Student News Videos: An Alternative to Newsletters

Earlier this year, I wrote about helping student make quality video productions.

In the second semester, I stop writing parent newsletters. Instead, I have students write “news reports” about what is happening in the classroom.

Below is an example, followed by the steps I take to produce the news. Finally, I list the standards students achieve when making a news report.

The example:
Note: This is only a portion of the video. I chose parts of the video where no student names were attached to faces.

So how do you get the news reports rolling? First, know that I continually circulate the classroom – camera in hand. Not only can I capture three- to five-second clips for the news, I can use the footage to formatively assess student progress. Video is a great classroom management tool (an unexpected perk). News clips are put into a shared class file.

Week 1: Students record class activities and objectives
I begin by sharing a document with the 4 to 5 students in charge of the video. I use Google docs, but you can also use a shared class folder on Dropbox or other cloud-based sharing system. Each student reports on a different subject area. Below is an example of the latest shared document.

Script in progress

Comments and edits are critical. Spelling isn’t a huge issue because the script will be spoken. When read aloud, scripts should be no longer than one minute in length.

News scripts force students to think about transitions. I find two common errors when students first start writing transitions for news scripts:

  1. Students try to ask questions. I have to point out that a video is not a two-way conversation. TV news anchors rarely ask questions. Anchors use a voice that is both friendly and authoritative. We watch television news stories, analyzing how anchors transition from one story to another.
  2. Students make the transitions too long, often including “inside jokes” familiar to classmates but foreign to others in their audience. Needs of all audience members must be carefully considered.

Truthfully, the first round of scripting requires quite a bit of teacher intervention. When students do a second round of news reports, they work more independently.

Week 2: Compilation and publication
Students choose video clips that matches their script. They then import the video and record their voice over the clips. Pictures and script must be aligned.

On Thursday morning, the building tech coordinator videotapes students as anchors. Anchors first practice speaking the introduction, the transitions, and the conclusion so that those parts can be spoken rather than read. The person who wrote the section is the only one on camera. In the above example, you can see two student anchors. Those students wrote, practiced, and performed their particular transitions. I write the conclusions – which tend to be last-minute reminders to parents.

Anchors are taped against a green wall. In the fourth quarter, students will use pictures over the “green screen” so they look like they’re on an island, in an actual newsroom, or some other place that fits the theme of the news.

Individual movies are then exported to desktops and transported onto one student computer. The individual pieces are put in order and edited into a final piece.

Standards Addressed: It’s really not about the technology.
Writing fluency: For some students, writing homework is a chore – until they make movies. You can see a marked difference between scripts written in January and scripts written in June.

Writing – Ideas and Content: Students need to clearly articulate their message. How can you describe the game you are playing to parents?

Writing Voice: Attention to the needs of the audience

Writing Organization: Intentional use of introductions, transitions, and conclusions

Writing Revision: Students revise scripts and video as necessary. They edit their own writing and the writing of others in the group.

Writing Presentation: Students match pictures to script, then edit and publish

Reading Fluency: Students practice reading smoothly, with expression

Speaking: Eye contact, volume, and poise are all addressed

Character education – Teamwork: Each student is assigned a specific subject because I want each student to be able to work independently on a particular part of the movie. In the process, students develop a sense of the “divide and conquer” method of group project work. Not all group members need to be around the same computer at the same time. It’s more efficient to break the work into equal parts. In the above example, one student independently wrote and compiled the literacy portion. A second student did his P.E. piece the same night. All are responsible to help one another with script editing and all must approve the final video.

Character education – Self-directed learning: I think most students see “school” as a set of random activities assigned by the teacher. Through the video-making process, students learn to identify the objectives – the reasons teachers ask them to do what they do. I hope this helps students to pick out future teachers’ important points.

The other reason I put the work into classroom news reports has to do with parent attention. I’m never sure whether or not parents read my newsletters (after all, they are busy people!). But, when their children are in a video, they’ll click a link and watch what we are doing.

What kinds of videos do your students produce? How do you manage the process?

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