After so many months emphasizing the writing skills students need for college, this assignment was a pleasant reminder that fluency in other mediums is also useful. After four years of term papers, these kids may find themselves in any number of careers and/or creative pursuits that have them presenting ideas in this way.
The assignment was also a nice warm-up for our Public Information Campaign project, where students created campaigns around issues relevant to Philadelphia. In that project, students had complete freedom in choosing the medium(s) for their work, but had to complete an annotated bibliography first — another reminder that every quality product requires good research and planning.
One lingering concern I have is that I didn’t encounter many (or any) students who did significantly better work with the video than the original essay. Would it be appropriate for me to conclude that you need to be able to organize an argument in a written format before you can present it anywhere else? Or did the fact that the assignment was tethered to already-produced essays hinder some students, who might have done wonders if they had started with a clean slate?
This line of inquiry eventually brings me back to the question of how structured the assignment needs to be in the first place. In theory, I am comfortable with students producing work in any medium, of any length, as long as it presents insightful analytical thought in a way that is easy to understand. The realities of my teaching load and my environment, however, require at least some boundaries. Not that it always works out. The student who inspired this project did not react well when I introduced it — he complained bitterly that a one minute cap (which many students appreciated) prevented him from achieving what he would want. In the end, he never completed the project.
Should I have waived that restriction from him? TV commercials have to be a certain length, I rationalized; professional pursuits can often be just as restrictive. Now that the school year is over, though, I lament not having a product from him to review. Digital formats give us so much freedom and autonomy, the kind the even the most progressively-reminded teacher can hit their head against. I hope I can remember to be more flexible next time.