Friday, January 11, 2008

The Observer Effect

My good friend and assistant principal made a great suggestion to me the other day. She said that getting a handle on classroom management is a lot like a twelve-step program. The first step is to admit that I have a problem. It's easy to blame the school, the kids, the parents, but when the smoke clears, I know that I am still in charge in my classroom. The rest is cleverly layered denial.
And so this morning I went about changing the way kids act in my class. I decided to follow a thread established by my assistant princi-pal. On a number of visits to my room over the past month, she has taken out her camera phone and walked around taking "video" (actually a large number of still shots) of the kids. She has loudly announced that she hoped that she would have nice footage to show any and all interested viewers: other teachers, the principal, parents. I was initially amazed at just how the kids snapped to when they saw her come into the room. They were quiet. They did their work. They acted like they were being watched.
The problem was, after she left, they would tend to drift back to the behaviors that had brought the assistant principal down to my room in the first place. Somehow, the fact that I was watching them was not having the same effect, so this morning I hauled in my own camera setup. When my kids came into the room, the first thing they noticed was the wall-mounted TV was showing their favorite show: them. Some of them started to dance and play. Some made faces. Others tried to duck out of the way. When I explained that what I hoped I would get was a tape of good behavior "to show to whoever wants to see it," I was gratified to see how abruptly the antics ceased.
It would be a lie to say that having the camera in the room made them angels all day. I have a couple of amazing shots: one that we showed back in slow motion to confirm that one of the boys had, in full view of the camera's gaze, thrown a broken pencil at one of his "friends", and another where a rather round little girl stood up on her chair to shake her backside while her teacher was busy attending to something at the board. Kids, as they say, will be kids.
The other thing that I realized was a benefit of having a video record of a large portion of my day was that I was able to watch and listen to myself in the classroom. Watching myself was every bit as helpful as watching my students. I could hear my patience rise and fall. I could see how I moved through the room. Was I giving every kid the attention they needed or deserved? It was a relief when, by the end of the day, there were no major incidents to highlight or edit out, and even though everything didn't change, some things did.
I've already burned a DVD of Day One for posterity. The camera is going back to school with me on Monday. Where's Allen Funt when you need him?


Anonymous said...

What's the camera's URL?

Anonymous said...

From one who uses cameras EVERY working day - they're a tool. The longer a camera is present the more it becomes normal. Behaviors that initially change revert.

Management By Walking Around - that's your ticket.