Giving students opportunities to express their knowledge is important. But students are sometimes limited in their capabilities to show understanding if they are only given the opportunity to just write out their ideas.
Some children are better speakers. Some children struggle with the language of instruction. Some children need visuals, not just words to express their ideas.
This semester we decided to try something new with our sixth graders. Now that they all have their own laptops, we wanted to design new avenues for students to document their understanding. And we were also looking for ways for students to share their understanding with the greater community at school: the entire Sixth Grade.
There are students who will do their best to make great work for their teachers. This does not however motivate all students. After all, no one will see the finished product besides the teacher. If they fail or make silly mistakes, only the student and the teacher will know. If students are sharing something with their peers, it better be good. They want their peers to see them shine.
Rather than doing a presentation where the stakes are high because it can only be done once, we decided to have our students create a screencast to show their understanding of the poetry. We also felt that an essay would really limit our students’ ability to explain the level of their knowledge, since they are still growing as writers.
Pick a popular song that you like. Analyse it like a poem. Show us the structure (stanzas, lines, refrain, repetition, meter, rhyme scheme) and help us to understand what the poet wanted us to experience through his/her language (imagery, simile, metaphor, alliteration, etc)
Students first annotated a copy of the lyrics of the song. They counted out beats per line, figured out rhyme schemes, and analysed the repetition. Then they looked for examples of figurative language or sound devices. To score at higher levels on the rubric, students would also be expected to discuss what effects these elements have on the overall feel of the song, as well as be expected to explain the theme using examples from the song.
Students created a Google Slides presentations that they would use as a canvas for their screencast. Students could to be creative here. They needed to insert no more than 20-30 seconds of the song. They needed to show the lyrics so they could point out examples, and they needed visuals to help explain their ideas.
Students practiced creating screencasts with QuickTime in their Enhanced Learning class. Once the screencasts were complete, they uploaded them to a special group we created on VoiceThread. We then assigned each student two other student screencasts for which they were to watch and comment. Students could also watch and comment on as many other screencasts as they chose.
The overall understanding of poetry was good. Students could easily discuss the structure of the song. Students could easily find examples of figurative language and sound devices. Only a few students per class were able to go deeper, to really show what effect the structure, sound devices, or figurative language had on the meaning of the poem.
Students also realised the importance of picking a good song. Songs that seek to unify us in the search for lasting love, empowerment, or true friendship will have many more examples to discuss. Songs like “What does a fox say?” might have great sound devices, but deep meaning? hmm. Not so much.
The findings did not surprise me. After all, a sixth grader is still very literal. Discussing structure or finding examples of similes is very concrete. It gets more difficult when they have to explain how these examples affect their opinions or understanding of the poem.
I think that this type of project allows for greater amounts of student success. Students can record their presentations again and again until they are happy with it. If they mess up, they can have as many do-overs as they want. Students see that their work and opinions are important, not just to their teacher, but also to their peers.
Students can use images, highlighting, text, sound, and their own voices to show understanding. Even my ESL students were able to show high levels of success because they were able to talk their ideas instead of just write their ideas.
Reflection for improvements:
The only down side of this experience is that it takes a while to watch all the videos. We will have to be much stricter next year in keeping the screen casts at 3-4 minutes. Some screencasts were as long as 7 minutes because students tried to show everything they could find in the song, rather than choosing specific ideas to explain within the song.
Next year I also hope to scaffold the production process a bit more. We could start the year off with creating screencasts that introduce ourselves to the class. They could then create tutorials for skills they are learning in Humanities and English. Then we could do more analytical work once students have a good grasp of how to create successful screencasts.
How are you using screencasts with your students?