KO_1704_2FEATURE_ART_Sherin_84x435The power of video comes from unpacking the twists and turns that are so common in teaching and learning.

By Miriam Gamoran Sherin and Elizabeth B. Dyer

Recording moments of our lives on video is commonplace today. And we’re no longer just recording weddings and bar mitzvahs. We’re recording all kinds of moments, big and small, all the time. We’re editing video with new tools and sharing video in all sorts of ways, from five minutes on YouTube to 15 seconds on Instagram. In some ways, we’re becoming expert users and producers of video. In one area, though, it seems that we haven’t gotten it right — and that’s in how we use video with teachers.

Video is a popular tool for teacher education and professional development. Preservice teachers are routinely asked to videotape themselves during student teaching. Similarly, inservice programs frequently rely on video to explore and discuss teaching practice. Despite its prevalence, however, we find that many of the ways that video is used with teachers runs counter to recent research on what and how teachers learn from working with video.

For the past 20 years, we have studied the role of video in teacher learning. Our work has primarily taken place through video clubs in which teachers watch and discuss video clips of their classrooms with peers. Like a book club, teachers in a video club focus on a shared text, in this case a video, bringing their own perspectives to bear on what is seen in the video. Through this work, we have learned a great deal about how video can promote teacher learning and how the subsequent influence watching video can have on teachers’ practice. Furthermore, this work has highlighted for us three myths that reflect how many people view the role of video for teachers.

Myth #1
Video offers an objective view of what happens in a classroom.

Not so. Classroom video is more subjective than one might think. Filmmaking is based on the premise that the position and angle of the camera along with the sound track and editing all shape what the viewer sees in a video (Bordwell & Thompson, 2012). The same is true of classroom videotaping. Whether the video is taken from the front or back of the room, zooms in or is wide angle, influences what can be seen in the video and the sense one gets of the classroom being observed (Fadde & Zhou, 2014; van Es et al., 2015).

Classroom video today often uses a perspective that focuses on the teacher rather than the students, such as when video is recorded from the back of the room, providing a clear view of the teacher but obscuring the faces of students. Imagine what we might see had the video instead been recorded from the front of the room with students’ faces in plain sight. Similarly, the type and placement of a microphone can influence one’s impression of the noise level in a classroom as well as how easy it is to understand various speakers.

When watching a classroom video, observers must keep in mind that the perspective of the videographer influences what we see and hear — and what we don’t see and hear. A video does not simply present the one true record of what took place in a classroom; it is a record that reflects a particular perspective on the classroom events. In fact, changing where the video camera or microphone is placed can lead viewers to take a new perspective on what is happening in a classroom (Roth, 2007).

Myth #2
Video should be used for demonstration and evaluation.

Video today is often used for demonstration and evaluation, but we believe that a more productive approach is to use video to support teachers’ ability to notice and interpret classroom interactions. Using video as a tool for demonstrating pedagogical techniques has been popular since the mid-1980s and remains so today (Sherin, 2004). Many how-to videos, easily accessible online, are intended to introduce teachers to new instructional techniques that they can easily adopt (e.g., www.teachingchannel.org/videos/student-attention-getting-technique). Other videos are designed to illustrate theoretical issues as they are applied in practice such as “developing a positive learning environment.” The idea is that if teachers “see” theory in practice, they will more easily be able to understand and adopt similar approaches. Still, research finds that without a deep understanding of the practices they observe, teachers may not be able to implement a new pedagogical strategy as it was intended (Blomberg et al., 2014). In other words, just watching another teacher use a strategy is likely not enough.

Video is also increasingly used as a tool for teacher evaluation. Since 1993, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has used 15-minute video excerpts as a key component of its program to identify accomplished teachers. Similarly, video-based evaluation is taking hold at the preservice level across the U.S.; 16 states now require the use of video-based performance assessment as a criterion for teacher certification (http://edtpa.aacte.org). Rather than conduct annual teacher evaluations through classroom observations, some districts are opting to evaluate teacher performance via teacher-submitted video. Furthermore, some video-based platforms explicitly support this evaluative approach by asking teachers to note strengths and areas for growth or by scoring a video using a given framework.

Using video as a tool for evaluation certainly has it benefits. In one recent study, teachers reported that administrator evaluations were more supportive and fair when conducted by video rather than through live observation (Greenberg, Kane, & Thal, 2015). At the same time, we have found that a focus on evaluation often prompts teachers to make quick judgments about what is viewed on video without careful consideration of what was taking place and why (e.g., Sherin & Han, 2004). When teachers believe they are being judged by a video, we find the conversation is less focused on learning about one’s practice and more on fixing one’s practice.

Despite the popularity of these approaches, we have found that they take advantage of video in a limited way by focusing only on the extent to which a video illustrates “good teaching.” With these approaches, teachers are implicitly asking: What does good teaching look like? Is this an example of good teaching? In contrast, we argue for using video to conduct in-depth investigations of classroom interactions. The central questions for teachers become: What is happening, and why is this happening?

Attending closely to classroom interactions in this way relies on a component of teacher expertise that we refer to as teachers’ professional vision. Professional vision refers to the ability of professionals in any discipline to make sense of the phenomena of interest to them (Goodwin, 1994). Trial attorneys learn to read a jury — to pick out key facial and body movements and decipher what they mean. Meteorologists study surface maps and satellite images, identifying important information so they can predict patterns in weather and climate. Teachers pay attention to classrooms, looking to make sense of all that is happening and for opportunities to move a lesson forward productively. The development of professional vision is an important and timely goal given that teachers today are increasingly required to think quickly and deeply on their feet.

How does using video advance this goal? First, working with video can help teachers learn to notice key aspects of classroom interactions that might otherwise be overlooked. Classrooms are complex environments with many things happening at once. Teachers are managing groups of students and individuals, they are adjusting lessons, selecting examples, dealing with pacing, and more. Part of being an effective teacher is knowing how to select from among all this activity where to focus one’s attention.

Of particular importance is ensuring that teachers can focus their attention on student thinking. Close attention to student thinking during instruction has been found to increase opportunities for student learning (Franke et al., 2001). For many teachers, however, a focus on student thinking is not the norm.

To help teachers learn to shift their attention, we explicitly ask questions about what students are doing and saying in the video. “What was Julio’s idea?” “Which students were talking about graph (c)?” “Did anyone hear what Martha said?” These questions move beyond identifying what students understand or do not understand to unpacking students’ emerging ideas and how they make sense of what they are learning about. We have found that teachers typically experience a shift in what they notice fairly quickly and find the focus on student thinking engaging and useful. As one teacher explained:

When I first started [watching] video, my perspective was, “How could I have done that differently?” or, “What could I do next time to make that a better lesson?” . . . It turned out [though] that not focusing on teaching actually helped me think about my teaching because I was looking at what students were doing and saying instead. And that’s what was really interesting.

In addition to shifting what teachers notice during instruction, working with video can help shift how teachers make sense of what they notice. The reasons underlying student thinking are often complex and not easily observable on first glance. Video provides space for teachers to consider the intricacies of student thinking in ways that are not always possible during the moment of instruction. In video clubs, we encourage teachers to look beyond whether a student’s idea is correct or incorrect and to try to understand how the student might have developed that idea, and how different students’ ideas are related. “Where do you think Zach may have gotten the idea that the slope was zero?” “Do you think Hannah and Mateo are making the same point?” These questions often lead teachers to develop new instructional practices based on the explanations they discuss. Further, we find that teachers begin to apply this same approach of working to make sense of student thinking during their subsequent teaching (Sherin & van Es, 2009).

The move away from video as a tool for demonstration and evaluation is not always easy. Yet we have seen repeatedly, in our own research and that of others, that when teachers use video as a vehicle for developing professional vision, the implications for their teaching can be profound. One teacher described the change in this way

Here’s what (video has) done for me . . . It’s enabled me to consciously, really listen and try to understand what students are saying. So often I find myself . . . almost saying something before a student’s even done. I’m not even listening to what they’re saying. And so it’s helped me . . . to slow down my own thinking . . . so I’m actually listening to what they’re saying and responding to what they’re saying . . . and the kids are listening more to each other also. We’re all listening better and understanding more.

Myth #3
The most useful video clips illustrate moments of exemplary teaching and student success.

It might seem that what we should be showing teachers via video are moments of exemplary teaching — moments where a lecture went just as planned, a student explanation was crystal clear, or students solved a problem in the most efficient way possible. While such videos can be compelling to many teachers, we argue that they are not the most useful in promoting teacher learning. Instead, in our work, we have encouraged teachers to share clips from typical classroom interactions — clips in which a student explanation is unclear, there is some confusion on the part of the teacher or students, or the class is having to discuss an issue or concept repeatedly. But why? When good teaching is clearly our end goal, why would we want clips that are anything other than exemplary?

First, good teaching is inherently messy. When students learn, they do not simply move in a straight line from Point A to Point B. Teaching involves working through wrong answers, listening to students’ confusions, being confused oneself at times about what students are saying, trying a different approach to explain a concept, or realizing that what students understand is not where you thought a lesson was headed. Watching only video clips that show students sharing correct answers or explaining their work in a clear and concise manner does not, in our opinion, show the realities of a classroom.

Second, the value of video as a medium is that it provides space for reflection rather than action. When interactions are not clear, teachers can work together to make sense of what is taking place. They can consider alternative explanations for a student’s ideas and for what the class might understand about a topic. The fact that there is a question for teachers to consider about what is taking place is critical in supporting the development of teachers’ professional vision. For this reason, we encourage teachers to share examples of practice rather than exemplars and moments of confusion rather than clarity.

To be sure, it can be helpful, at times, for teachers to view examples of best practice, to see what it looks like to have a discourse community or when students learn from each other. This can help develop teachers’ vision of what is possible in a classroom. Yet the true power of video comes not just from seeing what is possible but from unpacking the twists and turns that are so common in teaching and learning.


Blomberg, G., Sherin, M.G., Renkl, A., Glogger, I., & Seidel, T. (2014). Understanding video as a tool for teacher education: Investigating instructional strategies integrating video to promote reflection. Instructional Science, 42 (3), 443-463.

Bordwell, D. & Thompson, K. (2012). Film art: An introduction, 10th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Fadde. P.J. & Zhou, T. (2014). Technical considerations and issues in recording and producing classroom video. In B. Calandra & P. Rich (Eds.), Digital video for teacher education: Research and practice (201-216). New York, NY: Routledge.

Franke, M.L., Carpenter, T.P., Levi, L., & Fennema, E. (2001). Capturing teachers’ generative change: A follow-up study of professional development in mathematics. American Educational Research Journal, 383, 653-689.

Goodwin, C. (1994). Professional vision. American Anthropologist, 96, 606-633.

Greenberg, M., Kane, T., & Thal, D. (2015, April). When teachers choose: Fairness and authenticity in teacher-initiated classroom observations. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.

Rich, P. & Hannafin, M.J. (2009). Video annotation tools: Technologies for assessing and improving preservice teachers’ instructional decision making. Journal of Teacher Education, 60 (1), 52-67.

Roth, W. (2007). Epistemic mediation: Video data as filters for the objectification of teaching by teachers. In R. Goldman, R. Pea, B. Barron, & S. Derry (Eds.), Video research in the learning sciences (pp. 367-382). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Sherin, M.G. (2004). New perspectives on the role of video in teacher education. In J. Brophy (Ed.), Using video in teacher education (pp. 1-27). New York, NY: Elsevier Science.

Sherin, M.G. & Han, S. (2004). Teacher learning in the context of a video club. Teaching and Teacher Education, 20, 163-183.

Sherin, M.G. & van Es., E.A. (2009). Effects of video club participation on teachers’ professional vision. Journal of Teacher Education 60 (1), 20-37.

Sherin, M.G., Russ, R.S., & Colestock, A.A. (2011). Accessing mathematics teachers’ in-the-moment noticing. In M.G. Sherin, V.R. Jacobs, & R.A. Philipp (Eds.), Mathematics teacher noticing: Seeing through teachers’ eyes (pp. 79-94). New York, NY: Routledge.

van Es, E.A. (2012). Examining the development of a teacher learning community: The case of a video club. Teaching and Teacher Education, 28, 182-192.

van Es, E.A., Stockero, S., Sherin, M.G., van Zoest, L., & Dyer, E.A. (2015). Making the most of teacher self-captured video. Mathematics Teacher Educator, 4 (1), 6-19.

Walkoe J. (2015). Exploring teacher noticing of student algebraic thinking in a video club. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 8, 523-550.

Practical considerations in using video for teacher learning

Getting started with videotaping at one’s school can seem overwhelming at first. Therefore, we offer a few logistical recommendations that we have found promote teachers’ opportunities to learn as they work with video.

Teacher self-captured video. Advances in technology over the past few years have made it increasingly feasible for teachers to videotape their own classrooms. Most teachers have access to some kind of camera, whether it be on a cell phone or iPad or a more traditional video camera. Furthermore, such cameras are small and portable and easily set up in a classroom. Rather than tape an entire lesson, we encourage teachers to try to decide in advance where and when they want to videotape so they can capture interesting interactions. Making clear the purpose of the video (e.g., to better understand confusing rather than exemplar student thinking) is important in helping teachers capture video that is useful for their learning. A teacher who wants to record student thinking, for example, might choose to videotape a whole-class discussion or students working as a group. When teachers select only segments of a lesson to record, they are more likely review the video later.

Placement of audio and video. The ease of self-capturing video opens up many possibilities for teachers but also raises questions about where to place the camera. Small magnetic tripods allow creative options for camera placement including on a whiteboard or file cabinet. For recording a whole-class discussion or activity, we prefer placing the camera in the front or on the side of the classroom as it places more focus on students. And because high-quality audio is critical when working to unpack student thinking, depending on what one wants to record, consider investing in a small external microphone. We also have experimented with small wearable cameras that make use of “selective archiving” technology, allowing teachers to choose moments to save on video immediately after they occur (Sherin, Russ, & Colestock, 2011). Teachers have reported a heightened sense of awareness when using such cameras because they stay on the lookout for interesting ideas and interactions in the lesson and can capture unanticipated events more easily.

Annotation tools. Along with smaller and less expensive cameras, technological advances have resulted in greater accessibility to tools for sharing and annotating video. Uploading video has never been easier, with a variety of platforms available. Of particular interest to us are tools that allow teachers to tag specific moments of a video and attach a comment. This capability encourages teachers to look closely at what is happening in a video and can foster the development of professional vision (Walkoe, 2015). Annotation tools can also support teacher learning by structuring reflection and providing the means for teachers to look across a set of video clips and organize and edit clips according to particular pedagogical interests (Rich & Hannafin, 2009). 

Discussions with colleagues. Viewing video is most productive when teachers watch with others. Both face-to-face and online video communities give teachers opportunities to articulate their own ideas about a video excerpt as well as to hear the ideas of others. This diversity of ideas and perspectives is particularly helpful in getting teachers to notice different events and develop different explanations for why they happen (van Es, 2012). 

When participating in such a community, identify a common lens for viewing — a topic of shared interest — that can guide both the selection of the shared video excerpts as well as the conversation about the video clip. Second, encourage participants to focus on describing and interpreting what takes place in the video before making any evaluative comments. When teachers describe what they notice in a video and support that observation with evidence, they are better able to see and understand the perspective of other teachers. That makes video a valuable text for exploring teaching and learning with a community of peers.

MIRIAM GAMORAN SHERIN (msherin@northwestern.edu, @miriamsherin) is a professor of learning sciences and associate dean for teacher education, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill. ELIZABETH B. DYER (ebdyer@stanford.edu, @dyereliz) is a postdoctoral scholar, Graduate School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.

R&D appears in each issue of Kappan with the assistance of the Deans Alliance, which is composed of the deans of the education schools/colleges at the following universities: George Washington University, Harvard University, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Stanford University, Teachers College Columbia University, University of California, Berkeley, University of California, Los Angeles, University of Colorado, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Wisconsin.

Originally published in April 2017 Phi Delta Kappan 98 (7), 49-54. © 2017 Phi Delta Kappa International. All rights reserved.