I talk a lot. That’s one thing I realized when I watched the video of me leading a classroom discussion on Michener’s Chesapeake this week. At least, I talk a lot louder and clearer than any student in the room. Years of projecting my voice over noisy groups of kids seems to have left me with a positively operatic larynx.
This does not bode well for videotaping. The discussion itself was fairly balanced, really. Students had prepared by finding three passages in the book and making notes about how each illustrated one of eight “global themes,” like “political legitimacy and authority” or “development and diffusion of technology.”
Their comments, as usual with these gifted young people, were often perceptive. But you could only hear about a third of what they said. The boys were generally more audible than the girls, because of the bass in their voices. The impression a viewer of the tape is left with, I’m afraid, is that I’m basically conversating with myself.
I did learn some important stuff about how to make a tape. I was doing the same lesson two periods in a row. The first time, I had the camera on a tripod behind and to the right of me. My profile was at the left edge of the screen, and a ring of students in wooden one-armed bandits stretched in a graceful archipelago beside me. Unfortunately, it was less than half the kids, and as often as not, the speaker was off camera.
The second class, I moved the camera to a position near the door of the classroom, on my left as I sat in the circle. And I figured out how to crank up the tripod to a height of about six feet, so the camera was shooting slightly down on me and the kids. This time, I was on screen right, more of my face and hands visible, and a broader swathe of kids sitting around to my right and to my left. Of course, you could only see the backs of the heads of the ones on my left. Wouldn’t you know it, that’s where the girl who raises her hand more times than the rest of the class combined chose to plop her books.
As far as the sound quality, I guess I need to work on microphone placement. I hung an external mic from the bracing for the acoustic ceiling panels, carefully clipping the cord that ran back to the camera up and out of the shot. I placed the mic a few feet in front of me, hanging like a light bulb to capture all their good ideas. Next time, I guess it needs to go farther from me and somehow closer to them. Maybe I need to get a different kind of mic, one that picks up sound from all directions better than the one the library gave me.
One moment that the video tape did not capture was three quarters of the way through the second period, when my techno wiz helper spoke up in the middle of a heated debate about the destruction of a character named Tciblento, a Choptank princess and emblem of her people who is reduced to silence and misery at the hands of a series of ever more despicable men.
“Mr. R.,” he called out, eagerly waving his hand.
“Yes, Andrew,” I said, excited that a kid normally more interested in how to work the smart board was ready to share an opinion about literary pathos.
“Is that little red light on the camera over there supposed to be on right now? Cause it’s not.”
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