The multimedia collage

Being able to read and write multiple forms of media and integrate them into a meaningful whole is the new hallmark of literacy.

At BISS we are a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) school, and although I know how challenging it is at times to make sure students use their personal gadgets in a way that supports their education, I am hoping to convince you that what we basically see as communication devices can turn very easily into places where students go to paint. Jason Ohler calls these devices Screasels: Screens that can easily become a new easel, a new place where students go to “make stuff”, not just to “consume stuff”. A lot of us grew up just looking at media as something that we consume, but media is now something that we make.

And the bottom line here is that literacy means consuming and producing the media forms of the day, whatever they are. And it’s been always like this!  If you have a kid that just reads but doesn’t write, would you consider that student literate? NO YOU WOULDN’T. You would consider that student half literate, since he/she can only do half of the literacy equation.

And we are absolutely at that point where students need to be able to write well whatever it is that they read. And it hasn’t been until a few years ago that we have those tools that are widely distributed, very cheap and easy to use that are allowing us to produce the same media that we all used to just consume!

Essay writing vs. the multimedia collage

Essay writing was the baseline literacy that I grew up with. That is when my teacher said: “Ok…your assignment is to write a 1000 words essay, and it needs to look like this”:










And this is the new baseline literacy. Look at all the different literacies that it implies: organization, color, text, navigation, sound.









Font: Ms. O’Dwyer’s Fantastic Fours

And I am not saying that essays are not important anymore. The essay is still very important, but it is just not the only option on the palette anymore, and as a teacher, I really want to make sure that my students are able to express themselves in ways that truly make sense in this day and age.

Value writing more than ever

Last year our Grade 5 students embarked in a multimedia project as part of their PYP Final Exhibition. The theme for the Grade 5 exhibition was “Conflict Resolution” and students had to create a digital cartoon to explore local conflicts at school and possible resolutions. Their audience once the cartoons were ready, would be our Lower Elementary students. Gradeb5s had to create a Story Arc made up of 5 types of scenes: Setup; Conflict; Challenge; Climax; and Resolution, and each scene needed to represent an independent event in the story. They also had to define and illustrate their cast of characters, design the backgrounds choose the audio to add emotion to the scene and write the script.

During our first session I told my students: hey guys, don’t worry…I’m not going to make you write for this project… you will have to do something more fun you will create “A MOVIE SCRIPT”. And then they wrote…and wrote…and wrote….and they loved it!

By the end of the project I came to the conclusion that reluctance to write is not a cognitive issue, because if it was a cognitive issue they wouldn’t have been able to write under any circumstance. This is clearly an inspirational issue.

And now we are writing for media. George Clooney was once asked: “what makes a great movie?” His answer was: “I have no idea, but I’ll tell you something, you can make a really bad movie out of a good script, but you really can’t make a good movie out of a bad script – it all starts with the screenplay.”

                      Grade 5 Cartoons on Conflict resolution

Art as a foundational literacy

This is absolutely upon us! We need to adopt ART as a foundational literacy. And with ART I mean the command of the visual language. In the past we have perceive art in terms of expressing our feelings and getting in touch with ourselves. But now, we are living in a very dynamic and aesthetic age. To be literate in this day and age, we all need to be creative and be an artist at some level. And we are ignoring this at our own peril in terms of our potential for financial success!

How soon do we start?

At BISS we are currently embedding into our Elementary School curriculum activities and projects that help students build their command of the visual language as soon as in Pre-K.

During March 2012, a dedicated team of teachers and Pre-K students undertook a digital storytelling project based on one of the Pre-K’s favorite books “Brown Bear”.

The focus of the Unit of Inquiry where this project fit in was on feelings, and the goals for the students included learning simple vocabulary and sentence structures while getting familiar with the digital landscape and its possibilities. Since at this level it is so important to emphasize on modeling and repetition, an adapted version of the “Brown Bear” book gave us a perfect framework. In this case, all characters in the original book were replaced by our students, and instead of focusing on colors we targeted a set a common feelings (anger, sadness, happiness, etc)

During Ms. Aurora’s Art class, students created a big book made of student’s original artwork using cardboard sheets, colored papers and crayon.

With Ms. Jenny’s and Mrs. Hawk’s help (our wonderful Pre-K teachers) students planned, created and performed in front of a video camera their original story using a wall painted in green as a background, which allowed for “chroma key green screen editing”. At the post production level, Grade 6 students scanned copies of the Pre-K big Book which were “slid behind” their video recorded performances using chroma editing on iMovie. A truly collaborative project!

                                                          Pre-K, Who Do You See project

We have actually found out that in many cases, through the development of projects that involve multimedia in the early years, reluctant speakers have significantly improve their communication skills.

            Ms. Jenny’s Pre-K Students performing “Silly Sammy”


Students can learn a lot about persuasive language, filming techniques and digital editing while sending a message to their peers.

As a part of the PYP Exhibition, a group of Grade 5 students sent a very strong message to our School Community on how to stay healthy at School by creating a Music Video.

                                                             Grade 5’s “Wash Your hands”

In the example bellow, a dramatic documentary presented to Beijing FLUX Film Festival, where Grade 5 students at BISS combined dramatic techniques with documentary elements to depict a story about bullying.

                                                                               A Bullying Story


At BISS, Ms. O’Dwyer’s Grade 4 students created this environmental message, they were inspired by Joni Mitchell’s original classic “Big Yellow Taxi”.

                                             Grade 4’s “Big Green World” 

In this video, our Grade 4 students took the role of Scientists explaining natural disasters. Students developed core skills such as script writing, storyboarding, and oral communication.

        BISScientists Explain the Earth

Green screen, voice over narration, student made documentaries, e-book creation are just some of the many different media techniques to use, and you don’t really need a budget these days. Which strategies do you use to create multimedia lessons that help engage students and keep them interested in the content?

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