By Emily MacLean
Teachers encourage their students to be creative learners and share their experiences in new ways. Film-making can provide students with an opportunity for creative expression to captivate an audience and share stories. Films allow students’ stories to come alive off the paper so viewers may immerse themselves in a world other than their reality.
However, many teachers are often puzzled when the final products lack the polished presentation they had hoped for, even when the story behind it has been thoroughly developed. Students are often excited by the idea of making films, but have not been taught the technical aspects of film-making from start to finish, leaving their stories to fall short in truly captivating their audiences. Students cannot build the skills they do not have knowledge of, nor can educators build their students’ confidence of film-making if they lack the confidence and knowledge themselves. Teachers often have not had the opportunity to learn these same film skills students require and therefore they cannot impart their expertise to help enhance the quality of their students’ films.
Storyboarding the Professional Development Idea
This need to increase the quality of student film-making seems to be a common thread amongst many classes and subjects in schools. To improve planning, filming and editing, these skills must be broken down into manageable chunks and explicitly taught; teachers must not assume students absorb them without exposure. Therefore, to increase the quality of films by students, teachers must increase the quality of their own film-making skills and knowledge.
To increase staff’s confidence in creating films, the education technology department at Chatsworth International School decided to run an intensive film-making course over five weeks, with each session being three hours in length. While this was a serious time commitment for the teaching staff who chose to stay late each week to dive into the world of film, it was felt a short after-school drop-in professional development session at the end of the day was not going to allow for the desired learning outcomes. Participants needed to have enough time each session to learn the history and theory of film, develop new skills through hands-on activities and also work towards a culminating project.
It was unknown how many people would be interested in this model of professional development at the school. However, a group of dedicated staff enrolled in the course.
The course began by allowing the staff to gain general knowledge on the history of film. As the staff watched clips from notable films throughout time, conversations and questions began to flow, with a sense of community quickly building within the room.
Staff were introduced to methods of planning for success as they learnt how to storyboard their ideas to make the time spent filming more efficient. As a challenge to promote planning while also a way to assess current skill levels, the staff were asked to storyboard and film a short one-minute film to share with the class within an hour. The collaborative approach allowed staff with different areas of expertise to be highlighted, while also providing a safe environment to explore the film-making as beginners. In the end, the films brought laughter to the room with a sense of enthusiasm at the end of the first three hours that weaved itself into the following weeks of sessions and into the hallways of the school.
As the sessions continued, the staff had the opportunity to hear about the technical skills while watching examples of the skills in practice from well-known films and then experience hands-on learning. From dragons attacking the staff using green screen effects to understanding how types of shots convey different meaning and understanding the rule of thirds when composing shots, trial and error through exploration was the underlying commonality for the teachers.
Lights, Camera, Action
Once staff became more confident in the planning and the components of film-making, they began to embark upon their own short films while implementing their many new skills. It was interesting to watch as each teacher created their own twist on their projects, showcasing different elements of film that were important for their storyline while filming.
The course was designed to have a one-week break in the middle, which coincided with a school holiday, to allow for staff to have enough time to film their footage outside of the course context, which also allowed them the time and space to experiment with their projects. Elements of lighting, sound and shot composition were all taken into consideration as the footage began to take shape.
Piecing the Puzzle Together
With interview footage and a variety of film clips, the teachers came back from the break excited about beginning to edit their films together. The range of editing experience was vast, leading to the need to individualise the support. Building on their basic editing skills, the teachers learnt about effects, filters, overdubbing, ducking and playing with time as ways to modify their films. As they moved further into the editing process, it became evident that the teachers simply wanted time with their films to edit and enhance. This allowed the role of the facilitator to transition more into the expert, with questions and answers as they became relevant to the current needs of the staff. Emotions also started to become involved in the process as frustrations sometimes rose when things did not work out quite right and time was dwindling down before the final reveal. Yet, at the end of each session, everyone left laughing and excited to continue to move forward.
In the final week of the course, a film festival was held to showcase the work of the teachers. Staff from the school and the family of the participants were invited to join, with popcorn of course. The teachers showcased their short films with pride and enthusiasm. Each participant had taken their films in different directions from documentaries to film art to suspense and comedy. It was a true celebration of all the teachers had accomplished in such a short time, their final films and the process that led them there.
The After Party
Throughout the course and even more so after the films were debuted, the teachers who participated often stop us in the hallways to share how they were now using films in their classes. Some are using their new skill set to support students who are focusing on creating films for personal projects, while another wants to start his own YouTube film channel. These teachers are coming in and out of the technology office grabbing tripods and other equipment for their various filming projects in their classrooms with their students. The learning should not stop after a professional development session is over; rather, it should be continuously put into practice.
The greatest successes were not the films, but the change in thinking by the teachers about the film-making process. The product really is only as great as the process that creates it; collaboration supports creativity and creating each component with thought, creativity and purpose. The teachers had a growth mindset at all times and really immersed themselves in the tasks to reap the benefits of the course. This model of professional development was a positive experience for the teachers involved, who felt the time invested was worth the many outcomes. It modelled how to introduce and enhance film-making in their own classrooms and bring out their students’ inner Spielberg.
Emily MacLean is an international educator working at Chatsworth International School in Singapore as the Education Technology Coach. She is an Apple Distinguished Educator (Class of 2015), Apple Teacher, Google for Educator Certified Innovator and Trainer. She enthusiastically supports teachers across the primary school to effectively integrate education technology into the classroom. She holds a Masters of Education (Information Technologies) and currently is working towards a Master of Education (Educational Leadership) from Charles Sturt University.