More Showing, Less Telling: Deepening Teachers’ Understanding of the Common Core State Standards

by Mary Stump

How can video exemplars in professional development improve teacher learning?

“Don’t tell me; show me!” It’s a common lesson in writing classrooms, and many professional development providers could benefit from a refresher course in its importance. Teachers across the country are too often sitting through dull re-tellings of what standards say instead of experiencing teaching practices and tools that show how to support the goal of deeper learning at the heart of the Common Core.

As districts consider various professional development options, they need to keep one question front and center: Does it give teachers repeated opportunities to observe, study, discuss, and practice ways of teaching that guide students through the kinds of learning the Common Core demands?

While logistical and financial limitations can make it challenging for teachers to observe classroom practice in person, video exemplars can serve as a work-around and opportunity for learning from authentic settings. However, just putting a video on a website is like simply handing a teacher a book and walking away.  We know that how a text is purposed, contextualized, and mined for evidence is as critical as the text itself. Similarly, what makes the video meaningful for changing practice is its framing and use in the learning experience.

Expert professional development leaders at WestEd’s Reading Apprenticeship program have spent years developing and working with video cases as an integral part of teacher learning that takes place over several days. Research-based design has guided their video editing, framing and analytic protocols, allowing professional development participants to have a productive, shared inquiry experience.  While teachers learn from examining teaching practices modeled in real classrooms, participants also experience some of the learning practices required in Common Core work—citing evidence, making conclusions, and using multiple text types to name a few—in the video analysis itself.

Below is a short excerpt of one Reading Apprenticeship video. In it, educator Cindy Ryan is enacting student-centered learning in her ninth-grade Academic Literacy course.  I don’t have the space in this blog to fully contextualize this video, but I invite you to watch it, write down some claims, questions, and inferences about the teaching and learning you see going on and, of course, cite your evidence.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What are students doing? Why?
  • Where is the teacher positioned in the lesson?
  • What inferences might you make about how text is used in this classroom?
  • What kinds of knowledge and activities enabled this teacher and students to do this kind of learning in her classroom?

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Now take off your student and teacher hats, and put on your "teacher of teachers" hat as you consider a few more questions:

  • What are the opportunities and pitfalls using this, or any, video to enhance teacher learning?
  • What is important for staff developers to know to make the most of a video example?
  • Does video-based inquiry help show and not tell?

I hope this exercise sparked your interest in the use of classroom video in inquiry-based teaching and learning and provided a window into the kind of work high-quality support staff developers offer teachers when they show, not tell. If students are going to have the learning opportunities and support they need to master the kinds of reading, writing and analysis demanded by the Common Core, their teachers must also have repeated, well-designed opportunities to create and guide that learning.

For more video excerpts and information about Reading Apprenticeship, please visit or contact me:

Associate Director, Teacher Professional Development Program, WestEd