Preventing Idle Students

HarrisSome students finish video assignments sooner than others.  Idle teenagers are not a good idea especially if there are other students who are still working in the room at the same time. 

How do you keep everyone busy?

As I’ve said many times when asked questions of this nature, there must be dozens of answers that are all correct.  My way worked for me and I share it here in hopes that it might give someone else an idea.

First of all, we all know that some level of pre-production planning needs to be done before shooting begins.  That planning, depending on the type of program, might result in a list of possible interview questions, an outline script, a format script or even a full word-for-word script.  In my class, no one could check out any equipment to start production without having the pre-pro product being approved by me first.  This requirement alone insured that my students would trickle out of the starting gate and into production at different times.  This helped out because invariably the early birds would often have finished shooting and were editing when the later birds just started shooting.  This meant that the equipment booking was less stressful when 25 students didn’t all want one of the 9 cameras at the same time!

I rarely ever had all my students doing the same project at the same time.  There were a variety of projects the students had to complete over the course of the year.  Each student in the class was responsible for directing/producing 2 PSAs, one interview, one documentary, one feature package, and they could choose two from the following list:  music video, drama, game show, lecture/demonstration (usually a cooking show), comedic/variety acts show.  That was the minimum.  For extra credit they could do more projects of any type except PSAs.  The students were given generic instructions on how to go about doing all these shows before I turned the class loose to produce.

As an example, Mary is directing her required interview.  As such, she is responsible for securing the services of whatever student crew members she decides to use and, of course, the student interviewer and the person being interviewed.  If I have 25 students that means over the course of the year I have a minimum of 25 interviews which will be produced.  (Next month I’ll talk about how the director staffed the production.)

I explained that other than the PSAs which had to be done first, it didn’t matter to me what particular order that the student produced the other shows.  A certain number had to be completed and approved by me by a particular date near the end of each grading period.  The deadline was usually a week before the end of the quarter so I could view them and offer comments which the students could take back and correct issues and resubmit for final approval in time to turn in the grades.  Any programs not completed and approved would not receive any credit at all (zero) for that grading period.  If three programs were the requirement for that quarter, missing one would automatically reduce the student’s maximum grade for the quarter to a 66%.  If it was turned in the next grading period and approved, it would receive credit then.  But the grade credit would appear on that quarter it would not retroactively change the grade from the previous quarter.

Since I allowed students to all do different shows, I grew tired of having a 10 minute conversation giving individual tips to John on how to go about doing a documentary only to have him leave and then Amy would come up to me to ask the exact same question.  Once the pre-pro product was approved, I could give them a web site which had specific tips on production for that type of program.  Setting up the web location wasn’t difficult.  My school system used Blackboard which was a platform all students could access and teachers could use to provide info for students in text form.   Therefore, I dedicated a page or two to each type of production which had all the information I’d give a student individually on his particular type of production.  He accessed it on his own time and if he had further questions he could come to me.  Doing this freed me up tremendously to help individual students with very specific issues rather than mindlessly repeating the same thing over and over and over to individual students or worse still to the entire class.  Mary is doing a feature package story why waste 20 minutes of her time making her listen to a lecture on how to do a drama?  I wanted to individualize the instruction as much as possible and this was the way I came up with to do it.

Although the PSAs were the first programs the students were allowed to do, they would finish them at varying times since some would take longer than others to produce.  At that point they would launch right into their next production with a totally new crew.  The class was in a controlled state of chaos 90% of the time because when John was not working on directing his own show he was most likely crewing for any of the other 24 students in the class who were doing something on their shows  that day.  This system kept everyone busy all the time.  There was always something for everyone to do.

I found that setting up this system had many extra benefits besides keeping everyone busy - most importantly it naturally caused everyone to learn more by doing more.  They learned to work as a team and to scratch each other’s backs “I’ll crew for you if you’ll crew for me.”  Their efficiency kicked up many notches as they saw every day a countdown calendar on the wall of the classroom which indicated how many days were left before deadline day.

Does this mean that I never had a student who loafed?  Ha!  We always seem to have one or two of them.  One thing which always needed to be done was cleanup duty (not janitorial things but coiling cables, picking up things and putting them where they belonged, cataloging discs, etc.)– refusal to do that when asked was insubordination and grounds for suspension.  Another option was the assigned written paper – I hated doing that because it just makes writing a punishment.