If you walked by my English Language Arts class, you would question what was actually being taught. At first glance, it looks like a film or computer class, but upon closer inspection, my students would wow you with their in depth knowledge of literature and writing, and their amazing powers of literary and film analysis. My school is a very diverse school of 3500 students. What is fun about my class, regardless of race or socioeconomics, the students perform at an impressive level, and it is all because five years ago I decided to try something different.
A few years back, I got the crazy opportunity to throw out every technique that defined who I was as a teacher. I believed in rows, rote memorization, and repeated testing, and although fun, my teaching style was not adventurous. We were required to teach books, short stories, and poetry, a normal subject matter for ninth or tenth grade ELA students. It was then I was approached to attempt a unique ELA experience, leading students to use iPads to write, film, and edit original films within the ELA program. I didn’t know if it was possible, but I said yes. This one decision would fundamentally transform how I see education, and it would set me on a path that would change who I am as an educator and individual.
I no longer focus on ELA in the same way, but my students engage in more analysis and writing than they ever did in their rows or with their tests. Using iPads and a project based learning approach, students read, write, and proofread, bringing the ELA experience to life, and they create original film content in the process. I won’t lie; it is scary at first. This process required me to throw out the traditional curriculum required by my department and not focus on state standards, but this leap of faith has had the biggest return for everyone involved, most importantly my students. These students take the words of great masters, and through the magic of technology, they bring these words from page to screen.
In our class, we focus on poetry. Each student is assigned one of five poems, a poem each student lives with for the entire year. Using these poems, students explore significant ELA topics, master important writing techniques, and create original creative and analytic works. Students are challenged to transform their understanding of the poem, working to find how the poem applies to their high school experience. Then, using iPads, student’s research their poems, create original scripts, go through an extensive proofreading and revision process, with the entire project culminating in the filming and editing of an original work. Students complete almost all of this using an iPad, with an occasional iPhone or MacBook to assist in the experience.
As I said, the first year was a risk, and I was unsure about whether students would learn important test topics. Their work, however, quickly eased my fears. Students were excited to produce. I once struggled to get student’s to research, write, and revise, but I was in awe of how motivated students now were to not only write but to proofread their work. I even came to the realization that our current generation of students might not be bad writers, but rather bad proofreaders (but that is a topic for future blogs:)
Pages and Keynote: Once students are assigned a poem, using Pages they create essays and a class presentation. Within a group, students must share information about the poet, explore a literary device, and provide their understanding and interpretation of the poem. These are then turned into a Keynote to be shared with the completed version of their films. They become a great teaching tool for any teacher who would like to use the finished poems and final movie interpretations.
Using their research, students log in to a free scriptwriting software. Celtx automatically formats their scripts and provides them a suite of free options. There are also amazing organizational tools for the planning and execution of the movie, as well as other project templates with the Celtx subscription service.
Padcaster and FilmicPro:
Two of my secret weapons. Of all of our use of tech, these two make the experience a true filmmaking experience, giving a level of gravitas to the entire process. Filmic Pro is a fantastic app that easily allows me to film and share footage. It allows students to manipulate focus, ISO and lighting, and even allows for the camera to pull focus. It is a more realistic camera experience, rivaling the DSLR experience. Filmic I also has a remote app that allows students to connect two devices so that one student can monitor and control the camera at a separate location. Padcaster is a brilliant rig/case that allows students to mount the iPad to a tripod, as well as attach lights and mics. It is a versatile device that protects the iPad like no other as you venture out of the classroom.
iMovie comes free on any iPad or Mac computer. What is fantastic about iMovie is that so many students come with an understanding of iMovie. There are countless tutorials that make learning or teaching iMovie a snap. The fact is, iMovie is an easy editing app that uses your device’s camera roll to edit your student’s poem-inspired movie.
We also hold a film festival. The students create programs, plan speeches, introduce their films, and get to see an audience react real time to their films. We also produce a behind the scenes, to give the parents a glimpse of what their students learned.
In addition, students record the poem in small separate videos, which are then combined with the poems they inspired. These become great learning modules for any ELA teacher, who can use the two films as an amazing class lesson and writing prompt.
Regardless, what is amazing is to hear what students have to say and see what they are able to accomplish. The journey from page to screen will not just change your student experience, it will transform who you are as a teacher. I invite you to have fun exploring some of the sample videos and resources below, and happy filming.