Participatory Video – The Digital Dogme Classroom #2

On with the second in the series and again featuring another project idea that came straight out of the visual research methods : Participatory Video. The philosophy behind it is very similar to Photovoice which we discussed in my previous post, being to gain insider perspectives on people’s lives by putting cameras, this time video cameras, in the hands of the research participants and facilitating the crafting of short films that address the concerns and issues raised by the making of such films. As with Photovoice, the ultimate goal of Participatory Video is not only to raise awareness of concerns and issues that affect the participants but also to address needs for social change. Now you might be thinking that this is all starting to sound a bit heavy, I mean it’s only ELT after all. But learning is a process of social change, it’s a transformative process that changes the lives of individuals and their opportunities and access to act on the world – no less so with langauge learning than with any other form of learning.

Video technologies are evermore ubiquitous with mobile phones for instance but also in the ease of sharing video through media such as You Tube and assisted by the increasing range of apps available. So plenty of opportunities then to maximise the use of video in and outside the classroom and make use of it for language work in one form or another. Below I outline one project that I worked on with a group of learners last year during my stay in Valencia, Spain. I’ve talked about this before on my blog, so apologies if you’ve seen this one before, but in this post I’m going to expand on the ideas illustrated here and make some suggestions for other possible projects involving making and sharing video clips.

In Valencia there is a very famous festival known as The Fallas, which takes place in the city and region every March. Of course the Spanish are famous for their fiestas, for instance the Bull run in Pamplona. Another famous fiesta is the Tomatina, only kilometres away from Valencia and well-known for its extravagance in tomatoes matched only by the Fallas for its love of explosives. Everyday during the height of the Fallas season there is the Mascletá – a 5-minute or so, televised crescendo of explosions initiated by Señor pirotecnico

The Fallas runs deep through the local culture and as a non-Valenciano you really are an outsider, that’s the way I felt anyway. I was curious about the festival and tried to learn as much about it as I could, and of course the best people to ask about it were my students. So in class we started a series of projects from writing essays on the topic, to sharing photos, sharing Fallas food, giving presentations and making video clips. I was the learner and the students were my teachers.

One student, Susana, had just purchased a new compact digital camera and was keen to use it. She said she could make some films of the festival. We discussed some of the things she could shoot and arranged to meet a couple of weeks later to have a look at the footage and create some short films where she would have the opportunity to script and voice-over. To edit the films we used Windows Moviemaker which often comes already installed on your computer and if not is a free-download off the Internet. It’s really easy to use and there are plenty of video tutorials around. Susana made four films – the ‘Fallas Voices’.

I could sense that Susana was proud of her achievements and she said to me

‘well it’s using real English, isn’t it?’.

that summed it up nicely.

By the way at the time we made these films I was inspired by this video by Polish and Latvian ESOL learners living in Scotland - Thanks to Gordon Wells for this.

The reason I’m writing this post now is that only a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of working on another Participatory Video project. This time involving a group of teachers over in the UK from Saxony-Anhalt in Germany. In this film the teachers were set the task of talking about their English langauge programme and what they liked about it. So they did all the planning in the classroom and then shot the clips in a make-shift studio we put together in the cupboard next to the classroom. I handed over the camera, and let them get on with it. Last week I had the task of stitching together their work. This process, turned out to be remarkably easy given the great job they had done.

This video work brings to mind a whole range of possible projects. Here are a few:

  • school trips
  • graded reader projects
  • school events like a play or exhibition
  • local festivals like the Fallas
  • interviewing classmates on a chosen topic
  • interviewing members of staff
  • issues e.g. crime prevention
  • interviewing relatives, friends (translating as voiceovers into English)
  • personal narratives

Let me know what you think :)

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