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A Class Video Project Can Empower Your Students | Hey Teach!

Students shoot video for a project

A class video project can be an empowering experience for students. It can enhance learning in the classroom and provide an opportunity for students to collaborate and cooperate with each other. A class video project that requires the participation of all students, and can essentially last forever on YouTube, can be a great source of pride for your class. Inspired by a teacher I met in Germany, Mareike Hachermer, I decided to give my students the chance to express themselves through video, and the results were even better than I imagined.

Exploring a Community-Building Approach

I teach in a city that doesn't get the respect it deserves—there's a great deal of poverty, and the city is often wrongly judged. At the time, we were also recovering from a tornado that had recently ripped right through our main street, leaving overwhelming destruction in its path. When I broached the subject of a video project with my students, they wanted to create a video that showed the pride they have in their city and their school. They wanted to showcase the city's resilience, its tradition, and its strength. I remembered a car commercial about Detroit I had seen during the Super Bowl, which featured Eminem, one of the city's prominent rappers. That commercial focused on that beleaguered city's spirit, so we decided to remake it with our city as the subject.

When it came to implementing the project, my goal was to ensure the students were at the helm. They storyboarded, filmed, and acted. The resulting video, which features beautiful and gritty footage of our city, as well as my students and their academic and athletic programs, received more than 1,000 hits on YouTube in its first week, and it brought enormous pride to our school and our city.

Finding an Outlet for Self-Expression

My current students begged to complete a classroom video project of their own. After a number of upsetting events in 2016, many of them were left feeling scared and upset. They wanted to do something to show that they opposed violence and hate, and that they still had hope for this world. One of my students, Graciela, frequently brought her ukulele to school, so we thought performing a song could lift our spirits. But what song could encompass how we were feeling? After thinking long and hard, I suggested rapper Matisyahu's song "One Day." The lyrics perfectly echoed my students' feelings: "One day, this all will change, treat people the same, stop with the violence."

I told my students that singing was voluntary, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that every single one of them wanted to sing. Graciela learned the song quickly, and we practiced a few times before making a video on our first take. I can't watch it without crying. I look at the faces of my students, representing so many cultures—American, Algerian, Egyptian, Greek, Mexican, Salvadorian, Moroccan, Cape Verdean, Haitian, Trinidadian, Brazilian, Bosnian—and my heart just swells. That video gives me hope for the future.

Taking Part in a Global Project

When Mareike saw the "One Day" video, she incorporated it into a larger, global project that she was working on. We are proud to be featured in her "Youth of the World—For a Better World" video, along with 160 other students from all over the world. And we recently found out that the video was chosen to be screened at a prestigious film festival in Guadeloupe and in local theaters in the French West Indies!

One important caveat: videos don't have to be perfect. Students should strive to create a masterful project, but without fancy equipment and trained professionals, it's sometimes difficult to produce an Oscar-worthy product. I remind my students that it's the heart and soul of a video that makes it powerful.

A class video project requires students to utilize many important college and career skills, including planning, storyboarding, acting, performing, videotaping, editing, revising, and producing. Students must listen and work cooperatively with their peers. A classroom video project is, without a doubt, true student-centered learning. And when projects are completed, students will have amazing artifacts that will last forever.