Creative Professional Development turns into Collaborative Life-long Learning, Innovative Curriculum, and a Regional Annual Film Festival
This summer I played, and I learned simultaneously. I had the opportunity to attend the Writing with Video: Rural Voices Summer Institute with Dr. Sunshine Sullivan, associate professor of education at Houghton College, and Dr. David Bruce, associate professor of learning and instruction at the State University of New York at Buffalo (University at Buffalo) Graduate School of Education. Under the guidance of Tim Clarke, Senior Program Manager for Professional Development at Cattaraugus Allegany BOCES, this summer institute was presented to area teachers throughout Cattaraugus and Allegany counties for two consecutive summer sessions.
During the week-long institute, I worked alongside many other English teachers including Lacey Gardner (Whitesville), Michelle Grillo (Cuba-Rushford), Brendan Heaney (Fillmore), Michelle McGraw (Cuba-Rushford), Micah Rust (Fillmore), Suzan Snyder (Allegany-Limestone), Stephen Sorensen (Olean), Louis Ventura (Olean), and Sally Ventura (Olean). We collaborated, learned to use digital media on the fly with guidance from Dr. David Bruce and Dr. Sunshine Sullivan, and then created our own projects including narrative sequences, “Me in Six Words/Images,” video vocab, multi-genre e-publications, and “This I Believe” digital essays. These projects became model projects for our students when we incorporated similar projects into our curriculum. These models would help students use media alongside written reflections and heuristics to present their understanding of content and concepts.
The whole week was one of the most rewarding, challenging, and engaging professional development opportunities that I’ve been fortunate enough to attend – and it was difficult work. As Sally Ventura, a teacher at Olean High School said, "Rural Voices has been such an energizing experience! It has been as fun as it has been challenging. It has been a pleasure working with smart, creative colleagues in the area.”
The days at the institutes were packed and I was always surprised that it was time to go home. The amazing thing was that I didn’t stop learning and thinking when I walked out the door. Instead, I continued ruminating on the drive home. I tinkered with ideas at home. I filmed at home. I reworked difficult pieces. I researched. The entire week, from the moment that I woke up until I went to sleep, was spent planning, collaborating, developing, creating, and reflecting – exactly the kind of experience I want for my students. As Brendan Heaney said, “The work being done at the Institute is revolutionary. Teachers will learn how to truly incorporate technology in a way that enhances student literacy and composition skills. If you buy into this and utilize it in the classroom you will see student engagement go through the roof. You will also see some of the best quality work you’ve ever seen from students.”
Out of this experience, a project was born. Brendan Heaney worked tirelessly to help organize the First Annual Southern Tier Film Festival, an event where students from five districts competed for a prize for the best film. All the teachers involved in Rural Visions collaborated to help plan, develop, and contribute to this amazing event. The film festival was advertised regionally through social media, local newspapers, and radio stations.
On the night of the event, parents came to see their children’s work and creativity. Teachers attended to see their student’s efforts. Administrators attended to see the work of their teachers and their students and to have an opportunity to relax and enjoy some great film. It was truly a community event where students showcased their videography skills, thoughtfulness, and ingenuity to a real audience and competed for a chance to bring their school home a traveling trophy.
The film festival showcased thirty student films over the course of three hours with breaks and refreshments offered between each of the hour sessions. The audience voted for their favorite films with one final vote at the end to determine the school winner.
Out of this amazing grass-roots effort, came a multitude of class projects which culminated in an annual film festival. This year’s Southern Tier Annual Film Festival will be held tentatively at Cuba-Rushford toward the end of the school year.
Many of the teachers involved in the summer institute went on to present their learning experience using digital video in their own classrooms at the New York State English Council ( NYSEC) Annual Conference in Albany, NY held in October this year. Projects ranged from research thesis statements to video poems, documentaries, film class projects, and six-word memoirs. Dr. Sullivan remarked, “It was a privilege seeing our teachers present what they are doing in their classrooms as a result of our summer institutes and how well received it was by their audience at NYSEC. Our teachers are becoming teacher leaders in the field in writing with video. We are also looking forward to seeing our teachers attending and presenting at NCTE in St. Louis later this month.”
If you have an interest in entering student work in this year’s Southern Tier Annual Film Festival or attending the festival in preparation for next year, please look out for upcoming announcements at your school district or contact Christina McGee at email@example.com or (716) 376-8281.
If you would like to learn more about the Writing with Video: Rural Voices Summer Institute, please contact Tim Clarke at 716-376-8321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By: Christina McGee, CA BOCES Learning Resources