This post was written by Kaye McDaniel

Smile! You’re on candid camera!

It’s a safe bet that if you’re interested in taking up a position as a TEFL teacher, you’re not camera shy.  You’re comfortable in front of a crowd, an audience… an ESL classroom!  You don’t completely lock up when you stumble over grammar instruction or when you misspeak.  You laugh in the face of stage fright!  But… what if you are being watched?  Good heavens, why would you be?  Well, there are a number of reasons for recording your teaching sessions – or why your TEFL trainers may do so.  Don’t panic and don’t let it get to you.  Unless your TEFL trainer is a total weirdo, it is not meant to be a ‘trap’ or ‘surveillance.’  It’s done for a variety of reasons that both you and your trainer will find helpful in the long run – and it will help your students as well!  Here in Denver, our trainers record all IDELT and CELTA teaching practicums – and it’s for the benefit of our newbie teachers.  Joshua Yardley, our super-trainer, explains why:

During your own training, prior to being a CELTA/IDELT trainer, were you subject to this form of monitoring and feedback?
I have never received the level of feedback that I get here at Bridge, and recording my lessons has been a valuable component of that feedback. After seeing how useful it is and how much the trainees appreciate it, I am truly surprised that I have never encountered a camera in the classroom before. Now I use video whenever I teach a demo lesson or try out new input session material. As a recruiter, videos would have certainly made hiring decisions a lot easier, but sadly I never received a video with an application. Had an applicant included footage of him or herself in action with their portfolio, they would have gone to the top of the list of candidates.

Why do you feel that video records of teaching practicum are an integral part of the TEFL training process?  How do they play into trainee feedback and input sessions?
Our trainees receive immediate feedback on teaching practice from trainers and fellow trainees in our feedback sessions. Later, when they watch the video of their lesson, they can pay attention to the elements of the lesson that were commented on during those sessions. Not everything gets covered in the feedback sessions however. Generally the trainer will highlight the areas that need the most immediate improvement. The videos therefore provide the trainees with all that additional feedback that gets left out. After they watch the videos, they can comment on their observations during future input sessions. It allows them to connect the content of the input session to their experiences, making the content much more meaningful.

When teaching EFL, do you feel that the use of videos in the classroom is important?  In what cases?
Video recording is a less obtrusive way to observe teachers and students. As a supervisor, I’ve sat in on dozens of lessons, and as hard as I try to be a fly on the wall it is difficult. Students and teachers feel under pressure and might not perform the way they would if I wasn’t there. Both supervisors and teachers can use the video to evaluate the student’s strengths and weaknesses, which is important for planning future lessons. On top of that, it’s hard for a teacher or observer to remember everything that was said in a lesson, but video allows you to go back and listen more carefully for student mistakes or teacher techniques.

Do you feel that video can be used to practice both productive and receptive skills?
In any lesson there are larger stages that are comprised of multiple micro steps. This is true when practicing both types of skills. If a stage aim is to be met, each of those micro steps need to be done effectively. When a stage doesn’t go as planned, a teacher can go back and observe where the breakdown occurred. In a receptive skills lesson, this may occur when setting the comprehension task. In a productive skills lesson, or a systems lesson, typically trouble occurs when giving instructions. Watching a video lesson allows you to put yourself in the shoes of the learner which makes it easier to identify the reason for the breakdown. (Editor’s note: Read more about EFL lesson planning in Rachel’s post.)

What are some of the difficulties or challenges posed by using video as a teaching tool?
Using video requires some technical knowhow. You have to be sure the sound and lighting are right. You also want to be sure you have a good shot of the teacher and students. I would suggest using multiple cameras if you have the space and budget. This is, of course, another issue. Good cameras cost money. Microphones cost money. Editing software costs money. It’s also possible that there is no room in your room for a camera on a tripod. Oh, and tripods cost money.

Can you give me some examples of how videos have proven especially useful (either with trainees or EFL students)?
At the end of our course, we ask our trainees to write on their future development goals. Part of this assignment requires them to analyze one of their videos and identify specific areas in which they would like to improve based on what they saw. I’ve been fairly impressed with the observations that our trainees have made. This type of reflection is a valuable skill that all teachers should possess, and using video is one way to train this skill. Without using video, I’m not sure that their self evaluations would be as comprehensive. I only hope that they continue to use this technique when they enter the field.