Making Curriculum Pop

Reflection on Jen Powers’ "Show Don’t Tell: Assessing Literacy Through Video"

In today’s digitally mediated world, students’ engagement with popular culture and new technologies is changing the very nature of what it means to be literate. In her presentation, Show Don’t Tell: Assessing Literacy Through Video—Narratives in the English Classroom, Dr. Jen Powers explored the role of film making in the classroom, demonstrating how video production allows students to immerse themselves in complex tasks that actually correspond with the aims and goals of traditional literacy instruction.

I found Dr. Powers’ presentation extremely interesting and relevant to the field of new literacies as she pointed out several key benefits of the use of video in the classroom—namely, “visuals greatly enhance students’ meaning making power in the creation of narratives…and [students] enjoy the challenge of using out-of-school knowledge to create something meaningful in school.” Dr. Powers’ presentation did a great job at stressing how educators must work towards making connections between out-of-school and in-school literacy practices and motivate students by developing curricula that is culturally relevant to their interests and daily lives. So I have to wonder, why aren’t more teachers incorporating video narrative in their classroom?

As someone new to the field of education starting my student teaching next fall, I must admit I’m worried about the challenges I’ll face trying to implement video production into the curriculum. It’s a little discouraging when I meet young teachers just entering the field (who you would think would be open to the new literacies approach), but choosing to keep with the “tried and true” mode of ELA instruction: teacher assigns the text, student reads the text, student answers questions about plot, setting, character, all in this mechanical step-by-step process that’s anything but engaging.

Incorporating video in the English classroom just makes perfect sense—instead of being passive participants, students become actively engaged with what it means to construct a story, which in turn will help them better “read” all texts: print, visual, aural. As Dr. Powers points out, “If meaning making is the goal, it doesn’t matter what the text is.” And I say, Halleluiah! We need more educators to think this way! Her student video sample effectively showed how the multimodal texts students produce combine written, visual, and auditory elements that actually require more meaning-making than reading and analyzing traditional print text. I think there is so much going on in students’ out-of-school lives and interests that we don’t tap into; unfortunately teachers choose to write it off as irrelevant to classroom practice. In so doing, teachers are losing out on precious teachable moments where their students (as well as the teachers themselves) would come away with a much more meaningful and effective teaching and learning experience.

Dr. Powers also discussed the importance of student collaboration in these video projects and I thought that tied in well with Dr. Kist’s discussion and with his book New Literacies In Action—particularly his thoughts on literacy as an “inherently social practice.” In his book, Dr. Kist includes some great examples of how teachers have successfully employed video production in their English classroom using the same collaborative techniques Dr. Powers talked about, which I found really inspiring. One teacher in his book discusses how his students produced a video version of Homer’s Odyssey—here the concept of audience was key in that students got to actually perform the text for their peers instead of just writing an essay for the teacher’s eyes only. The practice of performance is so important because it makes it a social activity rather than an activity performed in isolation. These examples show how having an audience is truly motivating for students.

Let's Give Students An AUDIENCE.

I love the idea of having kids produce their own versions of plays and classical texts like The Knights Tale. I found this great Remixing Shakespeare video on You Tube that shows this approach in action:

Dr. Powers’ presentation also tied in to one of my main pedagogical interests: Digital Storytelling in the urban classroom. I’m curious to know what Dr. Powers thinks of digital storytelling as personal narrative and if she’s practiced it with her class. As in Dr. Kist’s examples of students performing video versions of classical literature, I think the opportunity for youth to perform their own narratives, in their own voice, rather than just writing it out for others to read, adds a unique and powerful dimension that traditional literacy practice may not provide. I’ve read up on the topic and interestingly even linguistic anthropologists stress the powerful interpersonal and performative nature of digital storytelling, claiming that utilizing one’s own voice emphasizes authorship—it authenticates the fact that what is being said is not only the intent of the author, but embodies that author. As I’ve learned, a key aspect of digital storytelling is the storyboarding structure, grounded in the seven storytelling elements introduced by Joe Lambert and the Center for Digital Storytelling, which makes it perfect for the ELA classroom. Dr. Glynda Hull, an expert on the subject and one of the founders of DUSTY (Digital Underground Storytelling for Youth—an after school program) has talked extensively about the benefits of DS for urban youth in particular (see article with case studies below)

I was really inspired by Dr. Powers’ talk and all of this year’s presenters as well. I’ll definitely carry all that I learned with me when I hit the secondary school classroom this fall!

For anyone interested in digital storytelling, here’s a few more resource links I hope you’ll find useful.

Digital Storytelling Finds Its Place in the Classroom
Key Digital Storytelling Websites
Digital Storytelling in middle schools
A great video on DS in the ELL classroom:

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I really like the remixing ideas presented in your post. I believe that no matter the text (novel,play, short story, music lyrics) allowing students to rewrite it, create new visuals, or create their own versions or make a version reflecting their own experience is an important tool for allowing them to delve more deeply into the meaning of the text, the literary devices used (and being used by them) and potentially, in a humanities class perhaps, delve into the historical context of the piece while making connections to the present and their own lives. It also of course, as many presenters commented on, taps into the different intelligences in the class. Since the conference my mind has been exploding with different ideas on how to incorporate all the techniques presented into a social studies and/or humanities curriculum. Great job! Ann
Dear Jen,

What a well-written, terrific, thought-provoking and informative post you've created. I loved it, and thank you very much for contributing such a neat cadre of information in reflection to our workshop. I really liked when you wrote the following: "The practice of performance is so important because it makes it a social activity rather than an activity performed in isolation." I think this is an excellent way to state specifically what the collaboration of the moving image can provoke, if it takes the form of students' then creating a performance piece. The idea you raise, demonstrated also through the various websites on digital storytelling as well as the Remixing Shakespeare classroom, bases on the idea that concepts of the moving image, and by extension visual(ized) media, can be used to initially provoke different kinds of learning to the next level of learning. This is when students themselves become involved through provocation from a moving image (whether filmic or, through suggestion by a teacher, in creation of 'auditory learning developments' such as the use of the potato chips to create footsteps) and their media literacy grows from being an active, modern listener and developing media literacy skills of engagement to social production of it.

As far as facilitating media production of text or media based learnings in the classroom, Audacity is an interesting program that can assist in documentation and auditory recording of class projects. Audacity could be taught in the classroom, in tandem to working with students on creating and then organizing their media works.


You bring up a really great point about the Digital Storytelling aspect, one that I forgot to address in my own reflection on Dr. Power's presentation. It would be interesting to know what othe rkinds of digital storytelling Dr. Powers has tried in the classroom and whether she found them as effective as the film narratives project. I'm also really glad you included a link to Streetside Stories. When I worked for the SF Film Society's Youth Education program, we partnered with them on some of our screenings and they're really great!

With regard to the "Remixing Shakespeare" clip, I was glad to see that the students eventually got to take greater ownership over the sound effects choices. Perhaps the beginning portion, which showed the students enacting the teacher's choices (potato chips for footsteps, coconuts for battle scene), was part of introducing the general concept of remixing to the class. I did wonder if the audio clips provided to students for their group work were also chosen by the teacher. Is there a way to provide a rather broad array of choices? Or can students be directed to sources of audio clips?
Hi Virginia,

I know that software like Garage Band for example have a library of sound effects to choose from. You can also find free sound effects by doing searches on free mp3 sites. I could see why the teacher in the "Remixing Shakespeare" video would want to have pre-selected audio clips--most likely as a time saver. I think teachers are always struggling with time and doing anything with technology requires more of it. As Dr. Powers mentioned, sometimes giving students the clips just makes the project easier to manage. With more time, students could definitely find their own audio effects.




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