Year Two’s final project for the year was centred around the review and response text types. Like many schools in NSW, we spend several weeks each term focusing on specific text types from the NSW English Syllabus. New syllabi to support the Australian Curriculum will be implemented next year and I expect that our approach to writing will change, but, in the final term of 2013, we were still obliged to continue on as we had been doing.
We wanted to use a Project Based Learning approach to bring a real purpose and authenticity to the work our students would be doing. We also wanted to gain experience in incorporating multi-modal texts as these need to be treated quite considerably in the new syllabus that we will implement in 2014.
When our team started planning, it was initially quite hard to think of a good project, but as our discussion moved on, things started to fall into place. The ideas began flowing when we considered how we as adults use reviews in our own lives. We realised that of course, we use them all the time when finding out about movies we’d like to see, restaurants we want to visit, products we like to buy and so forth. In fact, they are one of the most useful text types because they help us to make good decisions about how to spend our time and money. We also realised in our discussion that usually when we as adults look for reviews, we either watch them on TV or search for them on the net.
At this point, the project we would work on with our classes became obvious: we would have each class create a website containing video and written reviews. The reviews would be of activities that they enjoy doing over summer and it would be a resource to help each other make good choices about how to spend their time. This ticked all the boxes for us. We would use multi-model texts such as television review shows and websites for our modelled texts. It would allow our students plenty of choice in terms of what they chose to review, and it would allow them to work creatively in teams. They would still have to satisfy the writing requirements of the text type, by writing a well constructed blog post to accompany each video. As a further bonus, it would give us a meaningful purpose for using the iPads which had just arrived in our school. We were excited to have them, but still getting our heads around how to incorporate them into our teaching and learning program.
Project 3: A Review Website
Duration: 9 weeks
Driving Question: How can we make good choices about what we read, watch and do? How can we help others to make good choices?
Public Audience: A world audience, but a target audience of other Y2 classes, friends and families.
Significant Content: As we planned this unit, we realised it covered content from just about every area of the new English syllabus. These were the outcomes we identified.
||EN17B identifies how language use in their own writing differs according to their purpose, audience and subject matter
EN18B recognises that there are different kinds of texts when reading and viewing and shows an awareness of purpose, audience and subject matter
EN19B uses basic grammatical features, punctuation conventions and vocabulary appropriate to the type of text when responding to and composing texts
EN110C thinks imaginatively and creatively about familiar topics, ideas and texts when responding to and composing texts
EN111D responds to and composes a range of texts about familiar aspects of the world and their own experiences
EN112E identifies and discusses aspects of their own and others’ learning
What we did:
I introduced the driving question right at the start of the unit, and then looked at some review websites with our classes. I chose to use Good Game SP as our exemplar text. After watching some video reviews we made a list of features that were common to each one:
- Summarised the story
- Discussed good and bad elements
- Recommended an audience
- Provided a rating
- Were supported by a written blog
These became the essential elements that the students would include in their reviews.
We also noted the features that made the videos good to watch. Some of the features we identified included:
- Interesting and varied camera angles
- Vocal expression
I then asked the class to brainstorm some possible topics for our reviews. Many wanted to review video games, since that was the model they had observed, but eventually our list grew to include indoor and outdoor games, craft activities and books. A number of students were desperate to review different types of pets. I was reluctant at first, because I didn’t think it really suited our topic of choosing activities for the summer holidays. However, in the end I relented as they explained it would help other children decide if they wanted to get a similar pet themselves.
We spent the next couple of weeks working on written book reviews. I explained that they needed to understand how to structure their writing so that when it came to writing their blog posts, they would be able to post something that was well written and that they could be proud of. The upcoming project gave a sense of urgency to this task and I found my students were very engaged and tried hard to improve their writing, responding well to critical feedback. To give the writing exercises an even greater sense of purpose, we used school library books as our subjects. Each student had to write a review of a library book which would be kept in our library to help other children choose a good book.
We also spent some time familiarising ourselves with the iPads and iMovie. While most of my students had used iPads before, none of them had used iMovie. We spent time making book trailers and reviews of parts of our school. For the students, there was no risk of failure in this activity. They weren’t being evaluated at all, it was just about exploring and figuring out what works well.
We learned all sorts of things by having a few weeks to just explore and experiment with iMovie. We discovered that if you put your hand over the microphone it muffles the sound. We also learned that if you stand too far away from the iPad, the microphone doesn’t pick up your voice. After viewing several student movies, we discovered that shorter clips worked better than long takes, and that if the movie involved someone just talking to the camera, it was more interesting to watch if the talk was broken up, perhaps by providing different backgrounds or camera angles. We discovered how to use subtitles, background music and voice overs, and we also discovered that if not used well, these could be very distracting and ruin, rather than improve the movie. And we learned to be aware of what was happening in the background. Images of other groups of children making movies or playing sport in the distance was distracting.
While initially, I wanted the final assessment pieces to be made in groups, I ended up having each student write their own review individually, but they had to create the video in a group. After each student submitted a well constructed written review, and I had checked it, they then had to plan their video by creating a story board. Each frame in the story board had to show what the camera would film, as well as the script, and any subtitles, music or voice over information.
Once I had checked these, they were free to make their movies. At this point, I became redundant. My students had developed enough know-how to work on their films completely independently and the final products were often a complete surprise to me. My role became that of a facilitator. I’d assist students who weren’t sure how to edit part of their movie, and answer questions here and there, but for the most part, the students did all the work while I supported and encouraged them.
I started encountering problems when I tried to upload videos to the website. I’d created a new blog for the project using the Edublogs platform and had the students choose the design and the name. But with 3 weeks to go before the end of the term our videos wouldn’t upload. At first I thought it might have had something to do with the file type, so instead of trying to upload again, I created a Vimeo account from which I could embed the videos. That in itself took time. Creating the account required an email account, so I had to create a class Gmail as well. After taking a few days to sort all that out and uploading my first few videos to Vimeo, they still wouldn’t embed on the website. This, I eventually discovered was because I needed a Pro account with Edublogs, which annoyed me as I already had a Pro account for my class blog. I assumed, wrongly, that would cover any blogs I created.
With one week left, I finally bit the bullet and paid for a Pro account. Now that I was able to embed videos, I started to upload the rest of them to Vimeo, but I hit another obstacle: my free Vimeo account would only allow me to upload a limited number of videos each week and I reached that limit before I’d uploaded even half of the class’s videos.
However, at least, by the end of the year, we had a number of their video and blog posts published.
Here is an example of one I was really pleased with. I love the different camera angles, the use of titles and the vocal expression.
I’ll be updating the site with the rest of their videos and posts over the holidays. You can find our website here.
All in all, I thought the project was a great success. The quality of their written reviews for the website was not nearly as high as the quality of their written reviews for our school library, but given the fact that their library reviews were so good, I was still pleased with the outcomes of the writing program.
I was delighted with the videos they made. These were entirely the students’ own work and they’d made so much progress. They were thinking critically about their movies, constantly editing and improving them until they had a product of which they were proud.
If I was to do this again, however, I wouldn’t use Edublogs as a platform. It was frustrating to have to pay for features which come for free on other platforms such as Weebly and WordPress. My colleague, Joel was very happy with using Weebly for his class project. You can visit 2A’s review website here.
This is the fourth in my series on Project Based Learning. For more,visit my Project Based Learning page or view the articles below.