Seeing is believing, part two

impactflickrdaviddave.jpg   No one who watched the ads on the Superbowl doubts the impact of a well-designed visual.  

But in schools, we often neglect that power.   It is  harder to make a striking visual, because it takes more time to make a well-designed handout—or a powerpoint that is thought-provoking—or a digital video that has impact—or even a well designed sign for the hallways.

And it takes longer for our students to be ‘producers’ of content rather than ‘recipients’ of content, as Marco Torres puts it.  It also requires that we trust their voices. 

But the results of their efforts can be very powerful and very empowering for them as learners.  Seeing the films that Marco Torres’ students are producing during his presentation at TCEA brings home the power of the visual to tell a story, to empower student voices, and to convey a message.

When we teach students about using visuals well, we are teaching them about evaluation– about making choices, judging information, and editing their own ideas;  we are teaching them about design and its power;  we are teaching them about the power of a well-crafted messages;  and we are giving them a voice and a way to tell a story.  And as Torres’ pointed out, when we teach them to design music for their videos, we can teach them fractions, math, rhythm, and style.

I believe our students already get lots of practice at doing worksheets, completing problems, writing analytical papers, and the like.

But do they often, at the high school level, get to practice gathering information into a story that can be shared?  Do they get the opportunity within the school community to learn  how to convey their ideas visually to others, whether in a well-delivered, well-designed slideshow, or a powerful digital film?

I can’t count how many times in the last week at TCEA that I have heard people say that it’s so hard to change because teachers and campuses are so focused on test scores, that they cannot make inroads in terms of teaching things differently.  

But I think every end has different means.  Sometimes we act as though there is one path to get there, and that path is drill and practice, or that path is only the path we have defined, as though there aren’t a myriad of ways to teach and learn something.   Are we sometimes using the “test” as a way to avoid changing our practices?  Or to avoid the problematic issues of allowing for student voice in our classrooms?

I believe students can become literate in a field in many ways, and that the more deeply involved with the content they are emotionally, the more it will resonate with them long after the class, and their deeper understanding will clearly show on any “measure” of their knowledge or abilities.

For example, Torres’ students who were studying health care, and made a film interviewing a family whose son had a brain tumor, probably know and understand that issues much more deeply than a student who reads an article about it.

His students who created a video on the power of voting, probably have much more of a sense of the power of the vote.    His students who interviewed Hispanic World War II veterans or Vietnam veterans for their films probably have a much more real understanding of what those experiences were like, rather than a student who reads a textbook about it.

Hall Davidson demonstrated in his TEC-Sig talk that we are all able to comprehend information visually very quickly, and in fact, even in a matter of seconds, since we are so attuned as a culture to visual media.

So, I think we have to let go of the fear of “the test scores” and believe.  Believe in our students’ abilities, believe in our own abilities as educators, and believe in our own judgment as to how to reach the literacies our students need. 

Part of that is believing in knowledge as something live and evolving.  We teach students knowledge sometimes as though it is set in stone, and we do the same thing with standardized tests and our curriculums—as though the knowledge they have defined is some fixed thing that will never change in our students’ lifetimes.

This student’s video, (“2+2=5“) points out the significance of questioning the status quo very effectively, in fact.

Are we teaching students just for tomorrow ‘s test, or are we teaching them for their lifetime?

We also have to have trust in our students.  That is a prerequisite to having students edit a wiki together or create a film.  Not blind trust–but trust built out of our classroom relationships with them.   Healthy relationships aren’t built on the fear of what someone “might say” or “might do.”  And our students do have much to say–how can we tap into that more significantly?

Marco Torres believes that the most significant thing we can do for a student is connect with their curiosity so they will ‘want to come back tomorrow, and next week, and the week after that.’

When we empower student voices, tap into their own communities, and believe they have something significant to say, it can make a tremendous difference for all of us.

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2 thoughts on “Seeing is believing, part two

  1. Yes, there are ways to seek student voice while actually following the curriculum at hand. We are told what to teach, but only given suggestions as to how to teach it. I think too many teachers take the “how” too literally. It’s easy and safe to share worksheets with other teachers. Some teachers may fear straying away from the path. In my short tenure in the education field, I have come to the conclusion that fearing change makes you stagnate. It’s hard for anyone to grow in a stagnate situation. Thanks for the post 🙂

  2. Thanks, Carolyn. Nice post. I think what is important is that we invite our legislators into the classroom to see what these kids can do with technology. They need to see there is more to educating than testing the crap out of kids. I share that with my legislators all the time.

    I will be inviting my senator and state rep into the classrooms in March during Texas history month. They need to see some great kids and teachers at work. We plan to do podcast interviews with them to document the trip. They will believe in what we do by the time they leave.

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