I shied away from tech productions projects. I was a scaredy-cat. Why? Whenever I gave my students a video project, the products demonstrated fun and engagement, but little learning. I needed to learn how to help students create quality productions.
Over the past three years, I’ve discovered a system that helps me help students create media productions that demonstrate quality writing and subject-matter learning.
1. Begin the year by having students practice with presentation formats. I resisted this for a number of years, believing that everything students did with technology should be done in the context of content learning. I now believe that 95% of what students do with technology should be in the context of content learning. The other 5%? Practice in order to become familiar with formats. Students begin by re-creating a 17-second iMovie. Then, they make a podcast using a picture book. Finally, they set up basic Google sites that will be used for learning logs and electronic portfolios. The practice time early in the year saves lots of time later.
2. Focus on content before production. Instead of starting a lesson with “We’re going to make an iMovie about…”, begin with “We want to communicate to the audience [insert purpose of the presentation]. The end product may be a podcast or a video or an eBook…but we will decide that once we’re crystal clear about what we want to say.” Good writing is key. Colleen Cruz writes about how to manage multiple student writing projects, putting content before presentation.
3. Honor what your students already know. Classrooms often have “experts” in different types of media productions. They might have worked on YouTube videos at home. Former teachers might have taught them basics of Garage Band or Google sites. Capitalize on students’ knowledge. Have a “class expert” wall so that students know who to go to with technical questions.
4. Help students critically evaluate media. The web is now full of examples of student video productions. I guide the class to two or three examples of sites and of productions (some good, some not-so-good). As they watch, students think about and respond to the following questions: What was the purpose of the site? The particular production? Do the purposes match? Do they communicate the intended message? What compliments would you give them? If you could give one suggestion, what would it be? Then, teach students to ask the same critical questions of their own productions.
5. Plan separate lessons for photography/videography. When you have a few extra minutes of transition time, teach students about good photography/videography. What makes a good picture? What happens when you point a camera toward a window? Students are allowed “press passes” cameras and videocameras when I know they can get footage efficiently. Students should know they can trim out blunders later. They also need to know exactly what footage they want to get and how long it will take them to get that footage.
6. Keep groups small. Only one or two people can effectively edit at any given time. If students are working in larger groups, help them break the project into smaller tasks. Two students can be editing video while two other students are practicing vocal fluency for the audio portion of the production. The pairs can then switch.
7. Continually ask students What is your purpose? and Who is your audience? Yes, those are writing questions, but tech productions are writing pieces.
8. When technical issues arise, ask students What do you know?, What do you need to know?, and Where might you go to find that answer? Those are my math problem-solving questions. Truthfully, I’m not a techie. I can answer some questions, but not the complicated ones. I am good at using the little “help” key at the top of most programs. I’m also good at Googling questions. I want to teach students to do the same.
9. Openly and frequently show appreciation for your school tech experts. Students should email thank-yous with statements of specific things they learned and will remember in the future.
10. Celebrate with Academy Award Ceremonies. It sounds silly, but following parent night, the principals enter the classroom in fancy clothes to regally announce awards for Best Script, Best, Video Footage, Creative Screenplay, Best Audio, Best Picture, and whatever else I can think of to complement quality work.
What do you do to help ensure quality productions?