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With Larry Ferlazzo

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Teaching Opinion

Response: Using Videos to ‘Enhance Learning Experiences for Students’

By Larry Ferlazzo — January 16, 2018 18 min read
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(This is the last post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

How should teachers use videos/movies in the classroom?

Part One‘s contributors were Jason Griffith, Ken Halla, Dr. Rebecca Alber, Jennie Farnell, Cheryl Mizerny, and Michele L. Haiken. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Jason, Ken and Rebecca on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Today, Amber Chandler, Jen Schwanke, Dawn Wilson, Katie Alaniz, Laura Greenstein, Russel Tarr, and Sarah Thomas share their ideas. I’ve also includes comments from readers.

Response From Amber Chandler

Amber Chandler is a National Board Certified Middle school teacher, adjunct professor, and author of The Flexible ELA Classroom. Follow her on Twitter @MsAmberChandler:

Our students are multi-media learners, yet some classrooms only use videos or movies as a treat or a “break” from learning. I’ll admit that when I first started teaching (way back when you would actually watch videos on a television, rolled in on a cart), I refused to show movies or videos because I thought it was somehow a sign that my class was easy. Fast forward to my classroom now, and the very opposite is true: I use videos and movies in the classroom because students must learn to be informed consumers of all mediums of communication.

Short, informational videos can provide the much-needed background knowledge that often is the divide between children who live in poverty versus those who throw birthday parties at the local science museum. When I use this type of video, I frame it as, “Alright everyone, let’s get our brains ready to learn. This video will do that.” What I love about approaching background knowledge this way is that if as student knows the material, we are just tapping into it, but if the student doesn’t have the knowledge, we are leveling the playing field. My new favorite source for these types of video is called Check123. It is a collection of curated videos that are 1, 2, or 3 minutes in length. When research says that the first five minutesare crucial, I lIke the idea of student walking into a room where a video is looping. For me, the three minutes between classes often turns to five as students need to run to their lockers, go to the restroom, etc., so looping the video can be a great draw.

You might be sold on the 1, 2, or 3 minute videos, but what about committing several days to a movie? I’ll be the first to say that walking by a classroom with a video playing for days can certainly look like laziness or worse. I love movies, and some of my earliest profound thoughts evolved in a movie theater. I’m also not at all against showing a movie as a reward. I show The Giver, andThe Outsiders as popcorn and hot chocolate type days after the hard work of the novels is complete. However, recently, I decided that a movie would be the main course, not the dessert.

One of the chapters in my book, The Flexible SEL Classroom: Social Emotional Learning for Student Success, is about Social Awareness, one of the Collaborative of Academic Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) Competencies for students. I was struggling with the idea of social justice, as many of my students’ experiences with diversity in any form—people or ideas—is fairly limited. How could I make social justice a relevant topic for them? I had been intrigued with the movie Zootopia, which I had watched with my own children in the theater. As luck would have it, it came out on Netflix over our winter break, so I was able to watch it, and pause it. I created this unit, and wrote about it here. We spent five days watching the movie together, pausing and conversing, going back to scenes and looking up words they didn’t understand (the “mammal inclusion initiative” concept took awhile to explain). When one of my students said, “I watched this before, but I never even knew all of this social justice stuff was there, but now it hits you right in the face,” I knew I’d made the right decision. This will now be a part of my curriculum yearly. Using videos and movies as rewards has its place, but I think it’s time to tap into their potential as learning tools.

Response From Jen Schwanke

Jen Schwanke has been a language arts educator and school administrator for 20 years, currently serving as an elementary school principal in Dublin, Ohio. She is a graduate instructor in educational leadership and has written frequently for literacy and educational leadership publications. She is the author of the ASCD book, You’re the Principal! Now What? Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders:

When I was a high school student many years ago, a teacher had my junior English class sit through an confusing, fuzzy, and ancient version of Moby Dick. It was a miserable experience, because none of us found any connection, emotionally or academically, with the novel we’d just (sort of) finished reading. When the movie finally ended, we were dismayed when the teacher announced we were going to watch the whole thing again, “because none of you paid enough attention,” she snarled, “nor did you appreciate it enough.” All told, we spent two weeks imprisoned by that movie, while the teacher sat at her desk and painted knitted sweaters for her grandchildren. Even at the time, I felt it was some sort of movie abuse.

It was the stuff that gives movies in school such a bad name.

That was, of course, the worst case scenario. Fortunately, most teachers would never take movie abuse that far. It does happen, though. Too many times, I’ve seen videos and movies used irresponsibly in the classroom. They are too often time-fillers or used as a wrap-up to a particular unit, but the connections to content and instruction are feeble at best.

Which is really too bad. Because videos and movies can be fantastic tools in reinforcing content and learning—if they are used with intent and purpose. Here are some questions teachers can ask themselves when determining a if a movie has a legitimate place in the classroom:

Am I considering showing this movie for me—or for my students?

After watching this video, will my students have important conversations about the characters, plot, theme, and content? Will we be able to make connections to prior or future learning?

If a parent, colleague, or supervisor asked me to explain why this movie was shown, could I articulate it clearly?

Do I have clear and specific evidence that this movie will enhance a learning experience for my students?

Does the message or content of this movie line up with my grade-level standards in a clear and obvious way?

These questions aren’t meant to be tricky ones. They’re simple, requiring only one word answers. But if the answer is anything other than “students” or “yes,” it’s best to put the remote aside and find an alternate learning opportunity for students.

Response From Dawn Wilson & Katie Alaniz

Dawn Wilson and Katie Alaniz are both professors of Educational Technology at Houston Baptist University. They are passionate about using digital media more effectively. Their latest book focuses on this topic, Digital Media in Today’s Classrooms: The Potential for Meaningful Teaching, Learning, and Assessment (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016):

Anyone who spends time with today’s students appreciates the impact movies and videos have on the lives of younger generations. They consume, create, and publish media content continuously throughout each day, using a variety of digital devices such as mobile phones, tablets, and computers.

Pedagogically speaking, however, educators should not simply plunge into incorporating movies and videos without first considering the standards they need to teach as well as how they will assess those standards. Rubrics hold tremendous potential for systematically assessing student-created media. A second key consideration involves copyright issues when using multimedia in classroom settings. This Fair Use website offers a breakdown of copyright concerns, including guidelines for using multimedia in the classroom.

As teachers anticipate the role of video in their instructional practices, a few decisions must be made. The Ready, Set, Learn model for incorporating digital media into educational settings provides an effective overview of these considerations.

To activate prior knowledge, teachers can use video clips to READY students for learning. A TEASe (Technology Enhanced Anticipatory Set) is an especially effective method of doing so, and these three to seven minute videos typically incorporate elements of pop culture to encourage students to connect prior knowledge with upcoming content. Probing questions incorporated throughout the video further guide their thought processes while watching. This can easily be accomplished by using videos already on the Web and then adding annotations to videos with tools like YouTube, EDpuzzle, VideoAnt or Flipgrid. Examples of already-created TEASe videos, such as this elementary science TEASe and this high school history TEASe, may support teachers in creating their own video to grasp students’ attention and prime them for learning.

To SET learning using video and movies requires much more than requiring students to watch video content. Effective viewing must encourage purposeful watching using tools like Movie Sheets. Many online video options from TED-ED to WatchKnowLearn exist, and teachers can create their own video viewing guides as well. Teachers can use the flipped instruction model to deliver content by requiring students to watch videos at home and then produce an artifact to demonstrate processing of this content.

To ensure that students LEARN the content at hand, teachers might encourage student-centered video creation by asking students to actively design their own videos as they wrestle to master new concepts. As students evaluate their video pieces against rubrics, they engage higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy with a heavy emphasis on content and process to increase learning.

An abundance of tools and purposes for video creation exist to support student-centered learning environments. Students can create videos in many different subject areas. In history, students can work to produce documentaries or video timelines. In other subjects, videos can be used to create lab reports in science, as well as digital stories, author studies, and video book reports in English. In math, SketchCasts can be created to teach a process.

These projects can be accomplished through a wide variety of online programs such as  YouTube video editing,  Animoto, and  PowToon, as well as operating system programs like iMovie (Mac) and MovieMaker (Windows) and apps like iMovie for the iPad,  Explain Everything, and Educreations (which records voice and annotation while interacting with various content).

Video and movie options in the classroom provide an endless array of enhanced learning opportunities. In this digital day and age, why not tap into the potential of video for teaching and learning? What will the next project be? Who will create it? How will it be assessed? Start planning and creating today!

Response From Laura Greenstein

A lifelong educator, Dr. Laura Greenstein has served as a teacher and school leader, professor and professional development specialist. Her passion for excellence in assessment is evident in her numerous books, articles, and blogs on the topic:

We live in a media-rich world where information is available at the touch of our fingertips. Video and other media in the classroom can support students in becoming responsible technology users as well as foster their engagement in learning and assessment. When assessment is planned to improve learning outcomes, students must be aware of the learning intentions, the process of learning, and their role as monitors of progress. Visuals, videos, and technology can enrich, and strengthen assessment results.

Here are some ways to achieve this:

1. Have students predict the outcome before the end of a video; perhaps 12 Angry Men, or The Dot. Then compare their predictions to the story, analyze the character’s decisions and actions, or write a different ending. Their ideas are assessed for clarity of explanation, support for a position, as well as content area and critical thinking standards.

2. Try a TED-Ed interactive video that lets you embed questions and activities into any TED or YouTube video. With tools such as EdPuzzle or Playposit assessments can be embedded at selected points within the video. Students responses, whether it be selected choice, completion, summary, or list of further questions can be assessed for understanding, application, and analysis.

3. Today’s personalized and differentiated classrooms often rely on learning tutorials, such as Khan Academy for review as well as enrichment. Student’s note-taking (either structured or open-ended) on their learning can be assessed for content knowledge, understanding, analysis, and synthesis. Muddiest idea, graphic organizers, cause/effect charts, and more can be included to record their experiences.

4. Students can create videos such as an animated Powtoon, then peer-assess with a rubric that aligns with learning intentions. For example, clarity and accuracy of content, number and quality of resources, summary/synthesis of key ideas, and substantiated conclusions and recommendations.

5. Watching videos and media that offer divergent viewpoints can help students develop their media literacy skills. Students review information and evidence then research and authenticate the diverse perspectives using a set of questions or a checklist of quality indicators. Alternatively, they can use their questions/checklist to review hoax sites such as “All About Explorers,” “Dihydrogen Monoxide,” or “Tree Octopus.”

Caveat: The use of videos and media for assessment, must support best practices in assessment: Does the assessment align with the learning intentions, do the students know what they are expected to learn and how they will be assessed, is there frequent formative assessment and feedback, are the outcomes of assessment used to inform next steps in teaching and learning? You can learn more about these best practices in assessment at the assessment network blog.

Response From Russel Tarr

Russel Tarr is head of history at the International School of Toulouse in France. He is also the author of www.activehistory.co.uk and www.classtools.net and organises the Practical Pedagogies Conference:

Documentary video and feature films are invaluable sources for the history classroom but can easily become a way of filling time without any meaningful focus. Here are a few ways to improve the accessibility and engagement of movie sources in your classroom.

Increase accessibility

By far the most effective step towards making your use of video in the classroom more accessible and flexible is to digitize it. A free tool such as HandBrake allows you to quickly ‘rip’ a DVD and convert it into a digital file format such as MP4. Similarly, a web service such as KeepVid allows you to download publicly available films on YouTube for safekeeping in the same format. These files can then be stored on your hard drive and then played at the click of a button whenever it is required using another piece of freeware such as the VLC player.

There are many benefits to digitising video sources this way. For example, many students can watch the video simultaneously on their own devices and at their own pace. Unlike a ‘classroom viewing’ in the normal sense, students can pause whenever they need to take notes, slow down or accelerate the the playing speed of the video in VLC (using the ‘Playback’ option). Another advantage is that a digitized file is very easily to chop up into segments so that small sections can be played at different points across several lessons at appropriate times much more easily: I do this frequently when particular parts of documentaries or feature films have excellent short sequences or scenes which I want readily to hand. iMovie (Mac) and MovieMaker (Windows) serve this purpose. A final advantage is that subtitle scripts can be downloaded in various languages by searching in Google then enabling them in VLC using Video > Subtitles Track).

Increasing engagement

Passively watching a documentary or feature film is never going to be an effective way of ensuring students get the best value out of it. At the same time, the visual nature of film means that note-taking and watching sometimes work against each other. This is another reason why personalised viewings using digitised files, as outlined above, are generally preferable.

The most regular method I adopt is to instruct students to take minutes: instruct students to make a brief note about what is covered in each minute of the documentary they watch. Each note might be merely a few words (“5m: Stalin disagrees with Churchill/Roosevelt at Yalta re. Poland”, “6m: More on this debate”) but in this way they are regularly ‘checking in’ with a brief reflection on what they have learned.

Another simple method, which works in a teacher-led viewing with the whole class, involves pausing the video at regular points and getting students to guess what will happen next at key turning points in the story—especially those moments which are particularly surprising in terms of how the key actors behave and react to circumstances.

A further technique is to challenge students to produce an engaging worksheet for the following year’s students based on the video. I encourage them to use a range of open questions, picture based questions, cloze exercises and so on.

Finally, consider converting students from ‘consumers’ into ‘producers’ of video sources to develop their critical awareness of how film is constructed. The short interview with Ken Burns entitled “On Story” (available on www.vimeo.com) is a superb introduction to the art of storytelling through video. Students can then design their own Hollywood film poster or trailer for a topic in question, or even produce their own full-blown documentary (two ideas I cover in much more depth on my blog www.tarrstoolbox.com).

Response From Sarah Thomas

Sarah Thomas is a Regional Technology Coordinator in Prince George’s County Public Schools. She is also a Google Certified Innovator, Google Education Trainer, and the founder of the #EduMatch movement, a project that empowers educators to make global connections across common areas of interest:

As a former Radio-TV-Film major, I would say the best ways to use videos or movies in the classroom is by having the students create them. There are so many free tools available, and as they say, the best way to learn something is by teaching it. Perhaps the student can flip a video for his/her classmates, or simply create something to demonstrate mastery of a concept.

Responses From Readers

Jennifer Crichton:

After many years teaching 7th grade history and English, I have figured out a few things:

1. Preview key vocabulary from the video ahead of time, both concepts and unusual or new terms and names.

2. Consider showing documentaries with captions on. Often talking heads or other people speaking in the documentary are hard to understand. While some kids will just ignore the subtitles, others will refer to them and the understanding will be enhanced.

3. Provide a viewer’s guide that the students will fill in as they go. Don’t have them get too engrossed but pause every ten minutes or so to have the kids respond and ask questions about what they’ve viewed.

4. When teaching American history, make sure the documentaries include talking heads that include women and African-American historians and that enslaved people are presented truthfully and as fully realized people. Let their story be told from their perspective. “The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” has been great for that.

Thanks to Amber, Jen, Dawn, Katie, Laura, Russel, and Sarah, and to readers, for their contributions!

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