Kelli Demonte reaches high as she teaches in a diverse, urban setting. She is a third-grade teacher looping with students since second grade. Last year she won a grant that included a small video camera. Kelli said, “Technology is advancing so fast, I really wanted to hold myself accountable for keeping up with everything. I knew the grant would help me do that. Many of the families of my students may or may not have books on their shelves due to economic circumstances, but they have smartphones, email, and social media accounts.”
Kelli started by recording part of the Valentine’s Day party and sending it to the families over email. One parent responded, “Thank you so much. I’m a working mom so I don’t get to come to the parties, but it was nice to see it and be a part of the experience that way.” Another parent sent it to her deployed husband to enjoy.
These responses encouraged Kelli to video even more. In math, her area of strength, she captured video of kids using base ten pieces. She recognized that many parents hadn’t used manipulatives as kids. Understanding the lingo of bits (ones), skinnies (tens), and flats (hundreds) helped parents connect.
Kelli’s school staff has their share of challenges. Some parents are unemployed; some are working more than one job to make ends meet. Kelli talked about how she sees the discomfort of families during conference time, and wants to do something about it.
“I can tell by their body language, their comments, and the lack of questions that school hasn’t necessarily been a comfortable place for many of them in the past. They want to support their child, but with varying degrees of literacy themselves, they aren’t sure how. I am constantly trying to figure out how to strengthen the home-school connection so families feel more at ease, safer, and more connected.”
Video and Reading
Building on the success of informal social time and math lessons, Kelli decided to use the video camera to record her reading minilessons. She set the camera on the end of her desk, angled it toward herself, and had a student push the button to start. The strategy her third graders were working on was Back Up and Reread. After reading a short mentor text, she modeled how to back up and reread, and then released the students to try it on their own. When everyone was settled, she picked up the camera and captured students using the strategy. After the kids left for the day, she uploaded the five-minute video to share with families, wrote a short explanation about the reading strategy, and explained how parents might use it at home.
A parent said to her the next day after school, “I didn’t know you could teach reading that way. I thought you just walked around and listened to and corrected kids. So I tried your strategy last night. But what do I do if my son comes to a word he doesn’t know?”
Kelli was sure that she was on to something. The video had opened up a conversation to a new strategy. “So then I shared another strategy for helping her child learn to pick books on his own,” Kelli said.
Parent Amy Culp wrote, “When I ask my son what he did today at school, I rarely get an in-depth response. When I watch the recorded video, we have so much more to talk about. I think it is so important that parents and teachers are on the same page when it comes to teaching children, and the video makes a smooth transition from school to home.”
Managing Videos, Technology, and Permissions
There are some considerations for putting this practice into place. Kelli didn’t feel like the basic district permission form covered what was needed for using the videos among the classroom community and beyond with families. “I really wanted to be sure parents understood that I’d be uploading and emailing the videos to everyone on my private parent list.” Although this year every family gave permission, she knows that won’t always be the case. “Next year I’m going to add my ‘why’ statement so they understand my core belief about having a strong home-school connection.”
As with every new endeavor, Kelli had to learn the ins and outs of converting the video because it wasn’t compatible with all email programs. Her solution was to use her classroom web page to upload the video; that way families could also forward the videos to grandparents and other family members.
Even though much of the footage Kelli captures during a reading lesson shows kids only from the back, parents know their children. More than once when she’s needed to call home or confer about some behavior changes to help kids be stronger learners, the parents have said, “Yes—I saw that in the video you sent. I know exactly what you are talking about.” Not only does it create a context for the parent wanting to know more about what happened at school or the caring, deployed parent, but it also presents the reality of what learning looks like in the class (which for many of these parents is much different from their own experiences).
In the beginning, the kids were curious about what they looked like on the videos. When Kelli would shut off the camcorder, they’d ask, “Can we watch it?” Although at first it satisfied their curiosity, Kelli connected it back to the learning.
“Just recently I uploaded a three-minute video of students working in reading workshop, had them watch themselves during share time, and then asked them, ‘What did you learn from watching the video?’ And you know what? They can do it. During the turn-and-talk time after viewing the video, they were very reflective about what they’d learned and why it mattered.”