Monday, June 10, 2013

Video and Literacy (and Shakespeare!)

Hmm . . .

So I thought I would post some questions for further reflection.  I've been thinking a lot about the best way to use video to support traditional literacy instruction in my 7th grade classroom.  I suppose the short answer is kind of a dodge - "it depends on what your instructional goals are, and who your kids are."  I don't want to dodge an important question like that, because I firmly believe that video has an important place in literacy instruction today.  But I know that most students will not learn everything they need to learn if they just watch video, even with excellent instruction to go with it.  

To dig a little deeper into this, I thought I would talk a little more about my current summer teaching assignment.  I'm teaching a "summer school" for students who are currently part of our bilingual program.  I'm not teaching students who speak only Spanish or another language.  Most of my students will (hopefully) soon be transitioning to "mainstream" instruction entirely in English, and are in the later stages of our "tiered" program.  So, while they might speak Spanish at home with parents, they can converse in English and are moderately capable in academic English in all four of the language domains.  But there are often "gaps" - gaps in background knowledge, or often a struggle to use an appropriate word to express a specific idea.  Typical struggles of English language learners.  

(I'm not doing this justice, I know.  I don't want to spend a lot of time describing things that many other people know better than me.  Let's just acknowledge that these students are not 100% comfortable in academic English and move on.)

Since these students lack background knowledge in a lot of academic areas, video is a nice way to "frontload" the learning - to help students develop an understanding of a topic based on images and audio, so that they can apply the language they already know and be better able to understand.  For example, showing students a video that illustrates Newton's laws can help them understand the principles involved, but also can help prepare them to explain them.  

My district has asked us to teach Shakespeare.  Yes, that's right - Shakespeare.  It's not as bad as it sounds.  Actually, for a Shakespeare nut like me, it's a good thing.  With a narrow focus, modified texts, and lots of support, it can actually be pretty cool.  Many of Shakespeare's stories are familiar to students, and there are tons of resources available about topics as diverse as Elizabethan views on medicine to graphic novel biographies to picture book adaptations of almost all of the major plays.  It's quite possible to spend three or four weeks teaching only a single play, using multiple versions, and to still not quite cover everything that could be covered.  

That finally brings us to the question I have.  What's the best way to tie this to video?  I'll put a link to the BBC animated version of the play that I've decided to focus on.

It's a pretty cool version.  It's short, the puppets are creepy and interesting at the same time, the voices are fairly clear and professional-sounding, there is a narrator but enough chunks of actual text to make it both challenging and accessible - it's a great video.  

With my middle-school language-learners, should they see this video before they read a shortened, simplified version of the play?  Or should they watch it after they read it?  Or should it be something in between - watch a little, read a little, or perhaps read one version, watch this, then read another version?  

My initial thoughts are that students might even need a little help understanding this version of the story, and some pre-teaching of characters and an overview of the basic plot would help.  I think, though, that returning to the text after watching the video will help them get more from the text.  The experience of reading the text - even the simplified text - will be easier and more fruitful if it occurs when students have already seen this video.  

But then what about this video?

Or what about something like this?

Hmm. . . the fact that there is a recent, big-budget adaptation with big stars and a world-class lead, further complicates this issue.  Should I be teaching this version?  Perhaps in chunks?

Which, among other reasons, is why I'm talking about questions and not answers.  
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