Spotlight on video

14th May 2004 at 01:00
Just because it's video, it doesn't mean you have to think big to integrate it into the curriculum, reports Vivi Lachs

In terms of classroom practice and fitting video into the curriculum, the majority of teachers may well take a sharp intake of breath and shake their heads, picturing complex, extensive projects where teams of students become reporters and plan, film, interview, act, edit and produce short dramas and documentaries around curriculum subjects.

Indeed, this can be true. Video is a familiar televisual medium and is particularly good for exploring ideas documentary style, and all this can be done in support of the curriculum. But, in using video in the classroom, you can get many of the benefits of video production without having to think that big.

Video is motivating and active, and students naturally collaborate because it cannot be done alone. The camera gives a focus that can get directly to the point of an argument, encouraging students to be clear and serious. The editing process requires students to be analytical pulling out the essence of an argument. Also, viewing video you have made can give an altered perspective, allowing you to judge your own performance. Furthermore, it can be a powerful tool for measurement and experimentation, allowing students to slow down everyday actions and capture still images. In short, video lets you try out ideas in different ways, encourages careful listening and questioning and gives a personal element (your body, your voice) to whatever curriculum subject you are exploring.

For years drama teachers have discussed the balance between process and product. When using improvisation as a technique in the classroom, the product is at its most ephemeral and is rarely shared with anyone other than the students involved. Video can be used in the same way. The act of using it can create collaboration and focus; the end result does not need to be perfection, nor does it need to be shared. So where can video fit in the curriculum?

In a Year 9 citizenship unit on colonialism students studied the 16th-century Spanish invasion of the Caribbean. They considered the Spanish arguments in defence of colonialism from a range of perspectives. Each student had one strand of the argument to reproduce. A "disputation" presided over by Charles V was filmed by the students as they put forward their arguments. The video became an external eye that channelled students into describing their points of view as faithfully as possible. This footage was used later on their websites.

In a Year 5 Fair Trade unit students were told the story of chocolate production, from growing to selling, with the help of photographs describing the stages of the process. To reinforce this information they were given paper copies of the images,a video camera and microphone, and asked to re-tell this story directly to camera using the images in whatever order they wanted. The cameras acted as note-takers helping students to clarify details of the narrative.

A Year 10 science class created resources for the unit "Supplying the Cell". Groups with discrete subjects made models of an aspect of their theme. One group working on circulation used a railway track with a train to show the movement of the blood cells in the body. They produced a one-take video where they described circulation, moving the train and taking oxygen and carbon dioxide on and off. They explained what they were doing by adding a voice-over through a microphone.

A Year 6 science class filmed weighted cars rolling down slopes. They viewed the footage in slow motion to measure time accurately.

A Year 8 class reading Twelfth Night considered different feelings of characters. Then re-filmed the same scene three times with different character "motivations" and watched them to see how effective they were.

In an after-school Turkish speakers project, a group of Years 5 to 8 girls made a documentary about women's voices. They practiced interviewing themselves, before interviewing Turkish-speaking women on their role in the home. They looked at the footage and chose four women to build up an argument.

So you can incorporate video across the curriculum. Why not transfer some of these ideas and give it a try? And when you feel confident with integrating small elements of video into the curriculum, then think big!

Vivi Lachs is the curriculum director of Highwire, Hackney City Learning Centre


* Don't worry about making anything glossy or perfect. The day-to-day use of video in curriculum work needs to be simple enough to be integrated into your schemes of work. So go for small and let students film in one take

* You are using video because it will teach the subject matter well, helping students to understand, debate and analyse. The first time you do anything technical, the reality may lag behind the theory. So, learn as you go

* Having the whole class in groups using video cameras and one teacher may be a little unrealistic. Use one or two cameras and let groups take turns.

Do things slowly and get support from an extra adult if possible

* To edit video you need a computer with a lot of disk space. However, you can do a lot with cameras and playing back even if you don't have enough hard disk space for editing. You may need to find a video recorder that can transfer your data from the small digital tape in your camera to VHS

* Don't get bogged down in technical issues. It doesn't need to be broadcast quality, but ensure you film with good light, use a tripod for less shake and use a microphone for better sound.

And remember you can always contact your local City Learning Centre who will have a range of experience using video and may have equipment to help you


* News reports around historical subjects

* Poetry soundtracks to video images

* Stories with multiple endings, a number of small videos on a website

* Persuasive adverts

* Trailers for movies

* Party political broadcasts



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