Taping Your Own Class
Watching videos of other teachers at work can help
you with your own professional development. Teachers
often remark how regularly other educators intervene
too quickly, ask too many questions, and so on. Making
videos of your own teaching and then reviewing them
can beat any pre-recorded sequences. The latter videos
can be a very powerful tool for self-evaluation and
assessment. Video affords you a different viewpoint
of your work from that of being the teacher. It lets
you in on how students see you, your work and interactions
Watch Movie 1 or read the primer below in preparation
for shooting your own classroom video. You will find
information on equipment and hear tips that should make
your learning curve a bit less steep. A REMINDER: Legally,
you need consent forms from your students -- some letter
signed by a parent that gives each student a choice
not to be taped without penalty of grade.
1. Introduction to Equipment
Camera: Your most important piece of
equipment to do this work is (obviously) a video camera.
Given recent dips in prices, a good choice for shooting
classroom video is a mini-DV camera. These can be hooked
up to a computer for easy capture, and usually have
built-in LCD screen that doubles as a monitor for playback.
Mini-DV tapes are smaller than a credit card (though
thicker), and provide superior sound and video quality,
and greater ease-of-use than Hi-8 or VHS analog tapes.
Tripod: The tripod is an essential
tool for novice videographers. Mounting a camera on
one lessens the "shaky cam" problem beginners often
encounter and can free you up to tend to other necessities
-- like teaching.
Wide-Angle Lens: An inexpensive wide-angle
lens can help you include an entire class in a classwide
shot, or an entire team of students when they are seated
around a work table.
Lighting: Typically, when shooting
in a classroom, you can do a perfectly adequate job
using a combination of the classroom's overhead fluorescent
lights and outdoor light coming through nearby windows.
Don't frame shots so that the window are behind your
subject, however. Such "backlighting" problems make
your subject look like a shadowy silhouette as the camera
adjusts itself to the bright background. Employing external
lighting is not recommended as it is expensive, and
carries with it extra labor, costs, and safety concerns.
Microphones: Good sound is essential
to shooting usable classroom video. Good sound can make
up for bad camera work. The microphone built into your
camera, however, is inadequate for the job. You'll need
one or more external microphones to meet your shooting
needs. Lavaliere mikes, which can be clipped on to a
shirt or sweater, are excellent for capturing the teacher's
voice when speaking in front of a classroom, or when
attached to students working in teams. These mikes have
a short-distance response range, which helps them pick
up only nearby sounds. This improves overall sound quality,
especially in noisy classrooms. A wireless version of
the lavaliere mic is your best option, though it can
be somewhat costly. Systems should include both a receiver
and transmitter with clip-on mikes.
If you can only afford one microphone, choose a shotgun
microphone that gets directly mountedonto your camera.
Shotgun mikes are usually directional, which means that
when you aim it at someone, you will hear what that
person is saying and little of the surrounding area.
Using headphones connected to your camera will let you
know exactly what sound you are recording onto your
Batteries: Having extra batteries available
is VERY important, both for the camera and microphones.
Test your batteries with a multimeter before you shoot:
a tape without sound is a wasted effort.
Other helpful materials: Duct tape
always comes in handy for taping cords to the ground
or attaching things to your camera or tripod.
2. The Shoot
Set-up: The more time you spend setting
up your equipment, the smoother your shooting will go. Before taping your
class, check your equipment for power and tapes. A
taping session will abruptly end if your camera battery
runs to empty. Set up a camera battery recharging station
so that when one battery runs out and a charged one
is swapped into the camera, the depleted battery can
When you first turn on your camera, adjust the white
balance to the lighting in which you are shooting. Then
check your sound and lighting by recording a minute
of tape. When using a single camera set up, try placing
the tripod and camera in the back of the room (showing
the teacher's face-on and the students' backs) during
directed teaching. Move the camera to the front of the
room and point it at the students during class discussions.
Camera: Once you press the record button
at the beginning of class, don't stop it until the end
of class. The moment you turn off your camera, something
interesting may well happen. Tape is cheap, while students'
revelations cannot be replaced when missed. Generally,
it is best to minimize camera movement. Too much panning
(sweeping back and forth) or zooming (moving in closer
or further from the subject) tends to confuse the viewer.
Also, give your subject a little room to move within
the frame -- don't zoom in too close to your subject.
What good is all this video if you don't watch it? Viewing
your tapes is the best way to improve your taping technique,
and your teaching. You can also learn more about how your
students' make sense of things and glimpse your class
from their own viewpoints.
Summary: You now have a valuable tool
for improving your teaching and exploring the learning
of your students. To recap, here are some of the important
points to remember when shooting your own classroom video:
- Adjust the white balance at the beginning of the
- Record at least a minute of footage to test your
- Keep in mind your shot composition and don't zoom
in and out too often.
- Listen through the headphones to insure good audio
- Check batteries and tapes often.
- Label your tapes contentiously.