Imagine lecturing to a class in which some of your students are grade levels behind, some are grade levels ahead, some have special needs, and some are absent. It’s pretty hard to do that effectively, isn’t it?
As teachers in a Title I high school, we developed an instructional model built around self-made videos that empowered students at all levels to learn at their own pace and build mastery skill-by-skill. We used these screencast-style videos:
- To replace traditional lecture-style direct instruction, freeing us up to work directly with individual students;
- To give directions for projects and other complex tasks; and
- To provide remediation on skills that students might need to practice.
Now, as founders of The Modern Classrooms Project, we train teachers to create blended learning classrooms of their own. The key is empowering educators to build their own high-quality instructional videos. Unlike externally created videos, these allow teachers to multiply themselves in the classroom without losing their authenticity—they can provide direct instruction via the videos while also circulating around the room, answering questions and guiding students to deeper learning.
Step 1: Chunk Instruction
Great teachers have a lot to say about their subjects. When it comes to video creation, however, time is of the essence. Research on instructional videos shows that learner engagement with videos begins to drop after the 6-minute mark—and it falls dramatically after 9. So it’s essential to chunk instruction such that each video covers a single learning objective or task, and nothing more. Multiple short videos are better than one long video.
For example, this video on inference by middle school English teacher Toni Rose Deanon introduces an important concept, provides several examples, and gives the students a task—all in just over 4 minutes. Her colleague Emily Culp’s video on four-box notes is equally concise, walking students through an example and teaching a note-taking strategy in 3:25. In a world of short attention spans, videos like these make their points clearly and quickly.
Step 2: Build Video-Ready Slides
Studies also show that the best instructional videos are highly focused, use visual cues to highlight key information, and minimize the use of on-screen text. The slides that a teacher would use in a lecture may not work in a video—it’s critical to build a slide deck that is clear, simple, and visually compelling. (We have templates for math/science and English/history.)
In her video on the big bang theory, high school science teacher Moira Mazzi uses compelling visuals and clear annotations to explain a complex idea to her students. This keeps student attention on what Mazzi is saying and gives students an idea of the key terms and ideas they need to record in their notes.
Step 3: Record
There are many tools you can use to create a strong instructional video. Here are a few that can really simplify the process and enhance the quality of the video.
Recording device: Ideally, you have a touch-screen tablet or laptop with a high-quality stylus. This ensures that you can easily annotate visuals and show work. Handwriting also adds a nice personal touch. But if you have a non-touch-screen laptop, or a tablet but no stylus, you can still make your own videos.
Screencasting program: The best programs, like Explain Everything, allow educators to pause and re-record specific segments of their video easily, which removes the pressure of getting a perfect take. Look for a program that has a robust video editor and an embedded annotation tool.
Microphone: This is often forgotten, but it’s really helpful to have a pair of headphones with an external mic—these headphones help you improve the sound quality and ensure that your videos don’t contain background noise.
In this video on digital sound production (note: video is in Spanish), music teacher Zach Diamond uses highlighting, annotating, and a computer screencast to show students how to create their own songs using a program called Soundtrap. The clarity of Diamond’s voice and the video helps students follow along, even with a complex task.
Step 4: Enhance Engagement
Simply sitting and watching videos can lead students to lose focus—the best instructional videos keep them actively engaged. Research shows that when students take notes or answer guided questions while watching, they retain material better than students who watch passively. Embedding questions in your instructional video using programs like Edpuzzle can improve student interaction and provide you with invaluable formative assessment data. Students should think of video-watching as a task they perform actively in order to learn.
In this video on the Pythagorean theorem, math teacher Michael Krell embeds frequent checks for understanding and provides feedback for students who get those checks wrong. Students are free to jump ahead to key points in the video to test their mastery of the material, if they so choose. Krell makes paper copies of the video slides for his students so that they can take notes as they watch.
Step 5: Be Yourself
Perhaps the most important element of a strong video is authenticity. The most effective blended instruction isn’t pretty—it’s personal. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and make sure your authentic personality shines through. Research shows that videos in which the instructor speaks in a natural, conversational manner, with an enthusiastic tone, are the most engaging. In our experience, students really appreciate knowing that it’s their actual teacher behind the video.
In this video on states of matter, for instance, middle school science teacher Demi Lager lets her personality shine through. No matter how interested students may be in solids, liquids, and gases, her warm tone and sense of humor are likely to keep them engaged.
Learning to create a high-quality instructional video doesn’t happen overnight—it requires continual trial, error, and innovation. We’ve been recording videos for years, and we still often struggle to be compelling and concise. Yet we keep trying, because we believe that teacher-driven blended instruction is what’s best for our students. So start planning, grab some recording software, be yourself, and have fun!