Saturday, November 16, 2013

How To: Make a Video Newsletter

Soooooo remember that post a little while back where we said that we tried something new and the verdict was still out? Well, guess what?!? Our newsletters are a huge hit!!!
The parents have been loving them, the kids have been loving them, and we have been loving not writing the newsletter tomes that we ended up with last year (Lawd, could we write a loooooooong newsletter!). We've had some unintended bonuses as well, like parents sharing the videos with grandparents. Cool, right?!? And the best part is that we can provide a little window into the classroom so parents can get a feel for what every day classroom life is like ... the good, the bad, and the ugly :) (We say the ugly because we do not censor our videos ... A kid is crying in the background - oh well! Someone is staring off into space instead of participating - whatcha gonna do! We include whatever we catch on film. And now you're probably thinking ... those are two bad booty chicks ... and you'd be right :)

You can read all about us being bad booty chicks here: Special Columbia Edition of How To: The First Rule of Chart Club Is ...
While we are by no means experts in making videos, we'd like to share with you our process for churning out a video newsletter every other week so you can see how we make ours with minimum muss and fuss because really we ain't got time for that! KH loves her some checklists so we're going to share our checklist for creating a video newsletter, our storyboard (oh yeah, get ready, this post is just going to be sprinkled with terms from the industry - the movie industry - cuz we're in the know like that), and some tips we've gathered along the way.

We apologize that we cannot show you any more of our videos to help convince you to take the plunge, but alas they now star our students and we do not want to post pictures of our students on our blog. You're just going to have to take our word on how awesome they are and see where our knowledge + your creativity can take you.

Our Process
Download here
Our Storyboard

Download here
Here is an example of our storyboard from our last newsletter:
Math Workshop Video Newsletter Storyboard page 1
Math Workshop Video Newsletter Storyboard page 2
And since we're Share-y McShare-ysons, we'd like to share with you some tips we have for making video newsletters.

1. Make a plan first
     Know exactly what you want to include and be sure to capture that. You may get other footage by happenstance, but the last thing you want is to try to cobble together a coherent video from a bunch of random footage. It'll make your job much harder and more time consuming and frustrating and ... you get the point.

2. Focus on the curriculum and the learning
     We use our video newsletters to highlight what we're learning and what our life in the classroom looks like. We do not use our video newsletters for quick reminders of things like field trips or homework. We include bulleted reminders on the email when we send out the link to our video newsletter.

3. Tell a story
     Think about your video as a story - the story of the learning or the story of the content in the classroom. Let your video walk people through your topic in a way that's organized and coherent, in a way that builds upon the previous section, as if you are giving someone a tour. For example, in our most recent video about Math Workshop, we used choronlogy to tell our story. We walked the parents through each element of Math Workshop in the order that the children experience them. We told the story of Math Workshop.

4. Use the kids
     Our first video starred us - BORING! - but we didn't want to continue that way for many reasons, vanity being one :) Now the kids make up 98% of the video and they LOVE being part of the video and sharing about the classroom.

5. Have someone else shoot your footage
     For example, our last video newsletter was focused on sharing our Math Workshop. We have a different parent volunteer that floats every day during Math Workshop so we can focus on teaching. Each day we just gave the parent volunteer our camera and a post-it with some things we wanted to include in our video. By the end of the week, we had most of the footage we needed for our video and it didn't take any of our instructional time.
Post-it given to parent of footage to shoot
6. Find a predictable format and stick to it
     We have made a format for our videos and that helps us when we make our plan and when we go to put it all together. This is our format:

Title Slide - It always says "Our Class News" and the date
Introduction - We always introduce the video together and we always say: "This is our class news for ... (date)." Then we preface with the focus of the video.
1-2 Topics - We always choose 1-2 topics to focus our newsletter on.
Topic Slides - We use topic slides to separate the topics.
Closure - We always end with the credits

     We always use the same fonts, the same title and topic slides, the same formats to layer text over video, the same transitions, etc. This may seem boring but it makes for so many fewer decisions when it comes time to put the video together and it lends a continunity that makes the videos seem like part of a series instead of stand alone pieces.

7. Layer video, text, and audio
     You can deliver a lot of information in a short amount of time by layering. We often layer text on top of our video footage to give more information about what is being shown. We also use audio clips over photos or video we've muted in order to explain what's going on. Finally, when we have students introduce parts of our video, we will write their lines on whiteboards so that the viewer can hear them and also read what they are saying in case the audio does not come through as loudly as desired.

8. Get yo' self some B-roll
     That's right. We KH knows video terms. Tape some stock footage of your students during different parts of the day. It can serve as a resource to pull from when you're putting together your videos. A parent volunteer is a great person to get some B-roll footage for you.

9. Keep it short and sweet
     Try to capture as much as possible in as little time as possible. Use a critical editing eye when reviewing your video. Does it drag anywhere? Is anything redundant? Do you get the idea of something without needing all of the footage? For example, we often use footage of our students singing, but sometimes the whole song can feel long so we'll cut it down to just 1 verse and the chorus. Be a critical editor; you don't have to use everything you shot.

10. Don't spend too much time on it
     Don't obsess about it being perfect; you'll make yourself crazy. Just get the footage you need and move on. Surprisingly, some of the best feedback we've received is how much the parents enjoy that we leave in the mistakes. We're being authentic about what really happens in our classroom and that resonates with them. So take it from two perfectionists - don't try to make it perfect.

11. So there isn't actually an 11th tip. We just didn't want to have an odd number of tips .... so ... yeah ... we're weird ... anyway ...

12. Celebrate yourself and your class
     You're awesome and the work you do everyday is amazing. Brag about it! 

Finally, a technical note: We use a flip camera mostly to get our footage. We also use stills from a digital camera and sometimes film directly on our MacBook Pro. We upload all of our footage into iMovie and use it to make our videos. We export them direclty from iMovie into Quick Time. We found after trying to share our first video newsletter that the files were too large to email out to parents so we upload them using Google Docs and then change the share settings so anyone with a link can view the document even if they do not have their own Google account. Then we email out the link to all of our parents.

We hope this was helpful and maybe even a little inspiring. We would be happy to do a more technical blog about how we use iMovie to make the movie if there's interest. If anyone tries a video newsletter themselves, we'd love to see it or hear how it went!

From the limb,

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Levity from the Limb #3

Anybody feeling a little like this lately?

The other day KH was doing a Core Phonics asessment on a kiddo. When they were done, she asked the kid to get her the next person to be tested. It went a little something like this:

Ms. H: Excellent job, Student X. Could you please get me Ryan Reynolds? Thanks.

As the child happily went off, KH started thinking to herself, "Wait, did I just ask her to get me Ryan Reynolds?" As in ...

Yep, Ryan Reynolds. There's really nothing more to say after that except ...


That's the only thing that would have saved the day.

From the limb,

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Lessons from the Limb #9: Our Collaboration

People often ask us how our partnership works and why it works so well.  They see us collaborating and automatically assume it works because we are friends or because “we live at work.”  While it doesn’t hurt to wake up and work with a good friend, someone you admire, someone who inspires you to do more, someone who pushes you...contrary to popular belief, friendship has nothing to do with it.  We work because who chose to enter into this partnership together.  More importantly, our partnership works because we work hard to make it work.  Recently KM attended a meeting and was presented with an interesting visual about collaborative teaching which we feel sums up the inner layers of our collaborative relationship:
Image taken from Daniel Wilson's presentation in the Learning Environments for Tomorrow presentation at Harvard (April 2012).
So let's breakdown each of these four layers and by the end of this collaboration expose, the secrets of our inner workings will be unveiled for the masses.  So with out further ado:

Layer 1.  Communication.  At the base of any healthy relationship is open and honest communication.  One of the reasons why we work is that we are open with each other.  We give each other feedback, we share ideas and pedagogical knowledge, we challenge each other and we give each other compliments.  While compliments are always nice, we also don’t hesitate to challenge each other to make sure the decisions we are making are aligning with our collective goals.  It’s never personal because at the end of the day we believe in each other and trust and respect each other.  To make sure we are always checking in with each other, we have a before school check in where we go over any big things for the day and an after school check in where we reflect on the day and make preparations for the next day.  When there is a breakdown in communication, there will likely be a breakdown in collaboration.    Sometimes that happens.  We are not perfect.  Sometimes we fight.  Nothing makes the collaboration crunchier as when there is a chink in a partnership’s communication.   

Layer 2.  Coordination.  While we were used to being the queens of our own classrooms, it was an adjustment to figure out how to rule our joint court.  There were some tough times where we tried to assert our dominance over each other.  For a collaboration to be successful, you can’t have two queens fighting for one throne.  We have found the most success in recognizing and utilizing each of our strengths and then using them to build each other up.  

"All ways here are our ways," said the Queens of Hearts.
Layer 3.  Cooperation.  Once our communication was solid, we had to make sure we were speaking the same language.  Before we started down this road of collaboration, we sat down and aligned our vision and philosophies.  You could have exceptional communication and be the best of friends, but if you don’t stand for the same things then…well….you’re heading for a hot mess.   Seriously.  It’s just like living with a friend.  Good friends don’t necessarily make good roommates.  Good friends don’t necessarily make good teaching partners.   Collaborative relationships require more than friendship and a shared love of rubrics.  You both have to be committed to pursuing the same goals and vision.  We work because each day we bring our A-game and it’s not about who thought of what or who gets credit for what, its about supporting each other to realize our vision for our students and their families.

Layer 4.  Collaboration.  When all the C’s combine, you have Captain Collaboration (cue Captain Planet theme song).  At the heart of all the four C’s lies collaboration.  When there is open and honest communication, you are both committed to the same goals, and you both work together to rule your domain, you have true collaboration.  Collaboration isn’t just about being in the same room together; it’s more about how you work together.  It is about you and your partner bringing ideas to the table to discuss and together turning them into something better than what you each could have created alone.  Our collaboration works because we are constantly reflecting, planning, brainstorming, nit-picking, revising, and reshaping our new normal together one day at a time.

So the FLY AWAY here is that just like any relationship, you get out of it what you put in.  You don’t have to be friends to have a successful collaborative partnership.  For goodness sakes you don’t have to “live at school.”  You just both have to want to be there and commit to each other and your shared goals.  If you end up becoming friends as a result of the experience, well we ain’t mad at ya. 

From the limb,