Monthly Archives: January 2008

Classroom Video Part One: Introduction

Its been a while and I thought that I would change the way I do things. I’m going to switch between issues in the media and using video in the classroom. I’m still pretty new at using WordPress so it’s going to be a learning experience…

More and more classroom teachers are introducing video production to their students. It works on several levels. First, students are used to television and the idea of making a short video appeals to them. Second, every video a student makes is like a mini research paper so everything that works for a research paper works for a video. Third, students who are creative or more “hands-on” oriented will excel, gain confidence and self-esteem.

Everybody watches TV. According to kidshealth.org children spend as much as 1000 hours a year watching TV so it’s not a real stretch to believe that kids enjoy television. The idea of making short TV shows is very appealing. Students who have never shown much interest in school have perked up for me in my production class and done very well. Several have actually graduated and moved on to the local community college in order to continue their studies.

The main reason that using video in a classroom is so valuable is the fact that creating a single video requires a great deal of collaborative learning. Donna Lund of Robert Morris College wrote that she has learned to “appreciate the power of video technology to enhance language arts skills of secondary students in many ways.”

Some of the basic skills learned in making a video include writing for an audience, public speaking, research skills, learning to work within a group and problem solving. (Lund) In my class, students must form “Production Companies” that bid to compete for funds. In order to do so, groups must brainstorm ideas within the parameters of the assignment, submit a written program proposal that addresses issues of location, style, genre and the target audience as well as a succinct description of the video. Then they write scripts, cut the audio and gather the images. At this point the students are allowed to start their editing. The final productions are shown on what we call Presentation Day and a blanket invitation is sent out to the teachers and administrators in the school. Students then stand up in front of the group and talk about their video before it is aired.

It can work so well that some of my kids don’t even realize that they are learning. I have had kids come in to my class who are painfully shy, in danger of failing or dropping out or who can’t see the value of school. When these students begin to see that they are capable of great things in a medium that they love, something clicks.

I’d like to digress just a moment and share a story. Early in my teaching career, I was given a student, TD, that no one else wanted. I heard all of the horror stories. He was a disruption. He was lazy. He was trouble and so on. I met him and put him to work on the school news show we did at the time. TD enjoyed it and started to take it seriously. It turned out that he was a bright, creative and somewhat frustrated with school. He was also always in trouble. But he worked hard for me and to wrap up the story, he came to see me at the start of 2008. He told me two things that made my day. One, he stayed in school so he could work on videos and two, he is now in film school and is working on his first film for an upcoming festival.

Self-esteem works and it happens easily with classroom video production.

Next: Getting Started


Bread and Circuses

A pretty young hiker is killed in Georgia just because she wanted to take a walk in the same woods as a madman. Children are growing up in this country unable to read or do basic algebra. Sub-prime mortgages are an economic minefield. We have outsourced so many services and goods that we don’t even notice that our toys have lead in them and when Mattel protests they eventually have to backtrack and apologize to Chinese manufacturers in order to keep the flow of cheap goods into the hands and, in some cases, mouths of our children. We are still at war in Iraq after being told that it wouldn’t last long, it wouldn’t cost over $8 billion and that Saddam was working with the same people who attacked New York and Washington, DC on September 11th. No wait…He had weapons of mass destruction…Or was he a vicious dictator who had to be taught a lesson? Anyway, if you wanted to protest anything during the last presidential election, you were politely moved to a “Free Speech Zone.”

Where is the outrage?

There won’t be any outrage because we have become a nation obsessed with “bread and circuses.” Feed us and entertain us and nothing else matters. The Constitution shredding notion of free speech zones or Britney’s nervous breakdown? Well it’s easy. Give us Britney, sprinkle in some Dr. Phil and, who cares about the repression of free speech? Oh, and don’t forget the sandwiches. We want those too.

But while we sit obsessed with the trials of celebrities and our iPod playlists, we forget that the world is still turning. We forget that there are more gifted students in China than we have students. We forget that, just because a child doesn’t go to college, he or she isn’t a “child left behind.” We forget that what America does in the world matters and that we can do so very much as a nation and as individuals. But the first step is to just turn off the TV once in a while.


Just Another Year…

OK…It’s 2008 and I am two days from a new batch of students. This happens twice a year every year and I still hate it. It takes me a while to “warm up” to my students and to find the best techniques to engage them and (God help me) entertain them. And that is why I hate this time of year.

A fresh batch of faces staring up at me with nothing in their heads but questions and preconceived notions of what the class is all about, what I am all about and how they intend to behave during class. And all of them are so connected with some form of communication that they look to me and their other teachers to be just as entertaining as what is on their iPod or as informative as their next text message.

Of course cell phones and MP3 players are not allowed in school but that doesn’t stop anyone. Ever. I have had students who have not only let a phone ring during class but actually answered it. And they got mad at me when I told them to hang up.

Because of the media society we have created in this country the very idea of NOT having instant gratification for our entertainment needs is looked upon as old fashioned or “out-of-touch.” There are two things that I do just to get a reaction from my students. I start talking about cell phones and then announce that I do not own one. I get reactions ranging from stunned, glazed over looks to downright heartfelt anger. Just as I cannot understand how a teenager can feel actual anger over the idea of not owning a cell phone, they cannot understand that I have no need to feel “connected” at all times.

So I hate this time of year and I get over it pretty quickly. We come to our agreements, collective and individual, and the kids soon learn that TV isn’t rocket science, that I am not mean just because I have some rules and that learning about TV can be fun.


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