In the classroom, it can be hard for instructors to know whether their teaching methods are resonating with students. That’s why bug-in-ear coaching, a technique that allows teachers to receive real-time coaching during a lesson, is gaining popularity in school districts across the United States, writes Madeline Will for Education Week.
With bug-in-ear coaching, a teacher wears an earpiece while teaching a lesson, which is livestreamed for an instructional coach, writes Will. The instructional coach then delivers live feedback during the lesson, allowing the teacher to apply the recommendations in real time.
Currently, about a dozen states use bug-in-ear coaching. The practice is especially beneficial for rural and underserved school districts, who may not be able to hire their own coaches.
“It was really nice to feel supported and get direct feedback in the moment, because as much as you can do that through somebody being there and watching you, they always do it afterwards or by interrupting [the lesson],” says Michael Young, who teaches special education at Elk Ridge Elementary School in Buckley, Washington. “It was helpful information that changed the way I taught.”
That’s because bug-in-ear coaching “correct[s] behaviors on the spot,” says Mary Catherine Scheeler, an associate professor of special education at Pennsylvania State University and a pioneer of bug-in-ear coaching. “I like to say practice makes permanent. If people are practicing things incorrectly, they become part of the repertoire.”
The research on bug-in-ear coaching suggests that it works. Instructors coached through this method not only use evidence-based practices in their lessons more frequently, but also tend to keep up with the improvements they learned after their coaching sessions end.
Experts also suggest that bug-in-ear coaching can improve teachers’ tendencies to ask meaningful questions and increase student talk time. According to research by the University of Washington‘s (UW) College of Education, instructors coached through an earpiece “significantly increased the number of opportunities they created for children with disabilities to communicate.” And students were better able to use language to advocate for themselves.
The instructors explained that their virtual coach gave them “encouragement to keep going, even if [the teaching technique] feels like it’s not working,” says Kathleen Artman Meeker, the director of research at UW’s Haring Center for Inclusive Education. “You have somebody there with you, shoulder to shoulder, helping you think through it without disrupting the flow of the day.”
At first, some instructors are hesitant to try bug-in-ear coaching because they worry it will be distracting. But research suggests that “teachers acclimate very quickly to the bug-in-ear technology,” says Paula Crawford, the section chief of program improvement and professional development at the exceptional children division of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. “I’ve observed how within five to 10 minutes, teachers have been able to take the feedback and immediately change their practice within the classroom.”
Nancy Rosenberg, the director of the UW College of Education’s Applied Behavior Analysis program, suggests that real-time coaching has a much bigger impact than other forms of coaching. “[Meaningful feedback is] really hard to do after the fact, to watch a video and say, ‘Oh, you could have done this [here],’ or, ‘You could have responded more quickly’,” she says (Will, Education Week, 2/26).