Academic journal article English Journal

"Standing at the Crossroads": Content Creation in the 21st-Century English Classroom

Academic journal article English Journal

"Standing at the Crossroads": Content Creation in the 21st-Century English Classroom

Article excerpt

Ok, let me be frank with you. The future scares me. I hate choices especially the ones that can change my whole life dramatically. I'm stuck in one of these choices right now. (Center shot of me standing at the tip of . . . a fork in the road.)

. . . One path (move camera to the left) is the road that keeps me here with my friends, my family, my life. The other (move camera to the right) is the path away from everything I hold dear. . . . Seriously guys if you have any answers now is the time to say them. . . . I guess not. This is my choice and only I can make the decision and this decision will ultimately change my life.

-Mark Prince, "Two Paths One Destiny"

It's a Tuesday morning in early May, and Mark Prince, a senior in Joel Malley's twelfth-grade English course, is reading the rough draft of a narrative he composed the night before to his classmates. Joel challenged his students to create a meaningful final video that would serve as an appropriate culmination of their yearlong work in his digital video (DV) composing English class. "Make a movie about something you must make a movie about," the assignment handout read. Mark was enthused and focused. The topic of his project was finally clear. Mark had fallen in love. There was a problem, though. He enlisted in the Army and was headed to training camp. How could he leave his new love behind? For Mark, the Army represented an opportunity at long-term financial stability. Withdrawing from his enlistment to be with his new love could mean sacrificing his future. Mark had a decision to make, one he was eager to explore in the final video for Joel's English 12 course.

After Mark finished reading his draft, Joel facilitated a lively conversation about the piece. During this conversation, one student commented that Mark's piece had a "dramatic feel to it" and that they could start "feeling what he is saying." Another student added that the plans for the video footage Mark included in his narrative seemed so "metaphoric," that she could "picture them," and begin to "think about everything he was saying." Joel followed the conversation from his perch atop a small bookcase.

When the conversation died down, Joel asked Mark how he planned on turning the narrative into a five-minute film. "You've got these overarching ideas, right? You've got this . . . question you are trying to figure out, and it's awesome and I love the way you put that and I agree with what everybody else is saying. . . . How do you develop this choice? How do you make it . . . more concrete?" Jen, agreeing with her teacher, added, "You are just like ending it-it seems like a trailer to something dramatic. . . . It's just like . . . it kind of just like ends. . . . I feel like I'm being left." The energetic discussion continued for several minutes as students and their teacher debated just how Mark could spin this narrative into a five-minute DV. During this conversation, like so many others I witnessed that year, students talked as storytellers, working together to create meaningful content in their English class.

Digital Video Composing in English Classrooms

Having taught high school English for ten years before becoming an English teacher educator, I am interested in how DV engages students in meaningful classroom work that supports the development of 21st-century critical literacy skills while encouraging student participation in the world around them. In this article, I draw from my yearlong study of a technology-rich twelfth-grade English classroom designed as a DV workshop at a diverse first-ring suburban school located in upstate New York. Throughout the year, students engaged in the writing process, developing narratives that served as the foundation for their digital videos. Here I focus on one student's work as he used the tools afforded him in this class to compose a DV that addressed an important choice he was faced with.

Considerable research on DV composing (Bruce 426; Hull and Katz 43; Miller 386) has pointed to its potential as a "literacy/learning supertool" (Miller and Borowicz 87). …

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