Developing communication and leadership skills through community engagement
During the middle school years young adolescents not only become aware of the changes associated with physical and emotional maturity, but they also adjust to new learning standards and expectations. The goals of middle school include fostering the self-esteem, self-worth, and confidence necessary for young adults to function in a technologically advanced society. A public middle school in a community with high socioeconomic status in Northwest Ohio has provided opportunities for such growth by implementing a communications course called Video Production for its 120 seventh and eighth graders. The school’s focus on self-motivation and perseverance in the 21st century classroom while fostering relationships with the community grew into a project transcending the classroom.
Middle school administrators and teachers partnered with members of the local chapter of Rotary International to develop specific goals centered on student success. First, the overall goal was to implement a relevant project to increase the rigor of the seventh and eighth grade language arts and technology curricula. Second, the educational goal of this project was to enhance technology instruction in the middle grades through computer navigation and video production programs resulting in proficiency in 21st century communication skills. Finally, students in the class focused on mastering professional communication, including interviewing skills.
Members of the community quickly showed their support for the initiative and donated funds to purchase equipment to offer two nine-week video production classes in the middle school. Both the middle school administrators and the community members recognized the importance of public speaking, developing negotiation and communication skills, and executing a plan of action. The key benefits of the course involved major interpersonal skills that the middle school administrators and staff members sought to develop in all students: leadership, determination, and self-confidence.
The Video Production Course
Once the educational goals were narrowed down, concrete steps for implementing the program were taken. The local Rotary chapter donated a large sum of money to purchase equipment to be used by the seventh and eighth graders: a green screen, lights, high definition video camera, headphones, wireless and lapel microphones, mixer, high quality editing software, and soundboards to minimize the echo in the video room. The technology teacher worked closely with administrators to prepare a broadcasting room with editing equipment for student use during the class.
The middle school students involved with Video Production during its first year had no previous experience with similar technology. A language arts teacher partnered with the technology teacher to address specific professional communication skills, aligning with the speaking, listening, and writing strands of the 2016 Common Core Language Arts standards. Students were taught how to conduct interviews: They performed mock interviews while focusing on making eye contact with the interviewee and the camera, demonstrating interest and enthusiasm, and asking thoughtful questions. Then they learned to show active listening skills through nonverbal communication and follow-up questions.
In addition to on-camera communication, the students practiced professional written communication. When teachers, coaches, or community members participated in the videos, typically as interviewees, students were required to write them letters of thanks, reinforcing some of the content covered in the regular language arts class in a realistic setting. Students were taught traditional business letter format, which they could use in the future, for example, after interviewing for a job. Students were able to fulfill the instructional goals of the language arts classroom and apply them in a real-world setting.
The first video produced by the middle school students focused on events occurring throughout the building and involved students in every production aspect. They used the broadcasting room (green screen room) to interview members of the community and open a line of communication between them and the school. The students learned to cut and edit their interviews and to maintain eye contact and proximity to the interviewer. They used a software program that allowed them to remove a green screen and import a background of their choice; furthermore, the editing software allowed them to create animated effects and add text and titles along with pictures and audio.
Students learned Photoshop and used various video production programs to create their videos. All students in Grades 7 and 8 took the course, and all participated in video production at some point. They organized each weekly project from the ground up and practiced their negotiation skills while communicating in groups. Students learned the value of careful planning and preparation by writing scripts and executing prepared plans. They improved their public speaking and writing by mastering professional communication skills.
Benefits and Future Plans
Video Production was a course that developed from the desire to improve technology instruction for our middle school students. The school administrators recognized the need for students to leave their comfort zones and learn to take chances. A core belief at the school is that growth occurs through adversity and learning to be comfortable while uncomfortable. Through this project, the students took a chance on learning a new type of technology and put themselves in the spotlight. Leadership and determination were necessary to accomplish their task successfully week after week. The community recognized its role in this project as the facilitator of the goal for better technology education in the middle school. With the generous donation of the local Rotary chapter, young adolescents were able to take part in Video Production and learn workforce skills that they need to have exiting high school and entering the workforce or college.
Students learned major life skills, including proper behavior in a professional setting. They learned to set up client interviews as well as research and prepare scripts and questions, to execute interviews, and then to watch, evaluate, and reflect on their own performance. Students applied professional written communication skills, which they can use in the future, as they wrote letters to thank the representatives of the organizations taking part in their video productions. Thinking carefully about the objectives for their videos, then adding, rearranging, and deleting content, students learned valuable editing skills that can easily translate to other types of work.
The benefits of Video Production did not go unnoticed by the members of the community. Members of the local Rotary chapter that donated funds for the equipment were impressed by the leadership displayed by the young adolescents and by the relationships created between the school and the community. Two years after the launch of this exemplary program at the middle school, the original donors contributed additional funds to establish a full-year elective video production program for all 240 students at the secondary level. At the high school, the Rotary chapter donated similar equipment but on a much larger scale: a larger green screen requiring additional lighting, two cameras, two mixers, four lapel microphones, a teleprompter, and a professional editing program. To have continuity within the program, the chapter also donated a partial salary for the Video Production teacher to teach in both the middle and the high school. The Rotary chapter has applied for a grant to cover future funds to expand their involvement with the Video Production program.
The result was a vertically aligned program establishing standards for professional communication in the middle school grades and preparing high school students for additional development as they focused on communication and written skills for workforce and college readiness. Video Production in the middle school represented one way to develop critical thinking and execution skills in young adolescents. Students gained leadership and technological skills as they learned to communicate in professional settings. The students who participated in this program were held to high standards; thus, they gained much more than technological skills: They gained the opportunity to develop key communication and leadership skills that can be used throughout their lives.