This I Believe Goes Multimodal-The Project
This I Believe, the series resurrected by National Public Radio, provides an immense resource for thinking about our values. With each essay, the voices of “regular” people articulate passionate and compelling arguments for the listener’s consideration. We listen almost motionless savoring every detail of the essay. By the end, when the speaker says, “This I believe,” we believe it too. This mode of discourse creates an immediate connection to a listening audience and this is the relationship my students deserve to experience.
Using This I Believe as the foundation for the multi-modal presentation, students must merge their oral essays with music, images, video, text, and enhancing design features.
If we watch typical teenagers connected to their electronic gadgets, we know they are determined users of technology. They immediately react to it, checking for text messages, adjusting musical selections, and clicking here and there “searching” for a myriad of social connections. They experience technology minute by minute with thousands of friends and gamers. They’ve never known a world without it.
Multi-modal documents, one of the new literacies, provide the genre for the insights of articulate writers to reach beyond notebooks. This project connects students’ academic skills to their social habits, and forces them to accept the responsibility that speaking up and speaking out require.
This project requires teenage writers to intentionally utilize technology for “building” an idea rather than “using” it for staying connected.
Peter Kittle’s multi-modal presentation of James Gee’s learning theory takes viewers to the core of Gee’s work. Through a series of videos, still images, and website screen shots merged with narration and music, Gee’s ideas easily reach the viewer. Kittle’s video inspired this project.
There comes a time in teaching when we need to jump in and trust that our theories and practices will prevail. Teaching takes risk sometimes, and for the person who flinches at these sorts of projects, I say…if I can figure this out, so can you.
I came to this project with a solid knowledge of writing instruction, but I knew very little about multimodal presentations. Like other things I don’t know how to do, I asked some experts for help: my writing project friends and teaching colleagues.
Because so much internet access is blocked from schools, and our hardware is outdated, we pushed ahead with what is available. Some students own laptops, cell phones, digital cameras, and ipods. We gathered up cables, a scanner, and extra cameras. And we used whatever movie making program is installed on our school’s computers. My friend reminds me that you always “dance with who you brung.” We used what we had and it worked .
We spent a few days listening and reading actual selections from the This I Believe collection. Choosing pieces with more of an interest for teenagers: Be Cool to the Pizza Dude ; Always Go to the Funeral; The People Who Love You When No One Else Will, we listened then discussed the effectiveness of each one. We read from printed pages in order to identify particular strategies and features that impacted our impressions and responses to the speaker’s purpose.
In addition to Peter Kittle’s multimodel presentation, we watched Jason Shiroff’s Daddy Duty video. After several showings of each, students noted presentational modes they wanted to include in their own essays and videos.
Finding a Topic
Students composed extensive lists of beliefs, then tinkered with experiences that lead to those beliefs. This is the most intense, emotional, and frustrating step in the process.
Many students began with one idea and ultimately abandoned it.
(NPR makes a curriculum available, although we didn’t follow it.)
The writing is EVERYTHING. Glitz and music can’t make a weak paper strong. This fact alone motivates good writing.
After studying and internalizing the intent of writing a personal philosophy, students composed either by handwriting their essays, or word processing them.
Revising and rewriting happened spontaneously as students tested their essays’ effectiveness.
Voice recording requires practice with phrasing and articulation. This is a time-consuming step in the process because recording takes at least 30 minutes per person. We have learned that cell phone recording quality is sub-par. Therefore, students recorded themselves reading their essays using a 1990 something laptop and a simple and inexpensive headset. Students sat in a quiet room, read their essays into the microphone, listened to them, and rerecorded as needed.
We learned that marking essays for revision required more than traditional notation. Students invented ways of indicating voice inflection, image placement, and musical timing. They rehearsed reading and carefully planned phrasing to synchronize with music, pictures, slides, and videos. This process helped them conceptualize their final projects.
The Field Trip Without the Field Trip: Making a movie
Composing a multimodal project demands an extended time frame. To create several consecutive hours for students to work, we took them on The Field Trip Without the Field Trip. If students miss a full day of school for sports or trips to other events and locations, why not take them to the computer lab for a day of composing?
Students arrived at school on the day of the field trip prepared to compose their videos. We gave general instructions, including permission to use their usually banned cell phones, ipods, and locked down websites. Students with lap tops accessed a wireless connection set up by the school’s technology expert, with access lasting from 8-3.
For a single school day, 100 students were given the freedom to work on a single project without interruptions. They had access to adult mentors, school resources, and one another.
(In order to qualify for attending the field trip, we established due dates for the essay’s final draft and the voice recording.)
Not a single student missed the field trip!
The following videos illustrate the accomplishments of several students whose deeply held beliefs and philosophies take shape through multimodes.
Eduardo, in his video entitled I Believe in Language, inserts the voices of others to make his point. Even though he makes some odd slide choices, he provides a vast array of images, film, slides, and sound to make us believe in the power of language too.
When Luis heard the assignment, he immediately knew, I Believe in Love at First Sight. Although this sounds trite, it isn’t.
Dusty struggled finding a topic. At one point another student reminded her that if she didn’t completely believe in her topic, her essay would show it and her video would “just be a slide show.” She took his advice and created the language that captured her belief.
Casey’s video is a testimony to I Believe in Union. He uses still shots, slides, and video to tell his philosophy. This video became one of the school’s most popular.
Authors of multimodal compositions anticipate an audience’s response. Because these videos explore authentic points of view and share deeply held personal philosophies, my students prepared themselves for a public showing and designed a plan for sharing their work. We reserved the school’s library, which houses a large projection screen, and we invited juniors and seniors to a full-day showing of the videos. With over 100 students, teachers, and administrators present per period, we played every video. The huge room was silent as the videos aired, and at the completion of each one, the room thundered with applause. Later, students were invited to show their videos to classes of underclassmen, clubs, teams, community groups, and faculty meetings. When something “big” is happening at school, everyone knows about it. Talk and excitement about these videos continues to happen. This is what it means to take writing public.
Once the project officially ended, we burned a dvd for each student, we sold them to parents and grandparents (to offset some of the costs of flash drives and headphones), and many live on youtube. We made a how-to manuel for the project with advice and warnings. And now, students entering English IV expect to make a video in the spring, and the school community expects to see them aired.
Honestly, I never thought a writing event could have such far-reaching impact. Students truly made technology work for them rather than control them. After this project, many students created multimodal projects for other classes.
A teacher rarely knows if what happens in class ever sticks, especially in the writing classroom. We hope so, and in this case, hope is realized.