One of my favorite New York Times series is Anatomy of a Scene, “A video series where directors comment on the craft of movie-making.”
Julie Hodgson of the The Learning Network at The New York Times writes “In these short clips, film directors narrate a scene from one of their movies, walking viewers through the decisions they made and the effects they intended them to have. These videos demonstrate to students how to step outside of their personal reader-to-text experiences and examine literature from a wider lens — to see a story, memoir, essay or poem from the perspective of its creator.”
As my students finish reading graphic novels and I thought it would be awesome to have students create their own scene analysis video break down for readers. I first introduced students to the film series and we watched about four in one period – each episode is no more than three minutes. Then, we used a window notes template to record things we learned about the scene, details the director shared, and how this illuminated our understanding about characterization and theme.
As a class we brainstormed the process of making our own Anatomy of a Scene:
Choose a key scene in the text.
Complete the graphic organizer to analyze and deconstruct the scene.
Use the script template to help write our the key ideas to be presented.
Curate the images and types of shots to help visually understand the literary analysis.
The Jacob Burns Film Center (JBFC), a nonprofit cultural arts center dedicated to teaching literacy for a visual culture in Pleasantville, New York publishes on their website short visual exercises called View Now Do Nows to practice close-reading of images. Each day, the Jacob Burns Film Center website features one View Now Do Now, or you can search a library of almost 200 of these activities, filtering by concept.
Encouraging creativity and engagement with visual texts, View Now Do Nows are short reading and writing tasks for which students respond to a picture or film by making a connections, telling a story, or thinking critically. Students can submit their responses by clicking the Respond Now button on the JBFC website, as well as see samples of other students’ responses. View Now Do Nows address literacy concepts that mirror literature and text study: structure, mood, setting, character, theme, and style. While studying the photograph or film clip, students are using some of the same skills as when they read print text: infer, connect, evaluate, and summarize.
I have created my own series of View Now Do Nows for my students to introduce film and cinematography elements while also teaching close and critical reading skills. Below are a dozen of these hooks and warm ups to spark students interest, focus their attention, activate prior knowledge, and communicate the learning goals for the class.
VNDN 1 – What are the Qualities of a Great Film? Describe five characteristics of a film you deem superb.
VNDN 2 – Anatomy of a Scene is based on the New York Times video series that published weekly videos in which director’s comment on the craft of movie making. I share these weekly with students and after viewing, students respond to the following:
1. What do you see?
2. What did you learn about making this scene?
3. What else stands out in the scene?
VNDN 3 – Watch the short video “What Does a Film Director Do” and then list three responsibilities of a film director based on the ideas shared in the video about directing.
VNDN 5 – Steven Spielberg is an iconic film director who created timeless films including Jaws, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, and Ready Player One to name a few. His film career has spanned over 60 years. Watch this videos to learn more about him and his iconic trademarks as a director.
VNDN 6 A little film history today . . . Alfred Hitchcock is considered the master of suspense. He created some of the first horror and suspense films in the 1950s. Here is a video guide to many of Hitchcock’s iconic films. After you watch the film guide address the following:
Describe 3 things you learned in the video
Identify 2 “craft moves” that this director is known for
What is one question you want to know about this director?
VNDN 7 By using a point-of-view (or POV) shot, you can put the audience in the place of a character and see the story through their eyes. What do you notice about the POV shot in this video montage.
VNDN 8 Mise-En-Scene means “putting in the scene” in French. Mise-en-scene include all the visual elements that are placed in a scene for the camera; this involves the set, set decoration, props, costumes, lighting.
As you watch the film clip from Hitchcock’s Rear Window, What do you learn about the characters from their clothing? Their facial expressions and how they move? From the lighting? From the sets and props?
VNDN 10 Hitchcock uses stairs to build suspense and birds to provide horror in his film The Birds. What are some other things that can be used to build suspense and horror? List three or more and why they work well to build suspense.
VNDN 11 In this Anatomy of A Scene from Invisible Man, the director is talking about creating a mood of paranoia. What elements that the director or actress present in this Anatomy of a Scene can you utilize in your own filmmaking?
VNDN 12 Graphic matches, or match cuts, are useful in relating two otherwise disconnected scenes, or in helping to establish a relationship between two scenes. By ending one shot with a frame containing the same compositional elements (shape, color, size, etc.) as the beginning frame of the next shot, a connection is drawn between the two shots with a smooth transition. How does Hitchcock use a graphic match in the shower scene from Psycho?
Film Challenge That Thing Is Scary (From Burns Film Center)
Be it a doll, a furnace, a tire, a plant, or a group of birds, a good Director can make anything scary. That’s because “scary” is all about atmosphere. For this challenge, find an object and make it scary. Think about why it’s scary, maybe even extra scary, to your character in particular.
Putting the camera up high and shooting down, a High Angle shot, first image below, is great for making a subject look scared, lost, lonely, or insignificant. The opposite, putting the camera low to the ground and shooting up at a subject, is called a Low Angle shot, second image below, and is great for making subjects look heroic, imposing, or larger than life. It’s often called “the hero shot” for just this reason.
1. Use a High Angle shot and a Low Angle shot in your film.
2. Have an unexpected sound effect in your film.
3. Plant a piece of information early in your story that helps the character(s) overcome their obstacle later on.
This post is a request from one of my followers. In the past I have written about using the original “Twilight Zone” series for close reading assignments and film creation with my middle school students. The classic Twilight Zone episodes from season one (1959) through season five (1963) are available on Netflix and CBS All Access. CBS All Access also has the newer episodes produced by Jordan Peele in 2019 and 2020.
The original “The Twilight Zone” was the brainchild of Emmy Award-winner Rod Serling, who served as host and wrote over 80 episodes of the original show’s 150-plus episode run. It’s a strange mix of horror, science-fiction, drama, comedy and superstition. Serling introduced each episode, and many of the black and white hours concluded with a surprise, twisted ending. Actors such as Burt Reynolds, Roddy McDowell and Robert Redford made appearances in some of the more well-known stories.
I have been using “Twilight Zone” in my classroom for more than a decade. First as a reader’s theater assignment and then as a model and mentor text for science fiction and fantasy writing. I recently updated the playlist for a “Twilight Zone” film analysis and film creation project and I am sharing it here with my readers and followers to adapt and use in their own classrooms. You can get a copy HERE.
I teach a media literacy course to middle school students. Throughout the semester students are studying elements of film and creating their own films including short documentaries and creative films to showcase their understanding of the craft and structure of visual storytelling.
I wanted to take some time to closely examine a popular film and look at not only basic comprehension of the storyline but the nuances of craft and structure to help convey themes and ideas about deeper socio-political and historical topics. I selected Marvel’s 2018 Black Panther knowing that it is rich in African American history, culture, and commentary. When my students are in class, we watch the movie and then when students are home and learning remotely, I have created a viewing guide and hyperdoc to guide their viewing of the text and even reread significant scenes.
The first hyperdoc contains background information on Black Panther the comic and how the movie came to fruition. Thanks to history teacher Amanda Sandoval for her Frayer Model Vocabulary slides.
The second hyperdoc is for students after viewing the first 30 minutes of the film. Students will analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.3) and Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1)
An additional resource from the New York Times to address craft and structure feature so the film is their Anatomy of a Scene series. In this particular scene director of Black Panther, Ryan Coogler narrates a sequence from his film featuring Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther. If you are not familiar with this online series from the New York Times, it is a great resource where film directors walk viewers through one scene of their movies, showing the magic, motives and the mistakes from behind the camera.
With the unfortunate passing of Black Panther star, Chadwick Boseman this past summer, teachers might also use his commencement speech at Howard University in 2018 or his acceptance speech at Screen Actor’s Guild Awards in 2019, two powerful speeches that showcase his grit, perseverance, and resiliency.
The lessons are endless that stem from this movie and I am not finished in creating this unit. It continues to evolve. How do you use popular culture to teach literacy, history, and lifeskill? Share your ideas in the comments section on this blog.
Last week ISTE kicked off its first ever Creative Constructor Lab bringing together amazing educators to inspire ALL, experiment with digital storytelling, design thinking, coding and more. Over seven days there were 70 virtual hands-on sessions, daily creative design challenges, and lots of sharing among participants. Innovative leaders and presenters included Tim Needles, Claudio Zavala, Holly Clark, Josh Stock, Sean Arnold, and many more talking about injecting creativity into our classrooms through hands-on presentations and design challenges.
What inspires you? That was the theme that was threaded through each presentation and design challenge. #Eduleaders and presenters invited participants to be courageous and creative throughout the week in order turn around and do the same for our students.
Here are five innovative projects to do with students that are grounded in storytelling and video creation.
Craft Your Own Narrative Based off Humans of New York. Kelly Hilton, TK-12 Professional Development Integration Specialist, designed a creative and captive digital storytelling project that is based off Humans of New York Stories. First, students explore photography and read the stories told by the famous writer, photographer, blogger, Brandon Stanton. Then, students learn about the potential impact of telling a story through writing and photography on social media when they study a specific news story. Next, students, are invited to take photos and tell their own stories. Finally, students publish an Adobe Spark Post and write a social media post telling the story of the photo. Stories and posts are shared to celebrate community. CLICK HERE to see the #HyperDoc lesson plan.
2. Middle School educator Sherri Kushner @Sherrip shared a visually powerful project her students created in order to speak out against injustice. Students designed portraits for change. These mixed media designed highlighted student voice and activism.
3. Author of the new ISTE publication, Awesome Sauce: Create Videos to Inspire Students, Josh Stock shared dozens of quick video and bigger projects. From choice boards to PSAs, Test Reviews, Travel Videos, Screencasts, and more, Josh is a wealth of information and ideas to use videos for communication, learning, and showcasing understanding.
4. Tim Needles is the master of design challenges. An art teacher and artist in New York, Tim emulates creativity. Some of the daily challenges included: create an untraditional selfie, animate a selfie, create a 4 frame romance story, and create a Spark Video Poem. Here are the directions for the Spark Video Poem and the untraditional selfie. I am going to do both with my students in the upcoming week.
5. Design a Virtual Tour. Virtual tours are a way to expose our students to a whole new world view, and there is a plethora of free tools to utilize along this journey to discovery. Virtual trips can be built into menu choice boards or educators can lead live virtual tours for distance learning. There are many pre-made tours that are already available at no cost, and also discover how to create their own using websites such as Google Earth, Google Arts & Culture, 360Cities.net, and more. Virtual trips enhance learning and knowledge of resources to help empower students on their quest to becoming global citizens. This Wakelet collections contains virtual tours, resources, and articles from Amanda Jones.
I am still reviewing and rewatching the presentations that I did not get to yet during the Creative Constructor Lab. This virtual experience provided creative ideas to bring into our classroom and inspire students as innovative designers and knowledge constructors. Whether learning in person or remotely, students need the opportunities to create and teachers must personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning across content areas using a variety of digital tools and resources that engage and support learning.
This past week I spent three days in a project based learning (PBL) workshop with Jill Ackers-Clayton from Fielding Nair International (FNI) learning about effective 21st-century teaching and learning practices surrounding active learning spaces and project-based instruction.
In turn, I have revamped my 7th and 8th grade media elective class to be a twenty week project based learning experience with my students. I have mapped out the project and authentic challenge based on the question: How can we develop an award winning movie short to highlight a problem in our world?
Students will have twenty weeks to direct and produce a 5 minute film (Documentary, Short Feature or Public Service Announcement (PSA)) about a real world problem that ignites them AND organize a film festival to present student created films to school wide community audience.
According to Dayna Laur and Jill Ackers in their book Developing Natural Curiosity Through Project Based Learning there are five stages to guiding students through the process: (1) Authentic Challenge & Purpose; (2) Information and Prototyping; (3) Perspective and Point of View; (4) Actions and Consequences and; (5) Considerations and Conclusions.
Since I want students to utilize the elements of cinematography that best illustrates this community problem and showcases your understanding of film production, the first ten minutes of class I will provide a View Now Do Now that introduces film history, vocabulary, and study of craft. I have outlined the View Nows Do Nows for the first month of school on the slide deck below.
If you do project based learning with your students I would love to know the authentic challenges and learning experiences. Please share your insight in the comments on this blog.
The New York Times website has great resources for teachers. There are gems throughout the website that can be used as teaching tools, texts, and learning opportunities all teachers need to know about. One of these gems is Op-Docs.
Op-Docs is a short documentary series begun by The New York Times Opinion section in 2011. Today it comprises more than 270 short, interactive and virtual reality documentaries. Each film is produced by both renowned and emerging independent filmmakers.
As the Times states these documentaries are, “films driven by the creative and journalistic interests of the filmmaker and that will also challenge the New York Times audience to see the world in new ways. Op-Docs spark conversations, tell memorable and astonishing stories, introduce powerful and unexpected individuals, make thought-provoking arguments and give viewers unforgettable cinematic experiences.”
Documentary film, done well, can engage and instruct through storytelling. But a film can’t stand alone as an instructional method. Watching the documentary should only be part of the process. Discussion questions and related readings need to be included in the mix to prompt reflection and to illustrate the topic more completely.
The Op Docs have so much potential in our classroom for teaching critical and close reading to writing different text types for different purposes. So many of these short films showcase aspects of life that are hidden or unspoken.
I was moved by San Quentin’s Giants about the San Quentin prison baseball team. This Op Doc showcases how baseball is a vehicle for reform, reflection, and purpose for the incarcerated players. When the film begins the images show men playing baseball, one might think it is a local or community baseball team until the camera zooms out in the background the viewer sees the barbwires around the buildings and the people on the periphery wearing prison jumpsuits.
Again, these documentaries are used to inform viewers about the people, places, and things presented in the film. Some might describe these types of films as a “slice of life” that presents an angled representation of a subject.
If we asked students to create documentary films what might they present on film with research and narrative? Whereas San Quentin uses storytelling and interviews, the Op Docs A Conversation with . . . about race are interviews and testimony with people about race, racism, and perspective. The testimony of the people interviewed are a catalyst for classroom discussions. Think about what these same conversation might look like and sound like in school. From our students’ perspectives what will they say about race, class, or gender in their school and community.
After watching a number of these Op Docs with my students and discussing the research and filming elements involved, I asked students to research and investigate the issues that are hiding in our school. Who are people worth shining a light on their life? Wright’s Law really puts into perspective how much we might not know about someone.
When I posed this question to my students some students wanted to address bullying, a common theme in schooling today. Whereas, another group researched video game playing and addiction among young people because of the influence of Fortnite. In completing this project students had to gather relevant data from multiple sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information in documentary film writing.
First, research is conducted, then students have to decide how they wanted to string together the facts and testimony. The Op Docs blends a bit of narrative with information and argument writing. We studied closely how to start the documentary by visually hooking the audience right from the moment the film starts. This might be a statistic about the topic presented in the film or a sound bite from an interview conducted with a member of the school community. Then, students introduced the topic and elaborated by including both visual and audio footage to offer perspective on the topic. This, in turn, is like support material in an essay or research paper. Students are still working on their projects and I should share some finished films soon.
Any person can actually submit a op-doc to The New York Times and this can be an authentic assignment for students to create as a project based learning opportunity. The New York Times is looking for “films that are driven by the creative and journalistic interests of the filmmaker and that will also challenge the New York Times audience to see the world in new ways. Op-Docs spark conversations, tell memorable and astonishing stories, introduce powerful and unexpected individuals, make thought-provoking arguments and give viewers unforgettable cinematic experiences.”
One of the gems of the ISTE Annual Conference is the EdTech Start Up Pavilion. This year many of the companies in this group were literacy based with free tools teachers can access now. Here are five of my favorites:
Go Go Brain is an interactive online platform that strengthens seven critical meta-cognition skills: 1. Listening, 2. Following Directions, 3. Self-Control, 4. Focus and Attention, 6. Working Memory, and 7. Visual-Spatial Reasoning. The website offers games for young people to play to build these skills and flex their brain muscles. As I was playing the games, I thought that this might be great for adults too. For the 2018-2019 school year, GoGo Brain is offering complimentary memberships where parents and teachers can enroll for free by visiting the website and use the code: GoGo2018.
Mind Right offers personalized, live coaching over text message for teens who want to talk, judgment free. The company was started by two women who met at Stanford’s joint MBA/MA in Education program. Inspired by personal and familial histories with trauma, Ashley Edwards and Alina Liao have been working to reduce the stigma around mental health in communities of color and ensure every child has access to mental health support. With the growing amount of mental health and anxiety that young people may be feeling today and maybe unable or afraid to talk, Mind Right offers young people guidance from a team of coaches that can help navigate the challenges we face every day – both positive and negative.
826 Digital is a new website for educators with writing curriculum tools including activities, lesson, and student writing. This is a creative writing platforms with Sparks, or flexible and focused skill building activities, as well as ready to use, topic based lesson plans and mini units to help teach process and revision. Some examples include Rewriting the Zombie Apocalypse and Teach a pirate how to eat a peanut and butter jelly sandwich. All of the lessons and projects are Common Core aligned. There are resources to teach persuasive, expository, narrative, poetry, and STEM writing. I cannot wait to use some of these writing prompts with my middle school students.
For media literacy, Weird Enough Productions is launching their own comic based media literacy curriculum. With an eye on representation, their mission is to “combat media misrepresentation through original content and media literacy education.” Subscribe on their website now to get early access to their media literacy curriculum.
I am so excited for Words Liive, a 21st Century education technology that has developed the Culturally Responsive Pedagogy needed to meet the instructional demands for today’s classrooms. Today’s youth needs to see themselves in their education to aspire to perform in school. They’ve created a patented platform that integrates song lyrics into students’ reading assignments. Founded in 2013 by artist and educator, Sage Salvo, Words Liive is a music-based literacy program that helps teachers and students connect classic canon with contemporary popular music today. Words Liive integrates song lyrics into students’ reading assignments via “Real-Time” and On-demand Culturally Responsive digital platform. Currently in Beta form, you can preview the texts, find lesson plans, and utilize the available assessments. Check it out!
Years ago I attended the National Gallery for Art‘s Summer Workshop focusing on Mythology. I spent a week in Washington, DC with fifty other educators learning from academics, teachers, and visiting every museum in the District. One evening we attended the National Air and Space Museum to see an exhibit highlighting the Joseph Cambell’s The Hero Journey through the lens of George Lucas’ Star Wars. The exhibit paralleled two stories, making visible a plot structure and trope that plays out continuously in film and story canon.
Joseph Campbell, an American mythological researcher, wrote a famous book entitled The Hero with a Thousand Faces. As MythologyTeacher.com points out, “in his lifelong research Campbell discovered many common patterns running through hero myths and stories from around the world. Years of research lead Campbell to discover several basic stages that almost every hero-quest goes through (no matter what culture the myth is a part of). He calls this common structure “the monomyth.” It is commonly referred to as “The Hero’s Journey.'”
When George Lucas was writing his drafts of the early Star Wars movies he had read Joseph Campbell’s work and there is a clear structure of the Hero’s Journey in Lucas’ films.
Star Wars is not the only films that follows the Hero’s Journey. Many of Disney’s Films also use this plot structure in their animated feature films: Finding Nemo, Mulan, The Lion King,The Incredibles, and Moana. Additional movies include Shrek, and Kung Fu Panda. Major feature films like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Spiderman, Matrix, and The Hobbit also follow this trope.
I am using The Hero’s Journey with in my Media Literacy class to teach about plot structure, character motivation, and theme in the stories they write and films they create. I started by asking students to think about what qualities they associate with heroes. Are heroes born or are they made? Are there heroes in real-life or must they be larger-than-life? Who are the heroes in our society.
Students viewed short films about the Hero’s Journey to understand the monomyth. Then we brainstormed possible movies, books, and stories that would fit within this structure. Students were given a graphic organizer of the The Hero’s Journey to map out a text on their own. The graphic organizer on MythologyTeacher.com was clear and specific to help students articulate their understanding. I found out among my students that not many have seen animated Disney Films, The Hunger Games, or the new Spiderman Homecoming movie. With this in mind, I will be showing the class the movie Spirited Away by MIYAZAKI (2001), one of my favorite filmmakers.
Many of Miyazaki’s films follow the Hero’s Journey and are great to use with students. Once we view a film in it’s entirety together, we will discuss and plot out the Hero’s Journey in the film. Students will use this foundation for writing their own Hero’s Journey story that they will make into a movie. Additionally, students will apply the foundations of film knowledge (Types of Shots, Color, Sound, and Style) to effectively tell their Hero’s Journey story.
This weekend I attended ACME: Action Coalition for Media Education 5th Annual summit hosted by Sacred Heart University’s Media Literacy & Digital Culture graduate program and co sponsored with Project Censored. ACME identifies itself as “an emerging SmartMedia Education Network, a global coalition run by and for media educators.” ACME’s mission is threefold:
Teaching media education knowledge and skills – through keynotes, trainings, and conferences – in classrooms and communities to foster more critical media consumption and more active participation in our democracy.
Supporting media reform — few multinational corporations (Big Media) own much of the media that shapes our 21st century culture.– Media reform is crucial since only those who are media educated support media reform, media education must be a top priority for all citizens and activists.
Democratizing our media system through education and activism.
Topics throughout the day addressed pedagogy, citizenship, digital production, journalism, and representations of race, class, and gender. I was invited to present with colleagues from Jacob Burns Film Center on their curriculum Image, Sound, and Story. Currently, in its third year of fruition, Image Sound and Story is a “series of ten hands-on lessons/projects that emphasize process, challenge-based learning, collaboration, and reflection to build students’ visual and aural communication skills.”
Our presentation was hands on and allowed participants to experience a piece of JBFC curriculum. We focused on structure and I shared how I use Image, Sound, and Story in my media literacy elective, Media Savvy Kids, and how it also influences my English classroom.
The unit on Structure (Moment to Moment) focuses on how to connect ideas through editing and match cuts when creating a film. When teaching writing, writer’s need to offer a road map for their readers in order to understand the sequence of ideas. Writers use specific transitions to guide and emphasize their intentions. These transitions are similar to the types of cuts film directors and editors have to think about to create a coherent film. Below are the slides from the presentation and at the end I include samples of student work to highlight the intentions of my student writers.
To learn more about Media Literacy professional development opportunities click on the links below: