Lights! Camera! Student Action! Wihoo!
When I was teaching first grade, I found out that the Director of this particular school had scheduled a Polaroid in-service for all teachers. To be honest with you, it was the first time I truly looked forward to an in-service. Correction! I was always all for, ‘Rah-Rah-Sis Boom-Bah’! Otherwise known as morale boosters or team building workshops. But personally, I would rather have learned about something relevant to me; something that would engage students, get students moving, and make them think. And, boy! That’s exactly what I got.
Instant picture devices are entirely beneficial due to the fact that results are almost immediate. I can tell you this: when I took the new camera I had gained from the workshop back to my first grade classroom, the ideas just magically fell into place. Lessons were coming alive! And the first time I used the instant camera in a lesson, my first graders were so into it that we almost missed lunch – because enthusiastic and authentic learning was taking place, with the help of a Polaroid camera!
In ELA, we were studying diphthongs and digraphs, and variations of morphemes, when the Polaroid camera entered the student lesson. I gave simple instructions to my first graders; grabbing quickly onto those instructions, taking off with them like a model rocket! Everything from brainstorming, working collaboratively, voting on choices, assigning tasks, and finally, who was going to do what in what order.
I had fifteen first grade students in this classroom. The lesson was led by students, organized by students, performed by students; it was an ideal student-centered lesson. My simple instructions were, “Choose ten letter sets out of our morphemes that we have been learning in class. Take pictures representing all ten on the back playground. Everyone, minus the picture taker, will be in the photo. SHOW me your diphthongs and digraphs!” And so they did! They actually took pictures of all diphthongs and digraphs we were learning. They just didn’t want to stop at ten. I saw pictures of frowns, shadows, tricks, singers, and many more morphemes! It is so exciting that I can remember it just as it happened. The playground air was electric with learning, more collaborating, and plenty of picture-taking!
The only drawback of instant picture devices is that the film is relatively expensive.
Videos in the learning environment also work well. The first time I used a video recording in the classroom, it was actually an evaluation of myself teaching. It was a poetry lesson in a mixed classroom, so grades 4 and 5 participated; they were engaged, I was happy to see. But, I couldn’t help thinking that the students could have really taken off with this specific activity. But, instead I ‘taught curriculum’. It should and could have been student-centered! I stifled their creativity with my ‘curriculum’.
I learned a great deal from watching that video lesson. Keep in mind, the video was from 20 years ago. I do wish I could share it with you (it’s on VHS). But, now in modern Education? I was the example of what not to do – today. That is the progression of Education, and personally, my journey of learning. My lessons have always included project-based learning, which was emphasized throughout my entire elementary education courses at Oakland University. But, in this lesson? I was the ‘Teacher’ and they were the ‘Students’. You know what I mean? True and eager learning did not take place. I examined that tape over and over until I really saw my mistakes (I do not encourage this!). But as with any evaluating tool, a focus on the positive is necessary, not just for students, but for you!
I used this tool for learning, which is great for self-reflection, and learned more than I could if it was just in my memory. In your own video tape, in your self-relection, make sure to ask yourself questions such as: Did the students think critically? Was their work correctly documented through pictures, videos, writing with illustrations, or audio? Was the lesson student-centered? Were the students engaged using a higher level of thought? Did you use strategic questioning? Did it include movement? Were you available for the students at critical times, like transitioning? Were there choices for the student? Did you give concise and clear instructions so that the students could see with clarity the expectations of them?
Imagine how to use video-taping for your students. Creating shorts, documenting learning as it progresses, the task of learning how to edit, taping your students for parents to see – particularly for parent conferences, and more. Excellent for students! Helpful for you – bonus! What you need to decide on is the best method of video taping for your students. Today we have the capability of video taping even with our phones. Imagine your students handling the video recording device, and depending upon their development, grade, and age – you need to take such things into consideration before making a purchase or using the school’s equipment. Incorporating videos into your classroom will only bring you greater success with students. Think about purchasing a device so that you may always have it on hand.
The big drawback of integrating videos into your classroom is that the devices are relatively expensive. If you think about it as an investment in your students for many years to come, it will be easier!
Audio recordings are also quite useful. I had a mini-cassette recorder in all of my classrooms, as well as a tape player that recorded with a microphone and regular cassette tapes. You may think cassette tapes are obsolete today. Yet, in the classroom they are entirely practical and effective! Just think of all you could do with an audio-taping device! Read-alouds, audio theatre, reading conferences, echo reading, read-alongs, chants, singing, and so much more. I used the tape player as an option when a student had completed work and had some time; I would ask them to record a book for the classroom. Not only did it build my audio library – bonus! Many students enjoy audio books. And recording each audio book with inflection is a cool challenge. The students could not get enough of it!
The only drawback of audio recordings in any learning environment is that the tapes are not durable – as some of us remember from sticking our fingers in the cassette holes to fix in our younger days!
Digital cameras are quite handy in all learning environments. You are able to see the picture in the camera or on a computer screen almost immediately. Editing photos should be in the children’s hands while clear directions are given. [NOTE: When I say things like this last sentence? I ALWAYS mean that you can adjust for any K -> 12 learning environment, with tweaks here and there]. You want children as young as a kindergartener to experience each lesson as well. You may need to hold the camera, you may need to have students dictate their thoughts to you as you write them, and you may need to edit and even improvise the activity yourself on the spot. [NOTE: If ever YOU need clarity on how to adjust one of my activities, please ask me!]
I am pretty sure digital cameras are most common in any learning environment these days. Digital cameras are fun not only because students can use a flash drive and take them home, but they can edit their photos in any way they want. For example, creating a slide show, using visual effects, editing itself – like cropping and rotating, adding text, and more.
The biggest drawback for me? If you have to print the photos, you use a lot of ink. And if you have to take them to an auto-processing store, it is an entire pain because all teachers already have enough on their to do lists!
I am writing this blog post to bring attention to recording in any learning environment. Make sure parents and the powers that be are okay with it, possibly including parents signing any necessary waivers. Recording in any of the ways that I mentioned is truly authentic learning, something that would engage students, get students moving… and make them think their way through their education.