch. Notice what everyone is doing, analyze the bazillion decisions that teachers make each class, what kids are saying when they’re not being watched, just taking it in. Ideally, a rich library of video would be a godsend to me in my current situation where no one in the building teaches anything like what I do and I have no preps during the day to watch other teachers’ practice.

    Marzano’s post seems like direct support for a video library project like this so long as its not “watch video x, teach like it so you’ll be successful like the teacher in the video”. I’d think you end up with more of a personal twist like, seeing that teacher do x, now I’m thinking about adapting my practice and doing x or y. I’d tune in.

  26. Before I pen (?) a longer response after my five week grades are in, I will leave this one comment: I’ll concede immediately that this proposal is more palatable to me when you dump the possible artistic massaging/spinning that lighting, transitions, etc. would entail, and apologize for any misunderstanding there.

    However, four good reasons for needing a much, much pedagogically clearer approach to (and for) video clipping does neither “meaninglessness” nor “rhetorical excess” make.
    And count your blessings, dude. I could have put those and a a handful more in a David Foster Wallace-type footnote and *really* blown your mind.

  27. P.S. Nick’s last comment nailed it– and also nailed the wider contextual collaborative problem for which video clips are a mere bandaid. But that’s not your fault. :)

  28. I agree that video isn’t as great as the real, unmediated experience of watching a teacher, but y’all act like I’m offering a hungry new teacher a photograph of a four-course meal when this is at least a granola bar, something to snack on, an experience that could be even better when shared and discussed with others.

    The relentless pessimism of this thread would be more tolerable if a critic would simply pony up a substitute for the unmediated real deal that wasn’t: nothing.

  29. :: duly notes Dan’s plaintive tone. ::

    It *is* better than nothing. And no doubt one could engineer such a project so that is far and away better than nothing. I just think it requires an exceptionally careful approach (see my first post), one which is not quite implied by the dreamy brevity of your original post. And no, you’re not allowed to dream out loud on your blog. What the hell are you thinking?

  30. In my teacher prep program a large emphasis is placed on collaboration, creating and distributing videos of our own teaching, and observing teachers in ‘real life’ and on video. Each student in my program is loaned a video camera for the year and learns how to navigate consent forms, the basic technology behind uploading video, and other issues. For example, I participate in a variety of lesson studies where I plan lessons with a team of teachers from many different backgrounds, teach/tape a lesson in front of the team, and then we analyze the video to replan the lesson to make it better. To be fair – this process isn’t easy. It is hard to fit all of this work into the busy schedule of teachers and have meaningful, ego-detached conversations about teaching. There were great and terrible parts of the experience but I hope to try it again in the future.

    I wish more teachers collaborated and invested time into the professional and intellectual community of educators. If anything, we would see diverse pedagogies and realities – I feel like teacher prep programs have a mainline stance they do not like to deviate from.

    Interesting post, Dan.


  31. I think it sounds interesting….And a side-effect would be seeing other teacher’s activities and viewer’s could pick and choose from them.

    As a side note it’s made me think of using video next year in those first 2 weeks of the year when we’re mostly focused on ‘developing good habits’ where students are given a situation (entering the classroom, asking a question, handling frustration etc.) and they need to make a video for how to do it (boring) and one for how not to do it (fun).

    I’d be willing to collect permission slips (which at my school, would be no small task even if they needed parental consent to pick a free ipod touch from a big ole’ bouncy castle) and try to shoot the video, post it online etc. I think it could set up nice for a regular kind of thing, similar as “what can you do with this.” Haters need not participate, that’s all.

  32. Context is my problem with this – initally appetising – idea.

    You use basketball as your starting point. Basketball has no context. A travel is a travel whether it’s done in Texas or Toronto, by Y. Ming or A. Iverson, at home or away. That basketball is abstracted from context lends itself perfectly to the idea of video instruction.

    This does not apply to teaching. Ken’s example nails this. What works or is appropriate will be different for each class, for each teacher for each community (by community I’m talking about another whole set of variables – race, wealth, etc). Teaching is heavily contextualised – isn’t this one of the conclusions of the “student-centered learning” enlightenment?

    During my teacher training I remember an instructor trying to help me with behaviour management. She demonstrated how to “be firmer” with them. I tried it. I just didn’t feel like me, or fit with my budding pedagogy, and I stopped doing it. Very unhappy instructor. I used an approach that felt right to me (a reciprocal respect approach I suppose…). It worked (and I actually gained the respect of the instructor too).

  33. Thom,

    You are right – teaching is heavily contextualized. That’s the first thing I thought when I read Dan’s post. I think teachers need access to research-based and time tested practices from other teachers. Not all of the strategies will work for them, but it at least gives teachers strategies they can try in their classrooms. I think theory is easier to implement when there are ideas about how to implement the theory in real contexts – even if they exact context doesn’t match your own.

    I’ve also seen people go too far with the idea that good teaching practices are contextualized.

  34. I’ve been thinking of doing something like this for my gymnastics team – little video clips for newbies to study so when I say “puck jump” or “hitch kick” they have a better idea what I mean.

  35. So what would you consider the mandatory elements of a good video for this instance? What should the video creator be looking for to make it a worthwhile video?

    I understand each situation might call for something different for each person. What I am getting at is if the videos are to be shared for others to use, what might the essential elements of each video be?

    Unless you’re bored with this thread already. In that case, move on. I understand.

  36. Affectlessness. Meaning, just a camera (or two) on tripod(s), a sturdy mic, and then no other stylistic choices. Post the whole thing.

    Seriously, if there were a “Randomize” button which, when clicked, delivered a random five-minute passage from a random teacher’s classroom, I would plant myself in front of my computer for a week and never stop clicking.

  37. I came across this blog on accident – looking for the next Doug Lemov training. As a Dean that is currently preparing the opening of a charter school, I cannot agree with Dan more. A) It’s shocking to me that a library of videos like this do not exist. B) I need some videos to show my teachers, a few of whom will have never have been in the classroom and need some reminders. C) I think watching videos of “poor” teaching/classroom management are often extremely beneficial for new teachers because it allows them to pinpoint what’s going wrong, as well as gives everyone the confidence that there are other people out there who need to improve.

    Finally, my school will start with only a few teachers – and they will have opportunities to observe one another – but sometimes I think seeing more modeling, in more places, allows for a-ha moments that couldn’t have come out of the classroom down the hall because it’s too personal.

    Great discussion though!