A couple of months ago, I interviewed TEAM technology teacher Kristen Sigler about her class, how it started and how it evolved over time. Here’s part two of that interview, about Film Club and getting students involved in the creative process. Check out how much fun working with kids can be when you get them involved in the creative process.
MA: Let’s talk about Film Club. How did Film Club start and what do kids do there?
KS: Film Club started with about 8 kids, four years ago. It started with a question. One kid asked “what were the Newark riots?” We were talking about it and they hadn’t taken liberation arts, so they really had no idea. I found this as an opportunity to have them do research, but also create something they could share with their peers and the community — to really tell the story about the Newark riots.
I gave them Flip cameras and told them to go find people in the community that experienced them, preferably as kids, and have them share their story on camera. Then we would collectively make a documentary on the Newark riots and how kids were impacted, how it impacted other communities around us and how it still impacts us today.
We would meet after school twice a week and share video footage and invite speakers to come to the classroom. We would film them and interview them. Then it transformed into something really big. We celebrated it with a film festival where kids got to show their community this film they put together. It was very well received and it was something they really took ownership of and turned into a tool for learning, not just for themselves, but for their community.
Then later on we started getting requests for other movies from around the school – for TEAM in Africa, for the NJ ASK, so we formally started the film club then. From there, it grew from 8 kids to 20 kids. We found it was a great opportunity for students who had this big desire of a huge creative outlet, who were shy in the classroom, but once they got in front of the camera they became a whole different person. I started going to the Salvation Army and collecting weird costumes, funny wigs and superhero masks.
Slowly and slowly the kids had all these stories they wanted to tell. From feedback they wanted to give their peers about eating habits, to how to survive middle school as a boy, to how to pass the NJ ASK, all these different topics. Kids had more and more stories they wanted to share and they wanted to make movie magic.
Four years down the road, film club then expanded into two clubs. I had a JV film club and a varsity film club with about 46 students. Every year I put out an application and students had to apply to be part of the club. Because I can’t take everyone in this school who wants to be in film club, a lot of times I’ll do an interview process. I’ll specifically look for kids that have that creative soul or especially need an opportunity to be extremely expressive.
We find that sometimes the kids that excel in film club don’t necessarily excel in the traditional classroom setting. Once they are in film club and have that opportunity to shine, it tends to have a positive impact elsewhere. You can see them becoming successful in other areas within TEAM.
Film club has gone from being one classroom setting to bringing kids to New York City to film studios. We’ve been able to bring them to Google. We’ve sent their films to film festivals. And then more importantly, they just love to upload their movies to YouTube and track who around the world is watching what they are making. It’s a great way for them to create that positive digital footprint. When they’re able to create content online, people can Google them and see all these great movies they have produced and filmed.
MA: That’s really cool! It seems like there is a lot going on in film club. How do you manage all that chaos?
KS: Chaos is the perfect word because it is chaos. There are a lot of kids — and there are a lot of high-energy kids with big personalities. The first aspect is being able to identify a topic about what they’ll be creating and filming, and then have students work together in groups and create a story board. Usually in film club, we’ll have one master project, but there will be many small projects they’re also working on.
It’s also a great opportunity to teach how to work with group members, how to make sure every voice is heard. We practice a lot of group work strategies.
We also work a lot with calendars and learning deadlines. In the past, we have seen kids who have done extremely well with it, but I have also seen kids not be successful because their film wasn’t done before the film festival deadline and they couldn’t showcase their film. There were lots of tears, but the following year they were one of the first ones to get their films in. Some of these are lessons that will stick with them for life.
Other aspects are being able to watch a lot of high-quality videos, whether they’re short YouTube clips, or going on to Netflix and watching high-quality movies, all to really break down what makes a great film. How do you send a message? What are some things that great movie makers do?
And then we just critique the hell out of everything. Film club gets better and better every year because with each student coming in, they help critique the older films. It brings fresh eyes on the film. They’ll point out things like — with this NJ ASK film, it would have been so much better if kids were a little more enthusiastic about their lines. Here there’s too much quiet time. The editing needs to be tighter. So students are able to really evaluate each other’s work and create the environment where it’s OK to give feedback, but also where that feedback leads to adjustments.
We also watch a lot of YouTube in film club. If you were to break down how our time is spent for any project, I’d say 60 percent of it is being able to identify and watch great moving making, and breaking down the mechanics: where was the camera man standing, what/where was the lighting, how were lines being said, 10 percent is being able to create a great script, and then 30 percent is the actual movie making and the editing, so there’s a lot of preemptive work being done ahead of time.
The other thing is being able to find roles for kids that meet their needs. In other classrooms, we say every kid should be able to do X, Y and Z, which is how a classroom should be. In film club, we really look to match student interests to roles. If you’re really passionate about fabric and drawing, you’re going to be a costume maker. You don’t have to be a film director. If you have a phenomenal personality that loves to be on camera and shine, I’m not going to make you be a set designer if that is something you’re not really passionate about. So being able to find and match kids to roles that they’re really excited about and really invested in is also a really great opportunity. You’ll find kids that have a wide range of skill sets, so it’s great to match them to something they’re really, really good at.
MA: Great. How much of the creativity comes from kids, and how much comes from you directing behind the scenes?
KS: It’s really a match. I’ll help them find resources to look at. For instance, the first Antoine Dodson video I showed them (the edited version), the kids found so hysterical. So, we analyzed the little things, like — how did Dodson have his hair? How did he move the little piece of paper around? Then we started practicing it.
There was one kid, Reality, who took on that persona. He was like “I am the next Antoine Dodson” and took on that character role. So in one aspect, I was able to find a resource that they would really find funny and use for a character, but then they took ownership of it.
Another kid, Mikay, found the video of Ms. Sweet Brown, and was laughing hysterically. He said “for the next NJ ASK video, I’m going to be this character.” So, in the next movie, he took on that role and did it all by himself.
I’ll be upfront with kids and say “this isn’t funny.” Other times, kids will do an ad-lib that is so hysterical that we have to film it over because you can hear me laughing in the background. It’s definitely a mix of being able to find new sources, being able to give opportunities for kids to experiment and try new characters out, and also giving feedback of “this isn’t
funny, we probably shouldn’t use it”, or “this doesn’t make sense.”
The kids are really good about it, because at the end of the day, we’re all here to help each other. We watch a lot of behind the scenes movies and outtakes on YouTube so they can see that this is part of the process. Not everyone gets to be a star, not every line gets used.
MA: How are outside teachers impacted? How do other folks benefit from what kids are learning in technology and film?
KS: When we talked about differentiation, one thing I love doing with students is finding out which kids are passionate about teaching new technology skills. A lot of times we’ll have opportunities to do Teach For America workshops, or ed tech workshops and either my schedule doesn’t allow me to prep for them or something else comes up, so I’ll delegate that to some of my tech students. They’ll plan a lesson using the same lesson planning template teachers use at TEAM Academy. I’ll give them real-world experiences, like what do you do if the participants aren’t tracking you while you’re talking, or what do you do if they are all on Facebook, or how do you give them opportunities to practice? Students will come after school and do a practice run and get feedback. Then when we go to workshops, they’ll be the presenters. Our largest group was at the International Technology Conference in Philadelphia and there were over 30,000 participants.
Students have a wide range of experiences to teach technology skills. The feedback we get from participants is always great. They’re amazed that students could engage them and use best teaching practices, but they’re also grateful to be able to hear from students why they keep them engaged and why it is an effective way to teach kids like them, it really becomes concrete for participants. It is a great way to model what a flipped classroom looks like.
MA: How much time did it take to get kids prepped to be able to do that?
KS: First it’s about identifying which kids have mastered a skill to the point they are now ready to teach it. They can explain it; they can follow the steps and break down the task to present it. The second part is finding kids that are interested in doing these types of workshops.
As far as how long it takes, I video tape a lot of past workshops, and I’ll have them watch and identify strategies the presenters are using. We’ll use them to illustrate how Osamu waits for 100 percent of participants. Look at how Asha redirects someone using Facebook while assuming the best. It’s also about pacing and making sure you’re not going too fast or too slow.
MA: Yeah, it’s really interesting to see kids present. They are much more effective than teachers after school teaching those workshops.
KS: Yeah, there’s also nothing like watching a child come to life and teach adults something they’re excited about. It’s also inspiring for teachers to see ways to challenge students. They’ll say “I have these groups of students who I don’t know how to challenge. Now this has given me ideas to find opportunities for them to teach workshops like this.”
MA: What kind of feedback do you get for these workshops?
KS: We’ve gotten a lot of feedback over the years. Every year it gets better and better. At the beginning, sometimes the participants were giving feedback that someone was going too fast and they couldn’t keep up, or they needed more practical applications for it outside of just technology classes. Kids are able to brainstorm ideas after the workshop and come up with better ways to present the workshop in the future. The majority of the time, students are the ones taking the feedback and improving the workshop.
Kristen Sigler is a technology teacher at TEAM Academy in Newark. Follow Kristen on Twitter for lots of fun examples of how tech can influence a classroom. Recently, her brother-in-law was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. If you’d like to help out, read how here.
The Film Club’s 2014 NJASK Video