Chaos descends on the room when we realize what time it is. Four students are still steadfastly editing videos, headphones on. Two producers sit behind them watching every click while another one assembles the TV show on the main edit bay, adding graphics and final touches to another episode of MHS1, McKinney High School’s student-produced news broadcast. When one of the students gets done with his project, one of the producers sits down with him to go over a few changes. They don’t care how late it is, they’re going to get this right. Their audience is depending on them.
And my students are depending on me to facilitate this newsroom atmosphere week after week. As teacher and adviser for their audio and video production class, I create a real-world production environment where students create a meaningful product and develop independent thinking and problem-solving skills.
A meaningful product
Students in my class will always produce work that has value. Yes, they will master the TEKS. But more importantly, students in my class will be able to apply their learning to future situations. They know why they need to know these skills. Why students are learning can be much more meaningful than what they are learning.
The entire student body, faculty and much of the McKinney community sees my students’ work on the TV show and website. I remind them every day of the impact their work can have on the people at their school. They can do a story on the state legislature and inform their audience. They can interview Will Smith about his new movie and entertain their viewers (that really happened). They can do a story on bullying and improve life for someone at school. But no matter what they choose to do, every student and teacher will see it, which means they must work as a team and not let each other down.
Each class has a hierarchy. I appoint “producers” to create a vision for each TV show and lead the staff (the rest of the class) to make that vision a reality. They, in turn, appoint a number of other positions for other staff members – sports editors, script supervisors, directors, anchors and reporters – who all take part in telling the story of the school with video and making sure each school news event and aspect of student life gets covered throughout the course of the year.
Staff members with questions should first consult the editor, staff leader or producer in charge of their section. If they can’t find answers with their peers, they look it up. If they get stuck, I don’t do it for them. My purpose is to encourage students to dream big as they work on their projects and make sure they have all the equipment and materials they need to make their dreams a reality.
I try to keep the environment much like a real newsroom or TV studio. This student-driven leadership system keeps students in charge of their own learning. They make the decisions and I advise them. If their work is weak, I encourage them to push harder. And when students take pride and ownership in the work they’re doing at school, the learning becomes much more meaningful to them.
A memorable experience
I provide as many opportunities for feedback or competition as possible, entering them in contests from UIL to the National Scholastic Press Association. A professional critique allows students not only to assess their own work, but also to see where they need to improve.
I want my students to produce the best work in the state and country and that means traveling to conventions. I’ve taken students on their first airplanes and together we’ve learned the quickest ways to get through airport security. Traveling with my students provides real life skills in addition to memorable experiences as they grow into young storytellers.
The future of learning
As product and challenge-based learning becomes more prevalent in schools, I’ve come to realize that this is the type of learning I’ve believed in all along. I set high expectations for my students and I expect them to work until that expectation is met. Not every student has the same set of expectations and they may not reach them in the same way, but they will get there somehow.
When students leave my classroom, I hope that the experience has given them lasting memories. I hope they become professional communicators and thoughtful writers. I hope they leave with some idea of what they’d like to do as a career. But more than anything I hope they become lifelong independent thinkers and problems solvers, no matter how late they have to stay up to do it.