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Did You See That Poem?

Most likely, when you think about integrating technology into your curriculum, the technology you're thinking of is a computer, and the integration involves engaging students in Web-based lessons and activities. However, many other technology tools besides the computer are available to add interest, knowledge, and skills to your more prosaic lessons. Fifth and sixth graders in Saskatchewan, Canada, learned that lesson when the use of video technology turned a language arts unit into "poetry in motion." Included: Tips for creating video projects with your students.

Today, when educators talk about integrating technology into the curriculum, the technology they're probably referring to is the computer -- and the integration almost always involves Internet-based activities. For students in Dean Shareski's class at William Grayson School in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada, however, the word technology means much more than prosaic Web work -- more often, it means "poetry in motion! -- literally. Those fifth and sixth graders use video to bring poetry to life.

Shareski began conducting the Video Poetry project after he discovered the activity in a language arts unit and decided to try it. During the last three weeks of the six-week unit, Shareski's students -- working in groups -- were asked to choose a favorite poem and create a video of the action in the poem. "The key," Shareski told Education World, "was to choose a poem that would translate well to video. Poems with humor and/or a story line were the easiest."

Each group created a storyboard matching each section of its poem with a proposed action. The students were required to complete the storyboard before they were allowed to shoot any video. As the groups created their storyboards, Shareski trained some students to use the school's video cameras and editing software. Those students, Shareski said, then were able to help other students complete their projects.

Even with that extra help, however, the amount of time required to create the videos meant that most of the actual production work had to be done during lunch and after school. "Trying to have nine groups complete their projects in class was difficult," Shareski said, "which is why I eventually changed video poetry from a mandatory assignment to an optional one. Now, only students who are willing to put in extra time participate in the project."


For those who do participate, the benefits extend well beyond the language arts curriculum.

One of last year's most ambitious efforts was based on the poem Casey at the Bat (Road Game). Shareski introduced both the original Casey at the Bat and the Road Game version to three boys in his class, all of whom were big baseball fans -- but not necessarily fans of most classroom-based activities. "The boys really liked the poem," Shareski noted, "and worked quite diligently on the storyboard. We then decided to shoot their video as a class, which really helped all the students appreciate the production process. Finally, the boys stayed after school a couple of times to edit the poem. They were never as excited or involved with any other project the whole year.

"I also teach a digital video course to a seventh-grade class," Shareski added. "I usually show something that class has produced at our weekly assemblies. The boys who created Casey were pretty pleased the week I showed their video instead. They received many compliments."

Shareski believes that storytelling is the most important skill students learn through the video poetry project. Drama also is involved, he said, and editing and camera set-up often have as much impact on the students as the acting. "Kids also enjoy the independence and creativity involved in the project," Shareski said, "and having students work in small groups allows each student to discover the areas he or she likes best."

By the time they finish sixth grade, students at William Grayson have developed basic skills in keyboarding, word processing, file management, and research, and they have had multi-media experience -- using digital imaging and creating presentations. "We try to use whatever technology is suitable to meet our curriculum objectives," Shareski said. "Most often, technology skills are taught on an 'as needed' basis."


Shareski suggests that teachers who are considering a video project for their own classrooms "start small. Perhaps do a project or two as a class. Choose a poem that has only a few stanzas." In addition, he says, "It's always nice to have someone you can call on for help if you run into problems -- because you will."

You'll also need the right equipment. Shareski's school, in a lower-income area of Moose Jaw, provides a Sony DV camera and four video editing stations equipped with firewire cards (an interface for attaching peripheral devices, such as scanners, hard disks, and digital video cameras, to a computer). His students use MGI Videowave 4 editing software, which allows them to create compressed video files in the real media format, although Shareski suggests that Windows Media(.asx) and QuickTime(.qt) are also Web-friendly formats.

Shareski conducts half-day workshops to train teachers in his district to use digital video. Perhaps the technology specialist at your school would be willing to do the same. A single workshop, Shareski says, is enough to allow most teachers to begin using video technology with their students.

If you don't have access to the kind of technology or training that will allow you to post digital video to the Web, you can still use a regular camcorder to record your students' work! In addition to the video poetry project, Shareski's students have used video to conduct interviews for assignments; create newscasts, commercials, and promotional videos for sports teams and the school; and develop presentations about class field trips.

If you want to extend your efforts at technology integration beyond word processing and Web activities, give video a try. You might find yourself saying, as Shareski's principal did, "I can't believe students did this work!"

Tips for Classroom Video Production

Neil Poese, who teaches Digital Media Studies at Palmer High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has created videos with students at all grade levels, from elementary school through college. According to Poese, "not only does video technology entail serious analytical skills, but when the thought process combines images, words, and linear planning, the outcome for the student goes beyond storytelling skills -- reaching the level of critical thinking." In fact, Poese says, the development of critical-thinking skills is one of the most important academic outcomes of classroom video production. "At a time when we are all very involved with rubrics and standards, this budding technology not only emphasizes critical thinking, but also integrates well with literacy and writing skills.

"The mind-bending work that kids do in order to get their stories to make sense is based on critical thinking," Poese told Education World. "I can cite numerous anecdotes of kids extremely engaged in a project and working on storyboards who suddenly look up and say, 'This is really hard work!' and then go right back to straining their brains and enjoying every minute of it. I am absolutely convinced that when the whole child is engaged -- from his or her creative-imaginative right brain to the analytical left brain to all the parts in between -- we are really able to teach.

Poese offers the following tips for teachers involved in classroom video projects.

  • Keep segments short. Most should not run more than one or one and a half minutes.
  • Insist that students edit to keep pacing tight. Show them some commercials to illustrate pacing.
  • Footage should be organized and clearly make a point.
  • If students' organization is weak, give them storyboards to plot sequence and flow.
  • Never videotape someone who does not want to be videotaped.
  • Production values such as graphics and bumpers, segues, logos, etc. are easy to do and greatly improve the look of the video.
  • Give students room to work; balance being the final arbiter of taste and content with respect for students' interests and preferences.
  • Include recurring, predictable elements as well as unexpected elements.
  • Make it clear that rude and crude will not be allowed. Review all videos for appropriateness.

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright© 2009 Education World

Originally published 09/11/2002
Last updated 04/03/2009