Media Literacy Lessons from the Jacob Burns Film Center Summer Teacher Institute

JBFC Sound Studio   Students as Filmmakers

This past week I had the privilege of attending the Jacob Burns Film Center Summer Teacher Institute in Pleasantville, New York. The week long institute included a sneak preview of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and a viewing of the documentary Jordowosky’s Dune. In addition to viewing the two movies, I also attended workshops to address teaching media literacy in the digital age. JBFC is launching a new media literacy curriculum online this fall that is aligned with the Common Core and centers around image and story as it relates to analyzing and creating media (movies, animation, images, and print text).

Here are some key ideas that can be applied in any classroom relating to teaching media literacy and film studies.

1. Teach Film Terminology – The Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC) has set up a great Visual Glossary with terminology relating to film and media. The site not only offers a definition of a cinematic concept but also includes multiple examples from film clips to illustrate the film technique. Teachers need to teach and utilize these terms with students.  When analyzing film or creating a media text we want students to understand that a filmmaker makes deliberate choices to convey a message or emotion the way an author selects specific words to convey meaning. This element relates to craft and structure as identified in the Common Core.

2. Films are a Text and they way we teach them in our class should mirror the way we teach Close Reading – In the age of the Common Core, teachers are asking students to “mine the text for details, ideas, and deeper meanings” (Fisher and Frey, 2014). Just as print text is layered with words, images, inferences, and evidence, so is film. If students are to develop deep understanding of texts, teachers need to model close reading skills to film too. When watching a film, students should view for content analysis and understanding, but also to understand the filmmaker’s point of view and purpose.

3. Students are Creators & Filmmakers – In teaching 21st century skills, students are creators. Teachers should allow students to create their own images and interpretations to text and information. There are a host of film projects that you can have your students create as described in a blog post I wrote earlier this month. The creation process is just as important as the final product. Let students understand the undertaking involved in creating a film from the story, setting, lights, sound, editing, to the characters.

4. Storyboards are Essential to Creating. It all begins with one idea, a seed, a spark, an overheard conversation, and an idea is born. Yet, a writer or filmmaker cultivates the idea, outlines, drafts, sketches the paths where the idea is to expand and reveal a story. Students need to outline and sketch their ideas like real writers and artists. Storyboards are great scaffolding tools to help students put their ideas down on paper, and unravel the threads of ideas that encompass their story. Allow students to review, revise, and reflect on their work. As mentioned above, it is not so much about the final product, but the process is just as important.

5. Movie Clips as Teaching Tools – So many wonderful shorts and movie clips were shared throughout the week to utilize with my students and teach various concepts and ideas. I have compiled a playlist of ten movie clips that I will bring back to the classroom. Think about how you can use these clip to help teach point of view, structure, and or image.




Tagged , , , , , , ,

Social Justice: A Young Adult Book List

Summer time allows me to catch up on reading and begin to plan for the ideas swimming in my brain for the new school year. Since I have moved around which core texts that I am teaching first in my eighth grade English class, and we will read To Kill a Mockingbird in the first quarter, I have decided that the first outside reading  assignment will focus on the theme of social justice.

Each quarter my students select an outside reading book to read independently and if students are aiming for honors English in the high school they read two outside reading books per quarter. The themes of the outside reading books change based on current events and genres. The most popular outside reading assignment this past year was graphic novels.

As students are reading the historical based text, To Kill a Mockingbird, I want them to be aware of the oppression and injustices that still exist in our world today.  I have carefully selected books that I have read and have been recommend to me that cover topics of racism, classism, homophobia, guerilla warfare in third world countries, and illegal immigration.  My over all theme throughout the year is community and empathy.  Below is the book list that I have compiled for September.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Lights, iMovie, Action: 10 Video Project Ideas Students Can Create in Any Content Area

After a recent #edchat this week on activities to try with our students in the new school year, the topic of video production came up. I love having my students create videos and I have compiled a list of a dozen different video projects I have done with my students that can be adapted in any content area classroom.

Majority of my students have smart phones and use the video camera on the phone to make their movies. We have come to love Vimeo, iMovie, and VideoStar apps for easy movie making, editing, and uploading onto the web. Students upload their videos directly to youtube or email me their video file to add to our class playlist. I usually offer a video project every month with some that are two day projects and other’s can take weeks.

1. Book Trailers – The first month of school I had students make a book trailer for their favorite summer reading book. Here are a few of my student’s trailers.

2. Character Music Videos – When we read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None students selected one of the characters, choose a theme song for the character, and created a music video to convey the character. Here is the assignment:

3. Art Comes to Life – Inspired by a wordless picture book, students used an image from Chris Van Allsberg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick as a catalyst to create a video that expanded on the mystery of the picture presented in the book. Here is one student example:

4. Films Genre Project- A lot of times I give my students choices with the projects they create in my classroom. When students were studying Shakespeare I gave them the option to present a scene as a silent film, rap, or musical. You can have students reenact a scene using any film genre.

5. TED Talks – We all watch them. What if we had our students create a short TED Talk about their own passion and interests.

6. Prezi Screencasts – Take a prezi or powerpoint and screencast the presentation part.
Here is an example one of my students did on mobile learning for our Flat Connections global collaborative project this past spring.

7. Lego Movies – My son is obsessed with legos and he watches many lego movies online. This inspired me to get him to help me create a lego version of a few scenes from MidSummer Night’s Dream. We took still pictures of different lego scenes and screencasted the images and text together. I showed the video in class to help my students better understand the text.

8. Common Craft Videos – I love the ideas and images presented in many the Common Craft videos. Technically this is a screen cast of an illustrated presentation. You can have your students create Common Craft style videos on their own or using the Common Craft build program (depending on your budget).

9. Choose Your Own Adventure Video – Youtube has a feature that allows you to link videos within videos. Last spring my students created a series of videos that analyzed critical theories of gender, race, and class in Disney animation. We linked all the videos together allowing the viewer to choose what he or she wants to learn about. Here is the original blog post with more information how to create your own CYOA videos.

10. Stop Motion Animation – This is inspired by one of my student’s Genius Hour projects. She wanted to learn how to create a stop motion animation. Here is her video but think about the possibility of students creating a stop motion animation to explain a math or science concept. Sounds like a cool idea to me.

Tagged , ,

Picture Books that Celebrate Messy

I am a neat freak. Yet, my children have a collection of of books about messy children. Some of these books celebrate messy where others offer messages how keeping cleaning is important.

Here is the beginning list of books about the delights and horrors of messy, dirty, and just plain gross.

the girl who wouldn't brush her hair

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair by Kate Bernheimer and Jake Parker (2013)

“There once was a girl who wouldn’t brush her hair . . .” the story begins. Although the main character will take a bath every night, she will not brush her hair. And then one night a mouse takes residence in her tangled hair. She is okay with it and more and more mice move into her tangled and hair. They eat her food and convince her not to take baths anymore. She starts to smell and loses sleep. This is no good. She devises a plan so that the mice will leave her hair.

photo 4-5

Super-Completely and Totally the Messiest written by Judith Viorst with pictures by Robin Preiss Glasser illustrator of Fancy Nancy (2001)

This book is told from the perspective of neat and perfect Olivia, older sister to messy and clumsy Sophia. Sophia’s room is a disaster and she gets everything messy in a matter of seconds. “You wouldn’t want her in your new car,” Olivia declares. As much as Olivia wants her sister to be neat like her, her family makes her realize that Sophia is caring, kind, and creative, despite being messiness.

Sloppy Joe

Sloppy Joe written by Dave Keane and illustrated by Denise Brunkus (2009)

Like Sophia in Super-Completely and Totally the Messiest, Sloppy Joe is messy but he has a kind and caring heart. He admits, “I slurp, spill, slouch, talk with my mouth full, and put my elbows on the table.” But when his family gets the flu, Sloppy Joe takes charge as Neat Joe to help everyone get better. Although, Sloppy Joe has some connections to Amelia BeDelia, despite wanting to change, his parents love him just the way he is with the old stale sandwiches in his room and mud on his sneakers.

too many toys spread

Too Many Toys by David Shannon (2008)

Spencer has too many toys and when his mother decides it is time to donate some of them, the negotiating begins. What should stay and what should go? In the end there is some consensus, but the box with the donated toys makes the best toy ever. The mountains of toys that Shannon illustrates on each page might be a child’s delight and a parent’s worst nightmare.

thanks a lot emily post

Thanks a LOT, Emily Post! written by Jennifer LaRue Huget and illustrated Alexandra Boiger (2009)

For four brothers and sisters, when their mom brings home a book by Emily Post, new rules dictate their behavior. No elbows on the tables, no talking while chewing food, play fair with others. The children decide to take matters into their own hands and give their mother a bit of Emily Post’s advice too. The book’s illustrations are great with lots of emotion in each of the characters presented.

lola spread

The Taming of Lola: A Shrew Story written by Ellen Weiss and illustrated by Jerry Smath (2010)

Although this book is not about being messy, it is about an obnoxious young mole who is a handful. This picture book is a play on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Weiss and Smath, present Lola with a bad attitude and awful temper. When Lola’s cousin comes for a visit, she meets her match. Lester is just as stubborn, demanding, and as rude as Lola. Lester’s visit holds a mirror to Lola as they battle each over the silliest of things.

Tagged , ,

Young Adult Literature Gluttony: Summer Vacation Week 1

Always in search of a great book to share with my students, I went binge reading this week. The books I read were jaw dropping, powerful voices, and rich in beautiful language.

Doll Bones

Holly Black’s Doll Bones was a Newbery Honor Book this year about three friends who go on a journey to find the answers to a the ghost possessed doll they call “Queen.” I would recommend this book to all middle school students because it touches on the question when should one stop playing with his/her toys from childhood? Do we have to stop playing make believe games we played as little children? Main character, Zach struggles with parental expectations and when to abandon the imaginary games he plays with friends, Alice and Poppy. The illustrations dispersed throughout the book emphasize the struggle to give up childish things to meet grown up expectations. All three friends are driven to go on this quest and along the way of finding answers about the ghost of a small child, the doll, and  answers about themselves.We Were Liars


We Were Liars by e. lockhart is one book that I had to read in one sitting to figure out what actually happened the summer a fire wrecked Cadence’s grandparent’s house on Beechwood Island. Beechwood Island is a private island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard that her grandfather made into a compound for the Sinclair family. A wealthy family from Boston, Massachusetts, spent every summer on the island. As the Sinclair daughters grew up, got married, and had families of their own, houses were added to the Island and now Cadence and her mother look forward every summer to joining her aunts, cousins, and grandfather on the island for summer fun. Although after summer fourteen, something happened and Cadence, our narrator is trying to piece together what really happened, the fire, and when the family started to unravel. The narrator’s voice is raw, curt, and draws the reader’s sympathy. By the end of the book you are trying to figure out what is the truth since the title suggests someone might not be telling the truth.

The Truth About Alice

Liars, bullying, bystanders, rumors, and cruelty among young people make up Jennifer Mathieu’s novel, The Truth About Alice. Author and English teacher, Mathieu, makes references to The Scarlet Letter, The Outsiders, and Anne Frank’s Diary throughout the novel told from multiple points of view. The story is about what everyone thinks happened at Elaine O’Dea’s party between football star Brandon Fitzsimmons and Alice Franklin. The rumors spread on social media and then a few days later when Brendan is killed in a car crash, the rumors take on a life of their own breathing hate in this small town in Texas. Think Friday Night Lights and Sharon Draper’s Tears of  a Tiger.  Few people try to seek the truth, there are no upstanders, and nobody will be the same after all the events that take place.

The Opposite of Loneliness

The Opposite of Loneliness is a compilation of essays and stories from Marina Keegan, a 2012 graduate from Yale University who died in a car crash a few days after her graduation. An aspiring writer with a job at The New Yorker to begin after graduation never came to fruition with her untimely and tragic death. Her parents compiled her writing, some which appeared in the Yale Daily News, into this collection. I am drawn more to the nonfiction essays, but her fiction writing is just as beautiful and honest. Keegan’s voice is confident, inspiring, and sensitive. I found it interesting that the first piece of fiction is about a young college student who’s boyfriend dies suddenly. In the first essay she declares, ” What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over . . . We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.” Marina’s words offer young people that the world is full of possibility and choice is another opportunity.

Tagged , ,

What’s Your Summer Stack?

Summer Stack

While many of the schools outside of the Northeast have finished already, today is officially my last day of school and first day of summer vacation! I have all my books lined up for reading and have already begun to dive into the young adult literature voraciously.

Professional Text

There are two professional books in my stack of books and one I already started reading and the ideas are pouring out. I have marked up the text so much and started making notes for teaching ideas in September. Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen’s Teaching Interpretation using text based evidence to construct meaning (Heinemann, 2014) spills out with so many ideas that support close reading. The main idea of the book is help facilitate students to utilizing an interpretation framework to help read and think critically about a text. The interpretation framework includes help students read closely, come up with theories, gather evidence, and test out theories. The book is Common Core aligned throughout and at the end of every chapter there is a section titled “If . . . Try . . .” for both struggling readers and strategies for advanced readers. This book I highly recommend literacy teachers.

photo 3 (2)photo 4 (2)

I will continue to share great ideas that I gather while reading this summer. I hope that you have a few good books to read. And if you have one to recommend, please share in the comment section on this blog.

Happy Summer !

Tagged ,

Year in Review Flipagram

My student had a Flipagram running on her phone yesterday and I became obsessed. This is an awesome free app that creates a speedy slide show with music (free for 30 seconds) to one’s pictures. So, I just had to create a year in review slideshow to share with everyone the highlights teaching eighth grade English this year.

Here’s a list of the biggies:

The Literacy Lounge
Interactive Notebooks & Foldables
Common Core Standards
NCTE Annual Convention
Bubble Head Responses
Close Reading
Give More Hugs Partnership
Genius Hour
Tunnel Books
Twitter Chats

Tagged , ,

Genius Hour Project Round Up

This spring I decided to dedicate my Friday classes to a passion project of my students’ choosing. Throughout Twitter and the Blogosphere I stumbled across articles and posts relating to bringing creativity and student ownership back into the classroom. I felt a passion project was something I wanted to commit to with my students the remainder of the school year.

After extensive research and a few twitter chats, I introduced to my students the idea of a passion project and Genius Hour. I told my students would be able to work on a research project of their own choosing weekly. The passion project could be about anything they were interested in, as long as it was researchable. I wasn’t concerned about the final product (although many of my students were), they could present their research any way wanted: video, prezi, photos, taste-test, even show their work on the document camera.

I compiled a playlist on Youtube with all sorts of videos about genius hour or some other person’s passion project turned awesome/change the world idea like Caine’s Arcade or Jack Andraka to inspire and ignite in my own students the possibility of turning an idea into something bigger. Each Genius Hour session I would begin with one of the videos.

The projects my students created were awesome. There were a handful of students who were interested in food and baking and the days they presented it was a buffet of creative cupcakes and traditional dishes. There were projects about sports, fashion, and photography. 

Here are a few of the amazing movies that my students presented that captured all of our attention.

The Pressure to Succeed in School

Stop Motion Animation


How to Solve a Rubics Cube




Tagged , ,

Tunnel Books: Book Report Alternative

Early this school year, I came across a tunnel book* on Pinterest that caught my attention. I pinned it thinking I have to do something like it with my students.  As the last outside reading project approached, I decided to offer a tunnel book as a choice assessment project instead of the traditional book report, poster, or essay. I gave my students a link to a “How to create a Tunnel Book” video and the end projects my students turned in last week are amazing to say the least.

*What is a tunnel book you ask? Wonderopolis has a great definition and description:

Tunnel books are made up of a series of pages that are held together by folded strips of paper on each side. In fact, the sides of a tunnel book might make you think of an accordion. The overall effect of a tunnel book is to create the illusion of depth and perspective.

Tunnel books are “read” through a hole in the cover. Each page features openings that allow the reader to see through the entire book to the back cover. The images on each page work together to form a three-dimensional scene inside the book that helps to tell the story. 

Here are a few of the finished projects:

Hiroshima Tunnel Book




Minori’s Tunnel book based on Hiroshima by John Hershey





Hiroshima Tunnel Book







Hiroshima Tunnel Book



There were a series of pictures that could be interchanged to see the impact of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and its people.





Hiroshima Tunnel Book



She included a summary on both of the outside pages of the tunnel book to frame the images she created.





Anne Frank Tunnel Box (Inside)



Katie created a tunnel box that had a collage of images of Anne Frank on the inside and outside of the box.








Anne Frank Tunnel Box (looking inside)

 Looking down into the tunnel box you can see the layers of the story that she included with inspiring quotes from Anne Frank pasted on the inside and outside of the box. There was a large part of the box cut open to see inside, as if one was watching a 3D television.
Navajo Code Talkers Tunnel Book
 Shota read The Navajo Code Talkers and used paper cutting to create a layered image of the soldiers during combat in WWII writing and deciphering Navajo code which some people argue helped American win the war.
To make your own tunnel book, you can find directions here.
Tagged , , ,

In Memoriam: Maya Angelou, Poet Extraordinaire

I Love the Look of Words

Popcorn leaps, popping from the floor

of a hot black skillet

and into my mouth. 

Black words leap from the white 

page. Rushing into my eyes. Sliding

into my brain which gobbles them

the way my tongue and teeth 

chomp the buttered popcorn.

When I have stopped reading, 

ideas from the words stay stuck

in my mind, like the sweet

smell of butter perfuming my

fingers long after the popcorn 

is finished.

I love the book and the look of words

the weight of ideas that popped into my mind

I love the tracks 

of new thinking in my mind.

– Maya Angelou

from Soul Looks Back in Wonder by Tom Feelings (1993)

Maya Angelou taught me that poetry can mend a broken heart or build a revolution. Poems capture our dreams, memories, and help us to sort our our thoughts and feelings. Reading and writing poetry challenges what we know about language and words. Poems are experiments to play, critique, change what is wrong, and build a better tomorrow. 

Although Maya Angelou is no longer with us, her words and poems are eternal. 


After reading her poems (or any poetry for that matter), here are some ideas to respond to reading poetry:

1. As you listen to the poem, make a list of the things that snap, crackle and pop in your ears . . . words, sounds rhythms, phrases.

2. Draw a picture. . . realistic or abstract. . . of whatever the poem is saying to you. Or use a series of visual signs or symbols.

3. Briefly describe a memory or a person the poem might evoke. 

4. Maybe the poem reminds you of songs, or the sounds of certain musical instruments. Describe those songs or sounds.

5. Does the poem remind you of something else you have read? Perhaps a short story? A letter from your Aunt Millie? 

6. Does the poem evoke a smell? Describe the smell.

7. What are your physical sensations as you hear the poem? Are you relaxed? Tense? Warm? Cold? Why?

8. Or just respond to the poem in any way you wish. 

Tagged , , , ,

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 107 other followers