It is raining outside and Hurricane Matthew is moving up the coast. Forecasters are saying that he will move out to sea and the only effect we will feel is the rain. Usually I don’t like rainy days, but with the temperatures dropping and the sense of relief, I am feeling a little thankful.
Whenever there is a hurricane, I am reminded of a former teaching job and the literacy work we integrated into our science and social studies units. At the school, we applied an inquiry method. Teachers picked the big topics, built interest with stories, and then introduced vocabulary and important concepts.
After some initial experiences with big ideas, students selected areas of interest and learned more about their topics. In the end, students created projects to tell what they had learned. Some of our topics were electricity, simple machines, and my personal favorite – weather.
In order to learn and understand the information we used a variety of resources. We had an amazing collection of nonfiction books. We clipped and shared newspaper and magazine articles. We invited guest experts. But the reason I am writing this today, is the way I used video with my students. Those third graders were video literate. They could articulate why Bill Nye was the most entertaining and why the boring science videos were more educational.
Here is what I would do to create video literate kids. First, we would watch an educational video. This first viewing was introducing vocabulary and giving overviews of topics, but it was mostly about making kids excited. After a few lessons and hands on experiences, we would view the same video again. This time we were looking for things that we had learned.
The third time we watched the video was to gather specific information. The students would gather around the screen with clipboards and pencils in hand. We watched and listened for answers to specific questions. We skipped sections that were not “our” focus. Kids would ask for the video to be stopped while they wrote down information. Sometimes they would ask for a rewind. After that we would read books, take notes and make our final projects.
The final viewing was always my favorite. Sometimes the kids would look at me with a confused look. “Why are we watching this again? We finished our weather projects yesterday.”
“Well, I want you to watch this time with a different set of eyes. This time I want you to see the structures of the video. I want you to notice about the way it was put together. I want you to think about how does the video compare with a nonfiction text?”
At the beginning of the year, our conversations were often about the titles, the text, or the way the actors told definitions. My true evidence of their understanding often showed up in May. When they were putting together their final projects for the year and I would overhear them planning their presentations. “Let’s do it like they did in that weather video. You pop up the word “tornado” and then you say the definition. After that I will walk over here and say…”
When I think about literacy in this context, I remember that it takes time and intention to create literate students. They need choices and they need models. They need me to navigate the course and to encourage them. The first time they watched a video it was for fun. The second time they were still engaged in the media itself, but they were beginning to gather information. It was not until the third and fourth views that they really started to see the elements of the media. And it wasn’t until they had repeated opportunities, did they begin to really apply their understanding.