Social Justice in 7th Grade ELA: Part 3 - Student PSA Passion Projects

Social Justice in 7th grade ELA: Part 3

Since the last time I wrote on this subject, students have finished their PSAs on their selected social justice topics. As I mentioned in the last post, students created their own rubric for a high-quality PSA after watching prime examples from YouTube. They then storyboarded those examples to see what all would need to be included when mapping out scenes. By doing this, they were able to see what they would need to do when planning their own storyboards. Students then spent several days creating their own storyboards.

After they had created rough drafts to their storyboards, students then went through several phases of peer review. First, they did a “speed-dating” session in which they were given 3 minutes to explain their initial thoughts in regards to their storyboard to a partner, then they would listen to the feedback provided from their classmates. After 3 minutes the student and their partner would swap roles. After that, 6-minute time frame, students on one side of the “speed-dating” line would move down a seat giving each student a new partner, new feedback, and new ideas for their project.

After this feedback session, students began to refine their ideas taking into consideration the feedback from their classmates all the while paying strict attention to the details that would construct their storyboard. These details included the dialogue between actors, camera angles, lighting, props, costumes, music, mood, and location just to name a few. The planning involved took much creativity, writing skills, and forethought.

Then came time to shoot their footage. This process took about a week to complete between all three classes; however, the storyboard planning proved effective as almost all students had a game plan to complete their shots in an efficient fashion. Most of the footage was taken in class here at school, while some selected to checkout cameras to complete the acquisition of their footage.

When editing, students used WeVideo to finalize their project, licenses which Ms. Fry secured for all of our 7th-grade students. After aligning their videos the way they wanted, we had another session in which students offered feedback to their classmates on the rough compilation of their videos. Students were able to address concerns about the artistic and creative aspects of their videos as well as stress the importance of delivering on their intended message.

The last phase of editing involved myself and Ms. Fry reviewing the videos together with each student. This was meant to ensure the quality of each student’s project, help with technical and artistic issues that had arisen, as well as stress the importance of working to create something they would not only be proud of but would serve the cause in which they were so passionately devoted.

After finishing their final product, students turned their assignments in on Google Classroom, but we did not stop there. We decided to have a 7th grade UJH night to show off our student work. Parents and community members were invited to view the PSAs here at the school with the students. We reserved nine different classrooms and ran 5 videos per classroom on a loop. Our guest could move about the building from class to class and watch the powerful messages constructed by our students. It was a powerful and well attended night.

Next year, these same PSAs will serve a purpose for our sports broadcasting crew as well. PSA’s will be used for timeouts, half-times, pre-game, and post-game commercials in which our student projects will be embedded into the broadcast experience of our viewers.

It is important to take a step back to look at this project through the lens of student success. Not only were student allowed to be creative in addressing an issue with which they felt they could make an impact, but the entire process also enriched the skills and knowledge of our students. The students that engaged in these projects were part of an authentic learning experience. The project by its very nature was student led and student driven. Students were completely invested in the project from beginning to end.

The coach’s take:
  • Student Ownership: Students had ownership of their own reading levels by tracking their progress through STAR data. This process allowed for students to be completely invested in their own learning.
  • Data Driven: Moreover, students were determined to improve their scores and would ask in study hall if they could continue to read in order to improve their skills. They knew this was the only way to move on to a more advanced book or to get a chance to read a book they were interested in.
  • Engagement: The social justice books were engaging to the students, and allowed them to leave the class having more questions than when they arrived. It also made them take a look at the world outside of rural Illinois. This in and of itself engaged students in the learning process.
  • Interdisciplinary discussion: The books allowed for interdisciplinary discussion for historical perspective. There were many times where Ms. Fry called on my own expertise in historical content to give students the chance to ask questions and for us to have a discussion about the books in small groups. This helped put their books in context and allow for empathy to drive their understanding. Learning empathy in middle school is a prime factor that will determine student success in the classroom.
  • Levelized Reading: As I have mentioned before, this process was multi-layered. The use of the STAR data proved critical for the success of the project. Students were broken into groups of 4 or 5 based on their reading levels. Each group was given a choice of book based on their groups reading level. While each group had different books, the umbrella topic of social justice remained the same for each group. Therefore, such conversations bridged the divide between each group and through each book cycle, students were able to draw on previous knowledge to gain a greater understanding as they progressed through their books.
  • Small Group Discussion: During the timeframe where students were exploring their social justice books, we would engage in small book club meetings with the students where again they were in control of the conversations. They led the discussions as to what they read. They asked questions when they were not understanding. They also made connections to larger social justice issues. Ms. Fry and I were only there to serve as facilitators and to keep the conversations on track. As we met with this small group, each group also had their own projects to complete ranging from developing music playlists in which the lyrics best represented their topics to forming their own book trailer videos that would prepare them for their final PSAs.
  • Authenticity: Students were engaged in authentic learning appropriate for their reading level. Students were self-driven to increase their skills to move on to the next book. At the beginning of the rollout of their culminating PSA project, students were asked the following question prior to understanding the scope of the upcoming project: what bothers you about the world you live in today? Their journal responses helped them shed light on what they were really passionate about, and gave themselves an authentic perspective on why such an issue needed to be brought to light for their peers and their community. Not only was the project authentic in that it was a real-world endeavor to make their own world a better place, but their audience was authentic as well. Students published their videos for community members, posted their videos to their personal blogs, and their videos will be shared at athletic events for the 2019-2020 season.
  • Teacher Passion: Finally, it was evident to the students Ms. Fry’s passion for social justice. Not only did they develop their own passion for their own cause, but they could also see how important this process was to Ms. Fry and how much of herself she had invested in it. At the end of the project, the 7th-grade students awarded her with a 3-D Printed trophy honoring her with the title “most inspirational teacher.” The effect this project had on students’ skills was measurable in the success of her students this year when testing. The life-long effect it had on students understanding of their world I think may very well be immeasurable.