Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Teaching in the City 4/09

My school works on a block schedule. Four periods with each class meeting every other day. Classes are 90 minutes long. This is new this year and I have mixed feelings about it. The population of our school is very diverse in their ethnicity, but are united in their economic status. Our percentage of students who qualify for free lunch is in the high nineties. We have a great deal of absenteeism and little parental involvement. Homework is seldom completed.

When it was announced that we would be switching to the new schedule, I thought it might be a good thing, that it would give my students a bigger block of time to work on a video shoot. When we had 45 minute periods, it sometimes seemed like a period was over just when we got rolling.

Instead, the block schedule has been difficult for me. Students need to bring costumes and props from home to do video shoots in school. It seems like this is more difficult with the every other day schedule. In addition, whenever a student is absent for one block, it is the equivalent of two days of standard class time. This adds up fast.

So, today is the first day in the new term for my day 2 students.

This screenwriting class is bigger, with more students working on the web-based curriculum. Attendance is low today though. I had a discussion with a student about a reading - the difference between "characterization" and "true character." Another student and I had a talk about 3-act structure in film, specifically exposition. We talked the first 5 pages of the script and how to make every scene count; how to write each scene so that it accomplishes several different things. I also organized each students expectations for the term and assigned them the specific units they were expected to accomplish.

Video #1:
This is a great video class. I have a creative and quirky group of kids who have done more work than any other group this year. Today, we watched a video blog on Izzyvideo.com about depth of field video techniques to achieve it. We took the camera out to the hallway and practiced using manual focus and a density filter to achieve a more artistic look. Then we planned had a quick group discussion about the footage we wanted to shoot and went outside to shoot it. We used the technique we learned today to shoot the footage. Lastly, we came inside to upload the video and even had time to do a little editing. This class is a dream. As you can see, the amount of work accomplished is far beyond the other video classes.

Video #2:
This class is very difficult. The students mostly belong to a group of friends and they always seem to be in social conflict. These guys have completed very little. They refuse to do any kind of preparation work, they mostly want to jump right to the fun stuff. Consequently, the things they manage to produce are not very successful.

Today, they put together some footage with some music that one of them had composed in the sound studio to create a video of sorts. They made short work of the project and then wanted to surf the net. Instead, I directed them to a sight that teaches video concepts with puzzles, blogs, and articles. I assigned them a unit on composition. One student did the assignment, one student pretended to the assignment, one student skipped to the assessment and claimed he know all the answers already, and another student attempted to go to sleep. These guys are so tough.

Sometimes I feel like it is my fault, that I don't provide engaging enough curriculum for them. Other times, I look at a class like the video #1 today, and I know that it is not entirely my fault. I do know that it is my responsibility to offer curriculum that will engage my students, if they refuse to participate, it is not necessarily my fault.

Teaching in the City 4/08

Today was the first day back from spring break. I expected a low turn-out but attendance was pretty high. I should know not to try to figure out high school students.

This class is entirely individualized and taught using web-based lessons. The students complete a week's worth of work, either in class or from home. My job is to walk around the classroom and troubleshoot.

It seems like the students really like this kind of instruction. They are free to go at a pace that suits them and it is impossible to get behind. Our school grades on a three week term. If a student only completes unit 1 during the first term, he/she is able to start up at unit 2 for the next term. Even thought he/she was not successful for the first term, they are not starting out behind in term two.

I've got students at every level in my two screenwriting classes. Some have just signed up and are starting on unit 1, others have completed all 18 units and are working independently on a feature length (90+ pages) script.

This particular class has three students who work independently and several who are working through the web-course. Two of my independent workers are pretty talented, but both suffer from attendance issues.

Today they are excited to get back and see each other so it takes a minute to get them settled in. Once they settle down though, they are very quite. Sometimes it is amazing when the room sinks into silence, except fro the tinny clicks beats from headsets and the sharper clicks from the keyboard.

Video #1:
In my first video class today, I have very few students enrolled. My two mainstays are F. and T. They are making a documentary about graffiti artists. At the end of last term, we went out with the camera and took footage of a bunch of great graffiti under the Ford bridge in St. Paul. Today, we began to piece some of it together in Final Cut Pro, the editing program we use. They girls shared their plans for additional footage and interviews, and used the phone to schedule one interview. I checked a camera out to them to use after school.

Video #2:
In my second video class, we worked on an interesting project. The kids went to the local barber shop and to the bank across the street and interviewed subjects at each. They want to put together a fake talk show, where it appears that they are interviewing the subjects via satellite connection. They want the guest to appear on the wall behind them as they talk. In addition, they want to chop up the interview and have the subject answer questions they were not asked.

We discussed the best way to work out the timing of this with the equipment we have access to. The "talk show hosts" must look at the screen and nod for an appropriate amount of time as the subject speaks, but the subject is not really speaking as the hosts are being shot, the subject will be added later in editing. We discussed this as a group and came up with three solutions to the problem, then narrowed it down to one last solution. Nobody was in total agreement with the solution we picked, so I suspect when it comes time to impliment it, we will have additional discussion.

Next we split up, a couple of kids worked on screenplays and the rest looked at ways to edit the bankers' interview into humorous sound bites.