Margin Notes

Conversations about Artifacts of Learning- Write Like a Filmmaker


This is a summary of our first conversation about artifacts of student learning as part of our Visible Learning project with our colleagues Michelle Wuest and Shelley Hanson and their Grade 11 students at Leo Hayes High School.  You can read a description of the project here: Making Learning Visible

In making our own learning visible, we decided to follow a protocol based on the Project Zero See-Think-Wonder thinking routine to structure our conversations and capture our thinking and reflections.  We recorded the conversation and I summarized our observations, wonderings, and reflections.

 Description of Artifact

 Inspired by the opening credits of “Dexter” and the way the scene is set through a combination of long, medium, and short shots, Michelle created an assignment that invited students to “write like filmmakers.”

Students were asked to select a topic, take three photos (a long, medium, and close shot) representing or depicting their topic, and describe the images.  The planning process for students included viewing the opening credits of “Dexter” and using teacher-written example as a mentor, and choosing a topic connected to their own lives.  After writing and uploading to their blogs for comments, each student completed a reflection on both their process and their product.

Here are a few examples to give you an idea of what students created:

Prompts Shelley and Michelle provided their students to invite reflection included:

How did you initially feel about posting your writing to an education blog? How do you feel now?

How did the knowledge that you would be posting your writing so others could see it affect how much effort you put into writing it?

What were your challenges? What did you find easy?

What was especially satisfying to you about either the process or the finished product?

What were your standards for the writing pieces? Did you meet your own standards?

What has the process of blogging revealed about you as a learner?

If you were the teacher, what comments would you make about your blog?

In looking at these artifacts, our conversation included the following:

We see…

 …writing that is filled with voice and heart.  The writers’ personal connections to and passion for their topics shone through loud and clear.  There was a strong sense of authenticity in the pieces; the writing was real because students had selected topics that were meaningful to them.

…an assignment that was created by teachers who view the world as writing teachers, always looking out for mentor text possibilities.  The opening credits of a TV show made them think, “This is something our students could do in their writing.” Rather than prescribing a traditional organization structure, Michelle and Shelley started with an example of a text from the real world, one that many of their students would be familiar with, and invited students to “write like this.”

We think…

 …there is strong evidence that students took the time to more closely observe things they might “see” every day. In many cases it is clear that students were seeing these objects and places in new ways as they wrote about them for an audience.

…the word choice and use of figurative language was particularly strong and we attribute this to the fact that students chose topics they care about and would be presenting them to an audience by posting them on their blogs.

…they appreciated the choice built into this assignment.  Photographing and describing something that is meaningful to each of them definitely elevated the quality of the writing.  We were brought to tears several times during our reading!

…the uniqueness of this form of writing gave students an opportunity to go “outside of the box” with their ideas. Both Michelle and Shelley commented that some students who have been reluctant to complete other writing assignments wrote a lot once they decided on a topic.  Again, choice was a large factor in this.

…the students were incredibly thoughtful and honest in their reflections.  They could speak in detail about themselves as writers and named both their struggles and their strengths.

…based on the reflections written by the students after they posted their pieces, some students struggled with getting started.  Slowing down and spending time with mentor texts and adding more mini-lessons at the beginning would probably help students begin to make decisions about their writing. Some students need more support in the early stages of the process in order to better understand what they are going to do with their writing.

We wonder…

 …how we can create spaces that encourage these writers to continue developing the habit of closely observing and thinking deeply about their world as part of their writing processes.

…how we can incorporate more shared writing as a transition between the stage of using mentor texts to notice and name qualities of the genre and the craft choices made by the author and the point where students begin drafting their own pieces. Would writing a short sample together support students’ independence later on as they begin drafting?

…how we can increase opportunities for students to use images and photographs in their writing.

…where is the sweet-spot is between guiding students’ reflections with questions or prompts and leaving it open for them?

Where do we go now?

 Our discussion led us to the following next steps:

  • Posing “What did you learn about yourself as a writer?” as a prompt for reflection.
  • Inviting students to spend more time with multiple mentor texts and answering the question, “What do you notice?”
  • Using multiple samples to develop success criteria with the students.
  • Identifying additional ways for students to capture evidence of their process as they are drafting and revising.
  • Incorporating more representing into writing assignments.
  • Supporting students who struggle with choice with more mini-lessons on brainstorming, using the writer’s notebook to find possible topics, talking before writing, etc.

 We hope you’ll join us on this journey as we explore ways of making students’ learning visible and as we make our own learning visible by reflecting on the artifacts of this learning.

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