Friday, May 11, 2012

Beating the End-of-Year Doldrums with Video

We all feel it.  It's the end of the school year.  The high school I work for is testing for the next week, and then it's finals, and then it's, well, over.  The teachers and students are really just counting down the days and ticking off the minutes until that final bell rings and we can all do a little resting.

As much as I love teaching, I pour so much energy into my profession and work so many hours in a week that once summer comes, I am very, very ready for it.  Not that I'll stop working in the summer, but I'll at least get to tone it down.  And stop the 5:30 AM wake-up call.

So at a time of year when all of us, student and teacher alike, are having to force a facade of energy and eagerness, I like to introduce a video project.

Video has come a long way in the nine years I've been teaching.  VHS was the main modus operandi for my students when I started, and editing video was a complicated process involving multiple VCRs and wires, and which degraded the quality of the picture with every copy.  I usually had to help my students edit the video because it was something I had done often in college (I had two VCRs simply for that purpose) and not something they had felt the need to do before.  When I started doing video projects in my classes, it was neat, and rare, and really hard to accomplish.  Now making a video is as easy as turning on a cellphone and many computers come with video editing software already packaged in them.

The video project has enlivened my students.  Comparing last week, with its half-dead eyes (to be fair, we had a performance final to prepare for and take, so it was not an exciting week anyway) and barely-concealed sighs, to this week, with laughter and natural activity abundant, is like comparing Saltines to chocolate truffles.  And they're doing basically the same thing (composing in Latin).  The difference is the method of assessment.

Students have choice in this project.  I am not yet ready to relinquish control and leave the project destination open-ended with only a couple of requirements (though Nicholas Provenzano makes a great argument for doing so here), but I really value the chance to see my students shape their own expression for a story we've discussed in class.  I hand out a rubric, discuss it with them, and then let them go--usually with exciting results.  I check in with my students constantly, roaming around the room, answering questions, and offering direction if they are having a hard time figuring out their focus.

That said, the basic concept of the project is simple: write a script (in Latin) for a video about either a myth or historical story we discussed this year in class.  I have videos ranging from simple to complex.  I have videos that evince a strong love for cinematography and acting.  I have videos that have surprised me--students who have spent the year coasting suddenly have come to life for this project.

Students get to create something in this project.  The end goal is not some essay students didn't care about written on a piece of paper.  The goal is a video, a product, that has the potential to become something students are proud of and want to show off.  I hope some day to collect videos into a library of simple Latin stories--but for now, I have at least one video I can offer as an example:

This has been a great way to review Latin (we'll do a more formal review next week) and at the same time just have fun with Latin.

What are some ways you've used video in your classes?  I think I want to include more next year and always appreciate inspiration.