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Student Created Documentaries

posted on August 21, 2012

Student Created Documentaries

How do you get a group of students - who don't like a whole lot about school - excited about English class? This question led Karen Kayser-Kemp, from New Hampton High School, to design a new project for her 10th grade Foundations of English class. "Basically I had students who hated English or had difficulty in it," said Ms. Kayser-Kemp. To combat a growing apathy among her students, she ended up designing a lesson encompassing something she knew many of her students liked: movies.

Specifically, she had her students create movie trailers and documentaries. "When I was designing the class, I really wanted to have some sort of culminating project that encompassed a lot of skills and was a genuine point of pride for my students," said Ms. Kayser-Kemp. After watching the Ken Burns documentary, The War, and finding resources online, she decided that having her students conduct real world interviews with war veterans was the perfect way to get her students invested in her class. "I wanted them to do a project that they would devote themselves to," she said. "So many times, I have students who just go through the motions and don’t care about the work they do." She knew that this type of project would intrinsically motivate her students.

"This spurred me to do more than just a traditional research paper," said Karen. "A documentary seemed like the best way for students to share the interviews they would capture." In the end, it was three questions that led her to design a project of this scale. What were the curriculum goals she would be targeting throughout this project? What skills would her students need for the interviews and documentaries? And what background information would her students need?

student editingShe knew that her students would need to know how to operate video equipment, how to edit with iMovie, and the proper ways to conduct an interview. "This is why I had my students create a movie trailer first," she said. "It gave me the chance to teach them how to use the video equipment, and I was able to connect what we were reading in class to the actual project." Students analyzed movie trailers and broke down what made it a strong story. They then pre-wrote a script, broke down into groups, and shot their videos during. Each student created a movie trailer so they would know how to operate iMovie.

To further help prepare her students for the interviews with the war veterans, Karen assigned teams of four to five students. Each student had a task assigned to them: one student would be the lead questioner, another would come up with follow-up questions, and two students would operate the equipment. Karen knew her students all had different skills they could bring to the project, so not everyone had to do the exact same job. "There were certain kids who liked working the cameras. It hit their comfort zone. For some kids, editing was really intriguing, while others struggled with it. And there are always kids who are naturally good at conducting interviews."

Throughout the project, students practiced conducting interviews and operating the equipment. "It's a huge project and there are a lot of facets to deal with. You need to plan carefully to make it work and you have to make sure your students are prepared."

During the interview day, her students spend 90 minutes traveling, setting up equipment and interviewing the veterans. Oonce the interview was complete, her students broke into different groups again. "I had one student from the video team editing and the rest working on other tasks. Each day they rotated so another team member was editing," she said.

public viewingFinally, to add real world value, the students present their projects at an open reception to the community. "Sometimes this is bigger than graduation," said Karen. "Each kid has to stand up in front of 200 people and introduce an element of his or her project." Each group shows eight to ten minutes of their documentary. The program lasts about 80-90 minutes and a reception follows.

So did Karen succeed in helping her students find interest in an English class? "For me, seeing my students who never felt success in school or felt good about what they do in school, work as hard as they do and feel real success, really makes me feel good," said Karen. "For some this is a huge deal. They stand on stage and publicly show their creations. I know my students definitely feel a sense of pride after finishing the class, and that's very important."

Communication Goals

  • Present information clearly, concisely, logically
  • Adapt speech for a variety of task using formal English
  • Use digital media in presentation to aid overall understanding
  • Prepare and conduct interviews
  • Participate in public performances

Support Materials

In the links section, you can find Ms.Kayser-Kemps list of documents she uses for these projects.

Tags: communication communication skills communication technology documentaries education educators Ken Burns literacy multimedia production students teachers video writing

Subjects: The ArtsLiteracy & LanguagesSocial Studies


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