TDSIG Unplugged Countdown: “Three…”

This mini-series sketches out some of the ideas that I would like to explore at the upcoming TDSIG Unplugged Conference in Barcelona on 21 May 2011.  If any of them chime with you and you would like to explore them as well – or if you would like to work on completely different issues, the conference is there to give you the open space to do just that.  It is never too late to join in, so if you haven’t already, visit and register!

Counting down…3…

How can we learn more effectively from what each of us is doing in our classrooms?

Here is a video version of this post – why I’ve done this will become clearer as you watch or read along.

However, I’ve built some “goodies” into each version that you’ll only get by watching/reading both to the end 🙂


Prefer reading to viewing?  Suit yourself…

I work on initial teacher training courses in Hamburg (my boss would never forgive me if I didn’t do a spot of advertising at this point, so if you actually want to fall for some product placement, click here…)

Where was I? Ah yes.  I work on initial teacher training courses most of the time and we get, for the most part, very positive feedback from course participants at the end.  Interestingly, the thing that consistently receives almost unequivocal positive feedback is observing us (the tutors) teaching the same students that the trainees are working with.

Trainee feedback always hones in on the same thing: they feel it is very enlightening and helpful for their own development to see someone – live – working in their own context (the same room, the same board, the same people, the same time of day, etc.)

So as a teacher trainer I am drawn inexorably to the conclusion that the single most powerful tool for initial teacher development is witnessing someone – maybe a more competent other – who essentially shows you the ropes.

You teach my class, I’ll teach yours…

So far, so good, but here’s the problem: how can we all benefit somehow from this form of observational learning?  One thing some of us could do is make contact (real, face to face on the street type contact, not twitter or skype – though that is where it could naturally start) and arrange to teach each other’s class(es) once in a while.  Or even simply invite each other to tandem teach a class occasionally (recall activity “Outside In” on p.33 in Teaching Unplugged? – why not leverage it to enable some observation?)

What if I have no one to play with?

But this idea will not work for everyone.  The Dogme Diaspora is found in the farthest flung reaches of the globe; setting up actual lesson swaps is impracticable (assuming for the moment institutional acquiescence..)  This is where I need to use a four-letter word…


I’ll wash my mouth out with carbolic soap later, but for now, humour me.

With the widespread availability of mobile devices with advanced recording features, it is much more feasible to capture lessons (either snippets, longer segments or even whole events) than it ever was in the past.

Some teachers out there have already taken this step, for example:

Jason Renshaw – The English Raven

Martin Sketchley – ELTExperiences

Here is his video of the lesson, which you can also watch on YouTube here: 


What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

I know people bang on about the difficulties of recording teaching, and I’ve heard all the reasons why it isn’t possible:

The school/location won’t allow it

The hardware is too hard to set up & use

The teacher is distracted by the recording

The results are often jerky or poor quality

The results give a skewed view of the event

The viewer doesn’t get a sense of “being there” and cannot appreciate the lesson as a result

Behind all of those objections, if you burrow deep enough into the objector’s argument, is perhaps the same basic problem:

I am afraid of being recorded

I am afraid too.

What are we afraid of?  Is it fear that we will be outed as bad teachers?  Ours is a very self-critical profession, perhaps an overly critical one.  However, I have yet to watch a teacher at work in whose practice I haven’t easily found something admirable.  I have yet to be watched by someone who ripped me and my work to pieces.

I repeat: what are we afraid of?  Is it fear that what we really do in the classroom – even if it is “good work”, won’t live up to the image that we have projected to others?  I certainly feel the pressure of this one; despite the title of this blog and my interest in unplugged teaching, I am sure that some observers would be nonplussed to see me at work on a one-off occasion – “where is the ‘unplugged’ bit?” I may hear them cry.  So what?  The room belongs to me and my trainees – our classroom, our rules.  Take it or leave it – but if you take it, take it on its own terms.

At the risk of repeating myself: what are we afraid of?  Is it fear that we will appear un-photogenic?  Watch the results seven times before asking someone else to watch it, and you will get over that, guaranteed.

I suggest that Dogmeists, Dogmeticians and Dogheads of all stripes reach out to each other via the Dogme Discussion list, the Reservoir Dogme ELT Facebook page, the TDSIG Dscussion forum or directly via blogs to set up Kino-buddy deals:

  • I send you a link to a video from my classroom (YouTube and other video sharing sites usually allow viewer limitations of you don’t want to go totally public)
  • you comment and send me a link to a video from your classroom.
  • Repeat. Good. Again.  Good.  Repeat…

Interested in using the TDSIG Unplugged Conference to set something like this up?  Form a working group on the day and get cracking!  Not remotely interested in this?  Fine, then form a working group on something else!

I’ll even really practise what I preach and upload a video of me at work – is that an offer or a threat?  Take it as you like 😉


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