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Reflection: Video and Analysis Required

Love is hard work

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UPDATE: I’m relabelling this post “The Pilot” in my series on posts about video reflection. I planned to follow-up quickly with techniques, tools, and examples of discourse analysis of classroom talk, but thoughts have evolved with research and practice, and I’m currently writing another post that better qualifies as “Part 1”. I’m sure the ideas discussed in this post will be repeated over and over again on this blog and website.

This is the first in a series of posts on using “CDA” with simple video technologies. Here I argue that “CDA” with video constitutes real reflection on teaching (or any) practice that allows teachers (and any human being) to understand how their words and actions affect their classroom (or any social context) life for better or worse. In part two I will recommend the procedure I currently use, and it’s rationale.

Real Reflection is an Act of Love

I love reflecting on my work, but I don’t always do it well, and I often avoid the really significant stuff because that stuff, the real stuff, requires hard work and lots of time, and is exhausting, and quite likely to hurt as it liberates and brings joy. Sorta like adding on an extra mile or set of pushups to my workout to keep improving health and muscle mass. Those are things I do to evolve.  Anything living is constantly growing and changing, but we can grow and change badly, or, with loving rigor, we can evolve…  I view it as being in the business of loving my students.  Regardless of how I may fail in that endeavor, it’s not for lack of trying, but I don’t always manage to find the energy to love myself and my colleagues at the same time.

I often record myself, watch myself, make a couple of notes to myself for next time, and leave it at that, claiming to have reflected. I can also brush all my teeth in 1 minute, and do any number of things but what’s the point if my teeth fall out? Thank goodness I’m not my students, who have to learn how to do it right.

CDA and Video Reflection: Intro

I’ve been heavily into using video for teacher reflection for a couple of years – basically since the tipping point of access to the technology for self-, peer-, and instructor review was reached in my workplace. While reading the “Literature” and the “Blogosphere” on the subject, I find I’m not alone in missing the opportunities for understanding that it affords so here I want to lay out some ‘facts’ and a chain of reasoning for a Classroom Discourse Analysis approach to video reflection in hopes that one or two people might one day find these posts and find them useful, or give me their own best practices in reflection.

Ahead of time I’ll admit that my roughly “native speaker” in-service teachers have already fully embraced this approach to their own reflection, and the program I’m in is integrating more and more video CDA for our roughly “non-native” pre-service teachers as well. As I get going with this whole blogging thing, I’ll put my own results up here, too.

Facts about learning

1. Learning happens by doing.

This is why most of the stuff we knew from school we don’t know now, but we do know how to do school, because we’ve done so much of it.  Doing requires interaction and always results in production. This is why it’s so difficult to undo the way we do school, or to evolve our school practices, because without rigorous reflection, we can only reproduce. 

2. Knowledge is transmitted.

Traditional language teaching, and traditional schooling, and the majority of public schooling all over the world including my current location, still focus on knowledge transmission rather than language use. This is why most of us don’t actually learn how to use the language tool in school, even if we can ace the national exam.

3. Learning is done with tools.

Doing school, like all social actions, is interactive, and requires more than one participant and many many things (tools produced through this and other practice), and we acquire it by meaningfully repeating it, a lot (same as walking, to cite an obvious example). Any and all social actions require the language tool to varying degrees. Using language while repeating the framework of the social action in different contexts leads to its acquisition (this is how membership in different Discourses (Gee, 2002) happens).

4.Students must use tools to learn them.

Therefore, for language to be acquired by students in a school setting, students must participate in a variety of real social practices; they must interact meaningfully and repeatedly with new language items that they would acquire, so as to scaffold them into the Discourses that they need..

5. Simple concept, but language, and classroom language learning are much more easily discussed than done.
6. Classroom culture varies by location.

Every classroom context is unique, but it remains fairly accurate (albeit general) to describe the classroom culture where I am currently living as predominantly Confucian. Before I meet them, a great many students have acquired school practices of speaking or writing only correct answers and only when told to, not volunteering, receiving transmitted knowledge, being rewarded when correctly reproducing this knowledge, not rewarded alternatively, and discouraged from creation or invention. A second language is the same kind of thing as historical dates or chemical properties. In short, doing school means not interacting means not using the language tool.

Extreme A

Extreme B

1. Teachers are expected to have all the answers.


Teachers are allowed to say, ‘I don’t know.’

2. Teachers are expected to suppress emotion.


Teachers are allowed to express emotions (as are students).

3. Students should not disagree with teachers.


Students are encouraged to articulate personal opinions.

4. Students are rewarded for accurate answers.


Students are rewarded for innovative attempted answers.

5. Students admire brilliance in teachers.


Students admire friendliness in teachers.

6. Teachers lose respect of students when teachers lose face.

Teachers can admit mistakes and keep the respect of students.

7. Students expect the teacher to show them “the way.”


Teachers expect students to find their own way.

Adapted from Brown (2007).

Classroom culture can be seen as negotiated between these two extremes.
7. Doing school does not facilitate second language learning.

Therefore, social practices in the language classroom must be altered.

8. Evolution of social practice occurs from within.

Revolution occurs from without. Teachers are within schools, so revolution is not an option — classroom culture can only evolve through repositioning of the elements of classroom social practice. How can these elements be repositioned? Through exploratory practice (Allwright, 2003), in which reflection and action for understanding lead to action for change.

Objective of Teacher Reflection

Fans of EP may have coined a beautifully vague term, the “Quality of Classroom Life”.  In other words, how can I optimize this classroom conversation to these students’ benefit =

Teacher Development (to be a better language teacher) — insert “which means’ after each item below:

— help my students master the tools of my subject (language), which means…

— maximize their time spent in successful real use of the tool in the contexts they most need (language in interaction) which means…

— recognize that every interaction I am involved in either obstructs or constructs the possibility for my students to improve their mastery which means…

— minimize obstructive teacher behaviors which means…

— understand own tendencies: how I wield my identity/body/language to construct/obstruct students’ language acquisition. which means…

Simply put: what’s the quality of the conversation/discourse, and how can I make it more conducive to my students language acquisition?

Obstructive and Constructive Teacher Talk

In a conversation, I’m usually told off if I attempt to control what the other participant says, and I’ve often been told I should concentrate more on monitoring and controlling my own talk. So yes, this would seem especially true of classroom talk.  I agree with Walsh (2002) that all teacher talk either constructs or obstructs opportunities for useful learner involvement and meaningful language production. In particular, he wrote in 2011 that

“One of the most useful ways to help teachers develop their professional practices is to place classroom discourse at the centre of the process. By helping teachers understand interactional processes more fully and by getting teachers to study their own use of language and its effects on learning, it is possible to greatly enhance microscopic understandings of classroom processes, thereby improving the quality of both teaching and learning. “(51)

Power and Interaction

So it only remains to make the point that classroom “talk” is produced by bodies which are simultaneously engaged in social interaction, and that the words, syntax, and intonation cannot be understood absent understanding of the impact of gesture, posture, cultural and contextual factors, and above all the intention of the speaker (agentive intent) in relation to the current classroom power structure. This social act is the most usefully analyzed unit in classroom discourse.


Allwright, D. 2003. Exploratory practice: rethinking practitioner research in language teaching. Language Teaching Research, 7, 2, 113-141

Brown, H. D. (2007). Teaching By Principles, (3rd edition). Longman, 2007, p. 252.

Gee, J. P. (2002). Literacies, identities, and discourses. In M. Schleppegrel & M. C. Colombi, Eds., Developing advanced literacy in first and second languages: Meaning with power. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 159-175.

Walsh, S. 2002. Construction or obstruction: teacher talk and learner involvement in the EFL classroom. Language Teaching Research, 6, 1, 3-23.

Walsh, S. 2011. Exploring classroom discourse: language in action. Routledge.

See also:   “Videorecording Your Teaching” 

Reflection: Video and Analysis Required

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I'm in this for the dialogue :-)

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