Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Teacher Focus: Melanie Benedict, Fourth Grade Teacher

January 28, 2013

The education team here at the Foundation recently had the pleasure of talking with Melanie Benedict, a fourth grade teacher in the Hillsborough County School District.

Melanie teaches social studies, math, and science to heterogeneous groups of students including those identified as gifted and those not yet at grade level. In addition to all of the “usual” teaching responsibilities, Melanie spent the last four years of her six-year career as a participant in the Measures of Effective Teaching Project (a.k.a the MET project www.metproject.org).  Teachers such as Melanie are helping to take the mystery out of “knowing good teaching when you see it.” 

Bringing together 3,000 teacher volunteers with research and education support organizations, MET sought to build and test measures of effective teaching.  The study recently culminated in a final report and tools to improve evaluation methods.  The intent is to make teacher evaluation more effective and applicable so that teachers are able to learn what they need to do to improve and districts can better identify and develop great teaching.

Melanie and her peers should be lauded for their willingness to open their classroom doors to this project.  The MET teachers allowed researchers to collect and analyze data on student performance and on student perceptions of their teaching.   The teachers were also assessed on their pedagogical content knowledge and surveyed about their work environment and instructional supports.  Finally, Melanie and others facilitated and participated in video capturing of their teaching and shared their reflections about their practice with researchers.  The videos of classroom practice were particularly helpful in unpacking how to make teacher observations more valid, reliable, and usable. 

To listen to Melanie describe her experience in the MET project is to quickly realize her commitment to her own learning and development as a teacher.  During the first years of the project, Melanie filmed eight lessons per year using a panoramic camera designed by TeachScape that captures a 360-degree view of her classroom.  In Melanie’s words, “I really found  watching and reflecting on my taped lessons to be valuable for my own teaching.  The videos allow me to see what all my students are doing during a lesson—what they were taking notes on, what they were reacting to—that I might not be able to see as I’m teaching.  I was able to identify the seemingly small things I did or said and ask myself:  Was my response to this student helpful?  How could I change the way I responded to that student?  Am I unintentionally spending more time with a certain group of students?  Over the course of watching many lessons, I was able to see and monitor some of the trends in my teaching.”

Melanie has volunteered to continue in the extension of the MET project.  She will capture 50 more lessons over the course of two years.  “The video capturing has become second nature.  It is beneficial to me to reflect on so many lessons and the students are used to the camera being out all the time and over consecutive days. The captures over the last four years have been consistently valuable for me to become a more effective educator,” she told us.

To learn more about what Melanie and her colleagues have taught us, check out the MET project’s culminating findings here.   

 
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