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Using video to supplement the teaching practicum: A work in progress

John Green
University of Southern Queensland
With the cooperation of a group of our education students and some of our schools, we have developed a video containing a series of brief teaching segments. The episodes focus on a variety of numeracy tasks and help to expose some of the common mis-understandings and mis-conceptions held by primary students. Each episode also illustrates the approach adopted by the novice teacher to overcoming the learning difficulty of the child and that adopted by the teacher educator. Students are invited to consider ways of dealing with various aspects of the problems presented by the children. We are suggesting that video material such as this has the potential to assist pre-service teachers to grow their own personal, practical theories about teaching mathematics in the primary years of schooling.


It would be inconceivable to attempt to study chemistry in a laboratory that doesn't have any chemicals on hand. We may have access to all the required tools, however, these would be of little use without the ingredients. A fully equipped kitchen without groceries will be of little use to a novice cook. Novice doctors are required to study preliminary medical theory away from the hospital environment, but they must also prove themselves in a rigorous internship under close supervision. So what does all this have to do with the novice teacher? While the typical Faculty of Education is equipped with all the tools, the expertise, the ideas....... how do we fare when it comes to the ingredients?

Studies of teachers' beliefs about the practice of teaching indicate that once they are in the field they quickly resort to using the very methods of teaching that often failed them (Pateman, 1989, p.5):

This may well be explained by the nature of schools as institutions and by the strong pressure to conform coming from other faculty members. This pressure begins during internship and teaching rounds when there is almost a conspiracy between the student teacher and the supervising teacher to allow the deluded lecturer to have his or her harmless illusions about how teaching might be done. The teacher feels comfortable in the 'reality' of the classroom and is anxious to induct the student teacher into that reality.
I believe that this is far less the case now, nevertheless, Pateman makes his point when he goes on to explain that teacher training courses have considerable difficulty in overturning the effects of thirteen or fourteen years of incidental teacher training received during the prospective teacher's years of schooling. This apprenticeship in their chosen profession provides a very strong role model over a large period of time just when the prospective teacher is likely to be most impressionable.

A similar, though not necessarily unrelated view, is that the classroom work of novice teachers is often guided by their personal, practical theories, or notions of how to teach, which in turn are largely based on their experiences as learners. This less pessimistic view suggests that such naive notions about professional practice are best developed into robust and effective guides for practice through prospective teachers making these notions explicit and subjecting them to critical scrutiny and revision through practice and reflection on practice (Marland, 1997).

To us, it makes sense then that prospective teachers should be given access to situations that include the observation of, discussion of and refinement of elements of observable teacher behaviour. In this way, a framework can be established for the development of skills that will enable them, as practising teachers, to reflect upon, adapt, and refine elements of their practice to meet the needs of the children in their classrooms.

The problem

The conventional approach adopted by many teacher education institutions in achieving this has been through the school practicums. In our particular situation, however, we find that students become very preoccupied with the daily rigours and routine of classroom teaching; rarely do they find the time nor the energy to reflect on their own teaching practice let alone to reflect upon the teaching practice of other more experienced teachers. We would not be the first teacher educators who would wish for ready access to a class of children in the day to day university context. Many would rightfully see this as wishful thinking, nevertheless, we here at the University of Southern Queensland have been able to achieve the same goal using a different strategy.

The strategy

With the cooperation of a group of our education students and with the help of a few of our local schools we have produced a video that consists of a total of twenty small teaching episodes. These episodes range from somewhere between three minutes for the shortest to eight minutes for the longest episode, with each episode vividly highlighting a salient aspect of pedagogy that underpins the teaching and learning of "Number" in the primary school. Our view is that video material of this nature has the potential to assist pre-service teachers to grow their own personal, practical theories about teaching mathematics in the primary years of schooling. The video helps to make explicit small slices of teacher-learner interaction related to numeracy tasks, examples that expose some of the common misunderstandings and misconceptions of primary students. Each video episode illustrates the approach adopted by the novice teacher to overcoming the learning difficulty of the child and helps also to contrast it with the approach adopted by the teacher educator. These then become the focus of attention of pre-service teachers. They are invited to consider ways of dealing with various aspects of the problems presented by the children. The visual presentation of these problems and solutions adds considerable impact to their pedagogic merit.

Our experiences in using this material suggest that the video makes it possible to give our mathematics education students here the opportunity to vary, modify and/or adapt method in an effort to complement pedagogy and equally, vary, modify and/or adapt pedagogy to complement method. In each episode they see two people assisting each other, sometimes with varying degrees of success, to elicit understanding in the third person, a child. One of the two people involved is a novice student teacher and the other person is myself. We are now in the concluding stages of a trial of this material with a group of two hundred and forty students here and a further forty students who study off-campus. I will devote the remainder of this paper to a description of how we used a small section of this video in our teaching, the reactions from students, some of our successes, and also some failures.

The experiment

One of the episodes that we chose to trial was titled "Interpreting Number" and featured student teacher Nicole and child Tiffany. At the conference presentation in Toowoomba I used this five-minute segment as a basis for the presentation. Our view was that it would be inappropriate to encourage students to interpret and/or make value-judgements about the teaching practices contained within the video. Discussions with John Mason (UK) who has done considerable work in this area helped to reaffirm this view. Our goal was to encourage the student to adapt, discuss and refine particular teaching behaviours as a way of developing both his/her competence in the method and his/her skill in the pedagogy. While developing competence in the specific method we anticipated that the student would also learn how to adapt and refine his/her pedagogy to match variations in the method.

I asked one of my own classes to view this segment, uninterrupted. When they had done so I instructed them to spend a few minutes mentally replaying the video segment - they found this to be a difficult task despite frequent words of encouragement. I asked them to write down some of the more salient and/or striking moments of the video episode. We stressed the importance of doing this in as value-free and non-judgmental a way as possible. I asked them to describe in a "brief but vivid" way what they saw. I suggested that it might be any one of the following, for example: voice tones, timing, pauses, and gesture, head and/or shoulder posture, body actions eg. steadiness/tentativeness, who holds the pen, things said, etc. One of the first suggestions came from Jane (not her real name). Referring to the video segment, she said: Nicole might have used better timing when she asked the question " How many ones are there in this?" I responded that this was unacceptable since it included a value judgement. With considerable encouragement my students eventually offered a list consisting of three or four points. I will focus on Mary's (pseudonym) list:

I asked the class to pair off and to share their chosen moments with each other; I allowed about five minutes for this task. Afterwards I asked them to, again stressing that it must involve as little judgement and/or analysis as possible, to explain to each other why the particular moments so captured their attention. I will focus on Jane and Mary again. Jane had a tendency to include a little too much interpretation when she said to Mary: the question, "How many are there in each square there?" was unnecessary. With a little more prompting, however, she soon had the idea and I was able to transcribe the following condensed version of Jane's contribution to the conversation. Most of the students in this class had little difficulty identifying the concept that was being addressed in the video segment. I decided to leave them for a little while, while they studied a couple of readings that I had provided. I asked that particular reference be made to the different methods that are recommended for teaching this and related concept/s.

I decided to replay the video episode, asking students to select a small component containing either a questioning sequence, or a modelling sequence, or a verbal explanation, or a teacher response, or any other interesting aspect with an emphasis on pedagogy. I suggested that one might try describing an alternative way in which that component might be conducted. Such a description might include detail such as alternative questions, alternative materials, alternative teacher responses and so on. I stressed that their description should include not just changes or adaptations to the method but also any refinements they might make to the pedagogy. Let me focus briefly on Jane and Mary's specific responses. From Jane:

She had written the following alternative for this question: Mary's response was more comprehensive. She had decided to use an alternative method to elicit understanding of the required concept. Her readings talked about a device called a number expander and she had found this interesting. She was intrigued by the idea and felt that for her, the explanation would make more sense if such a device were used. She made one and excitedly demonstrated how one might use such a device in their explanation (refer diagram).

Figure 1

Figure 1: Number expander

Where to next?

We still have a long way to go. Our observations so far, much of it anecdotal, suggest that there is considerable potential for the use of video material such as this in undergraduate teacher training courses. It assisted greatly by giving our students indirect access to children and their thinking for the duration of the whole semester - this as opposed to a relatively brief practicum experience. We will continue with this trial as we endeavour to implement more of our ideas for using this video in our teaching. We try to remind ourselves that one way of encouraging students to "adopt an enquiry perspective which emphasises the cultivation of research skills about teaching and the multi-dimensional contexts of teaching" (McLeod, 1998) is by actively engaging in such behaviour in our own teaching. With this thought in mind let me conclude with some ideas for the future.

Video episodes such as these can be used to make explicit and illustrate certain components of practical theories of teaching, to invite reflection on these and to encourage their incorporation, where appropriate, into personal practical theories. For example, the episodes might allow discussion of such components of practical theories as strategies, principles, teacher attributes, values, beliefs, goals and contextual variables and the part each plays in approaches to teaching. Making these components of practical theories explicit could well assist pre-service teachers to develop frameworks for thinking about and articulating their own approaches to teaching primary mathematics.

Although the video has been designed primarily for pre-service teachers, it could also find a ready use in programs of professional development for inservice teachers. In fact, the materials designed for use in this unit are in a form that could be easily adapted for sale commercially. This is a possible outcome that warrants serious attention and so should be kept in mind in the planning and conduct of a systematic evaluation of the unit and the unit materials.


Marland, P. (1994). Teachers' knowledge of students. Queensland, Centre for Educational Research and Development, University of Southern Queensland.

McLeod, J. (1998). So you're the new teacher: Becoming a teacher. In J. Allen (Ed), Sociology of Education. Katoomba, NSW: Social Science Press.

Pateman, N. (1989). Teaching mathematics - A tantalising enterprise. Victoria, Deakin University.

Author: John Green, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba Phone (07) 4631 2319 Fax (07) 4631 2828 Email

Please cite as: Green, J. (2001). Using video to supplement the teaching practicum: A work in progress. In L. Richardson and J. Lidstone (Eds), Flexible Learning for a Flexible Society, 314-318. Proceedings of ASET-HERDSA 2000 Conference, Toowoomba, Qld, 2-5 July 2000. ASET and HERDSA.

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Created 7 Oct 2001. Last revised: 29 Mar 2003. HTML: Roger Atkinson
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