Watching Classroom Video Productively, Part 2

  • Watching Classroom Video Productively, Part 2

    By Meg S. Bates, posted March 13, 2017 —

    In a previous blog post, I discussed suggestions for how teachers can get the most out of watching classroom videos. One of those tips was to focus on student thinking rather than on teaching. This teacher move is supported by research that shows that effective professional development focuses on student thinking about mathematics (Kennedy 1998; Sherin and van Es 2009). But what does focusing on student thinking really mean?

    In my opinion, focusing on student thinking has two parts:

    1. Assessing what the student knows, what the student doesn’t know yet, and any barriers the student might face to moving his or her thinking forward.
    2. Making decisions on what to do to help the student move his or her thinking forward.

    The first part of this might be thought of as diagnosis of student thinking and the second part as planning an instructional response to student thinking. Or some might discuss the whole process as one of rich formative assessment.

    Focusing on student thinking while watching videos can help teachers get better at responding nimbly to student thinking in practice. Much like football players watch films so that they can slow down the tape and think through what they would do differently in a game situation, teachers can pause a video, reflect on the student’s understanding, and think about instructional moves they would make in a similar real-life situation. Over time, this thinking translates to practice.

    When watching videos, ask yourself about both parts of this process and base your answers on evidence. Here are some good reflection questions:

    • To diagnose student thinking:
      • What does the student know?
      • Am I sure?
      • What did he or she do to make me think that?
    • To plan instructional responses:
      • How could I help this student move forward?
      • What evidence do I have that my approach will work?
      • What might keep my approach from working?

    The biggest reason to focus on student thinking is that it can help you plan your own practice, rather than focus on the decisions that the teacher made in the video. This simple trick of focusing your attention on student thinking can help you get much more out of video.

    Your turn 

    Focusing on student thinking while watching video can be difficult. Which part of focusing on student thinking is harder for you: diagnosing student thinking or planning instructional moves to respond to student thinking? What questions might you add to the list above to help you focus on that part? We want to hear from you! Post your comments below or share your thoughts on Twitter @TCM_at_NCTM using #TCMtalk.


    Kennedy, Mary. 1998. Form and Substance in Inservice Teacher Education. Research monograph. Madison, WI: National Institute for Science Education, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

    Sherin, Miriam Gamoran, and Elizabeth van Es. 2009. “Effects of Video Club Participation on Teachers’ Professional Vision.” Journal of Teacher Education 60 (1): 20–37.


    Dr. Meg Bates,, is a curriculum developer and researcher at the University of Chicago. She is interested in educational technology and novel forms of teacher professional learning.


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