Why video tutorials?
By Austin Rich
This is my third year teaching math in a Title I school in Oklahoma City. To clarify, a Title I school receives additional funding to meet the academic needs of students from low-income families.
And as someone who did not grow up in a school impacted by poverty, I was very unaware of the unique academic needs my students would have when I stepped into the classroom. I grew up in a white, middle-class, rural town… so teaching in a primarily black/Hispanic, low-income, urban setting has certainly been a growing experience. Naturally, my experience in school was very different from my students’ experience, so I have had to develop a certain level of creativity, flexibility, and patience in order to meet my students’ academic needs.
One of the first challenges I met was in the direct instruction phase of the learning process. When presenting new information to the class through notes, I experienced a few difficulties.
First, I found that many of my English-Language Learner (ELL) students had difficulty working at the pace at which the rest of the class could work. I felt the tension of wanting to push forward to keep the attention of the native English-speakers, while, at the same time, not wanting to leave my ELL students behind.
Second, I had high percentage of students with special education (SPED) needs. These students directly benefited from repeated information, instructions, and the steps required to solve math problems. However, the 53-minute class period was already too short. I could not afford to repeat every set of instructions and steps multiple times.
Last, some students were easily distracted by the learning environment... pencils tapping, students fidgeting, papers turning, desks squeaking, the heating/air unit clicking on, etc. This was not different from my time as a student, but it was my first time experiencing the challenge from the perspective of a classroom teacher. How could I actively engage learners who were simply not interested in or focused enough for learning?
With such a variety of academic needs, I wondered, “How can I allow for students to learn at a pace that fits their specific needs?”
The answer? Video tutorials.
A video tutorial is exactly what it sounds like: a recorded video used to present new information.
Essentially, I recorded videos of the new information on an iPad, uploaded them to a tutorial site, and then allowed students to watch them during class. The students would log in, put on a pair of headphones, and then start the video. And just like traditional direct instruction, students would take notes over the information provided.
The changes seemed rather insignificant, at first. Students were still taking notes as I covered new information, but the impact has been farther-reaching than I could have anticipated.
First, unlike traditional direct instruction, the student can pause the video, allowing for additional time to copy and comprehend the material being presented. They can even replay parts of the video, if necessary. Basically, the “pacing problem” had been solved for both my ELL and SPED students.
Second, I no longer battle the environment for the attention of my students… or at least not in the manner I once did. Now, students look only at the screen and listen only to my voice when taking notes. This has been a game-changer when it comes to capturing, and keeping, student attention. In addition, some of my more technologically-inclined students gravitate to the electronic device.
Third, similar to traditional direct instruction, students answer questions about the new material during the video. But all we know how that story goes… The kids who “get it” are the only ones who raise their hands or understand the content enough to be able to answer question on the spot. However, the video tutorial style of direct instruction allows all students to answer the question. So, after critical information is shared in the video, the video pauses and a dialog box opens. The student is then required to answer a question before proceeding. The website then tracks his/her response and then compiles data from all student responses for me to analyze before the next day of instruction. In this way, I receive real-time feedback about the level of understanding – and the misconceptions – my students have concerning the information that was just communicated.
Last, even though planning, recording, and uploading the video takes some pre-planning and work outside of the classroom, it essentially gives me additional time to check things off of my never-ending to-do list. While students are watching the video, taking notes, and providing critical feedback for me, I am grading papers, analyzing data, preparing lessons, etc. The tutorial process has actually added time to my schedule.
Now, many of you might be reading this article, thinking, “I could never do something like that... Technology isn’t my thing… My students wouldn’t like that… I’m sure it doesn’t help that much.”
But what if it did?
What if it did improve student learning? What if it did engage the difficult students? What if it did add time to your schedule?
For that reason, I would argue that implementing video tutorials – or whatever classroom change you’re hoping to make - is at least worth a shot.
Ultimately, employing the use of the video tutorial into the regular rhythm of my classroom has been a rewarding process. There was certainly a learning curve at the beginning, but it has positively impacted my students’ learning experience and my experience teaching a student population with diverse and unique academic needs.
Austin Rich teaches
Pre-Algebra and coaches
Cross Country and Track & Field