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JTE Author Interview: Using Classroom Video Helps Students Understand History

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Read the recent JTE Insider blog interview by the Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) editorial team. This blog is available to the public, and AACTE members have free access to the articles in the JTE online archives—just log in with your AACTE profile.

This interview features insights on the article entitled, “Using Video to Highlight Curriculum-Embedded Opportunities for Student Discourse” by Abby Reisman and Lisette Enumah. The article was published in the November/December 2020 issue of the Journal of Teacher Education.

Article Abstract: History classrooms remain stubbornly resistant to instructional change. We explored whether using classroom video to help teachers identify curriculum-embedded opportunities for student discourse improved their understanding and facilitation of document-based historical discussions. We observed a relationship between teachers’ capacity to notice curriculum-embedded opportunities for student discourse in classroom videos and their growth in enacting document-based history discussions. For three of four teachers, the intervention appeared to improve both their analysis of document-based discussion facilitation and their enactment of the practice. Teachers’ incoming proficiency and familiarity with document-based history instruction appeared to inform their experience throughout the intervention. We discuss implications for practice and future research on professional development for history teachers.

What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic?

Reisman: Prior to this study, I had been traveling around the country offering professional development workshops on the Reading Like a Historian curriculum for some time and knew that history teachers needed ongoing instructional coaching to implement the approach well. I was intrigued by the potential of online video analysis platforms to serve as scalable, cost-efficient ways to provide teachers with that support. I applied for the Spencer Postdoctoral fellowship proposing a study that compared online with in-person coaching. When I ended up working with a district that was over 3 hours away from Philadelphia, the in-person option became completely unfeasible and the study instead explored the value of using video analysis platforms to support teacher development.

Were there any specific external events (political, social, economic) that influenced your decision to engage in this research study?

Reisman: Not necessarily, aside from the ongoing urgency to help teachers open history classrooms to student discourse and argumentation

What were some difficulties you encountered with the research?

Reisman and Enumah: This study took place in a district that was a 3-hour drive from Philadelphia. One of the biggest challenges was distributing the iPads and supporting teachers technologically.  

Writing, by necessity, requires leaving certain things on the cutting room floor. What didn’t make it into the article that you want to talk about? 

Reisman and Enumah: There were so many rich insights into how teachers felt about the various aspects of the project that were ultimately cut due to space. In particular, we wanted to talk about each teacher felt about receiving feedback from peers. As it happened, Carol and Danielle (the teachers with less experience in the approach) found the peer feedback extremely beneficial; Andy and Beth, less so. This wasn’t necessarily surprising, given that Carol and Danielle had less instructional insight to offer Andy and Beth. However, this finding does have implications for the design of peer-feedback activities in professional development. As we argue in the discussion section of the paper, we think teacher educators and professional developers need to be more thoughtful about designing differentiated professional development opportunities. 

What current areas of research are you pursuing? 

Reisman: My current research is a direct extension of this project. I’m now in the fourth year of a design-based implementation project in which the history teacher leaders in this same district have been serving as instructional coaches for their peers. We built out a practice-based model of instructional coaching that focuses on core instructional practices for document-based history instruction, including discussion, and we have used Torsh Talent, an online video analysis platform, to help coaches “see” their colleagues’ instruction and offer feedback. One big difference between this paper and my more recent work is that I’ve been looking at how novice coaches learn how to coach. As long as social studies remains a marginalized subject area, we will need to recruit teacher leaders to serve as instructional coaches for their peers.

Enumah: Currently, my research builds off of my dissertation, which was a study of teacher education pedagogy related to race and racism. I examined how teacher educators navigated pedagogical tensions in their classrooms related to racism and inequity as well as potential institutional sources of support for the work of teaching about race and racism. This work also explored the significance of racialized emotions for teaching teachers about race and racism. I remain focused on teacher education related to race and racism, and, especially in the current climate where technology plays an increasingly significant role in instruction, I do see opportunities to consider the utility of video analysis tools in this context. Specifically, I see great potential for using video analysis to consider questions about race and equity in teacher education classrooms, and this is an area I would like to pursue in future research. 

What new challenges do you see for the field of teacher education?

Reisman: The teacher education and professional development research in history education remains in its infancy. We need much more research that examines how history teachers learn to teach well and what constitutes and contributes to high quality history instruction. One largely unexamined aspect of this work is how history teachers navigate the intersection between past and present – that is, when discussions of the past veer into tense, politicized discussions of the present. We recently co-authored, with another colleague, a paper that imagines what history instruction might look like at this intersection.

Enumah: Teacher education research provides a clear rationale for teaching teachers about race and equity, but we need to clarify the racial knowledge we believe teachers need to learn in our teacher education programs. As an example, building on Abby’s point, further research on high quality history instruction must consider how teachers understand and navigate the intersection between past and present specifically for conceptions of race and racism. We also need research to identify pedagogical strategies that are most effective to support this kind of learning in teacher ed. Developing stronger teacher education pedagogy related to race and racism will require bringing racial knowledge to the center of conversations about pedagogy and pedagogical content knowledge in our research more broadly.

What advice would you give to new scholars in teacher education?

Reisman and Enumah: We’re lucky to work in a field where research and practice are meaningfully and powerfully connected. Scholarship in teacher education has numerous possibilities for supporting the learning and development of students, teachers, and teacher educators. As you refine and develop your research agenda, consider your own passion and skills, and allow these things to drive your choices around not only your contributions as a researcher but also your potential to support practicing teachers and teacher educators.


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