Adventures in Video Storytelling

After a decade of teaching reading to fifth graders in East Texas, I knew I needed to try something different. The usual techniques were not working for these kids and our standardized test scores were very low.

So one day I showed up to class with a boom box and microphone. Rather than have students silently read essays and short stories, I asked them to read the works in front of the class. Before long I couldn’t get them to stop. This simple act made a huge difference to them. It turned reading into performing.

But I didn’t stop there. I’m a self-proclaimed “television freak” who long ago awoke to the transformative power of TV and video in education. Even back then I quickly realized that the same dynamic taking hold in my reading classes could revolutionize other classes as well.

Video is a big part of students’ lives out side the classroom, and it has a big impact on their view of the world. So to reach them better, I knew we had to get it inside the classroom.

My colleagues and I worked to do just that. Armed with a video camera and some rudimentary video editing software, we started producing short clips of students presenting their work. Students could watch themselves on classroom TVs.

Excitement over the use of video grew, and also growing was the school’s video editing requirements. We started with simple tools but quickly needed to move to more sophisticated editing software. In 2002, I acquired a copy of Pinnacle Studio, award-winning consumer software for video editing and production.

I like the software for its power, flexibility and ease of use, which are key to making the most of video in the classroom. It’s one thing to get teachers to produce video, but the No. 1 goal was to get video in the hands of students. It doesn’t make nearly as big a difference until the kids start using it themselves.

At Hubbard Middle School, I head the Tech Team, a group of technology-savvy students who support classroom productions while immersing themselves in all things video. Hubbard’s Tech Team has been central to the production of a Hubbard promotional video that is shown at student orientation and other projects that dovetail video production techniques with curricular skills. English classes, for instance, have produced newscasts focusing on poets whose works students are studying.

Among the more elaborate efforts is a travel series. These video brochure-style commercials mimic the kind of TV shows that encourage visits to a particular country. Using a Chroma Key green screen and Pinnacle Studio software, my students were able to create segments in which they sang the praises of faraway lands as they stood in front of them.

Features like these are invaluable to Hubbard students, whose productions grow more sophisticated as they learn more about shooting and editing video. The school’s all-volunteer Tech Team covered the 2004 presidential elections with six broadcasts throughout the day. Green screen productions involving three separate cameras allowed field correspondents to appear as if they were reporting from Mount Rushmore, San Francisco and other American landmarks.

Sample Videos:

  • Sample Coverage of the 2004 Presidential Elections (3.1 MB download)
  • Tech Team Commercial (1.8 MB download)

And the kids really got into our election coverage. Both the Tech Team and the students in general thought it was awesome.

Next year, when Hubbard Middle School introduces its first formal video production class, we plan to do even more with Pinnacle Studio software, the anchor application of the Pinnacle Studio Academic Toolkit. In addition to Pinnacle Studio Plus version 9, the toolkit includes a Chroma Key green sheet and the Pinnacle Digital Classroom, an interactive step-by-step guide through the entire moviemaking process. The toolkit allows students and teachers to weave together compelling documentaries and movies enhanced with such features as image and video filters, Hollywood-style titles, and hundreds of special effects.

Pinnacle Studio allows you to work with some amazing effects, the kind that were million-dollar effects ten years ago. Now you can create them on a PC! But it’s not just about the sizzle.

Producing video is a process of storytelling, but it’s a process that puts specific limitations on the storyteller. If you have 90 seconds for your spot, you go through a process or editing and re-editing to distill your story down to the essence. Nothing else can teach students the essence of storytelling as powerfully as video.

Working in video as an asset helps students focus on an extensive, long-term project. We even have kids going home and working on these projects after school and on the weekends. They are completely focused on their work. In a remote control, channel surfing world, that’s significant.

Email:Glenn English