CamerasClassCoverTwenty-first century educator’s unprecedented challenge.

Certainly they know their students grow up in a visual, colorful world where often powerful images on I-pods, you tube, MySpace, DVDS, television and cell phones dominate their attention.  Educators also know they must increasingly infuse lessons with appropriate educational technology to garner the attention of this new generation of learners. But for the many who have grown weary of the plethora of instructional technology gimmicks, gadgets and gurus, where does one find a unique, exciting, successful approach?  In a powerful little book by Michael Schoonmaker, Cameras in the Classroom.

Of the many great messages Schoonmaker delivers one is an expanded meaning of media literacy. While there are many definitions extant, most suggest media literacy allows young people to become skilled technicians and analysts of media’s societal impacts.  But Schoonmaker creates a “wider playing field for media literacy” (76) arguing media literacy must also involve active participation. As the title implies Schoonmaker invites us to explore the wonderful ways we can engage students as media -makers.   Schoonmaker sets out his treatise with an important revision of prevailing thought on media literacy.  “Instead of teaching children the preferred, adult way to experience media [this] approach would be first to find out what media means to kids and how they make sense of it”  (28)  Not only does this create an exchange of views rather than imposing the adult view upon the student, it respects and acknowledges their perspectives.  Since many of them are consumptive connoisseurs of visual media, this is a logical starting point that allows media to fit into the “expressive desires of children and their school experiences…activating television literacy as a tool for lifelong learning, not unlike reading, writing and arithmetic.”  Indeed, Schoonmaker makes a highly persuasive case that we need to be making video in every classroom.

Although not a book of lesson plans, Schoonmaker provides significant and recurrent themes that can shape instruction, and all eleven chapters illuminate the magical power of video making in k-12 learning environments.  Schoonmaker explains the organization of his book at the onset and delivers wonderful insights and tested examples of every one of these tenets:

• Video-making, like other forms of media production, is very intuitive to children even at very young ages.
• Video-making inspires children to read.
• Video-making helps children better understand themselves.
• Video-making helps children better express themselves.
• Video-making helps children connect with each other and their surroundings and to better experience the value of education.
• Video-making stimulates learning and helps make subjects more relevant to children.
• Video-making levels the playing filed of learning.
• Video-making helps children widen their learning landscape by activating their in-built visual sense.
• Video-making helps channel a child’s imagination into the learning process.
• Video-making stimulates critical thinking.  (9)

And each chapter also offers:
• experiences from K-12 video making activities
• content from creative works of children and teachers
• discussions with teachers about the video-making in the context of their teaching environment
• explanation of video-making procedures and their connection to learning activities and objectives.
• Relevant literature from the field that connects to video-making experiences.

After an enjoyable and insightful read, even the tech-novice teachers will see that video cameras belong in every classroom.  Video-making, applied in Schoonmaker’s meaningful context, results in effective learning and drives students toward media literacy in its fullest sense.  Further Schoonmaker shows us we can do it, why we should do it and how to start.

In one of his final chapters, “Video making and Curricula“, Schoonmaker reminds us of the ancient but relevant message from Confucius:

I hear and I forget
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.

Video-making is a powerful form of doing.  And this ‘doing’ Schoonmaker reminds us has less to do with technology and more to do with content.’ (109)   All good teachers are guiding students in the understanding of content and video provides a playing field for exploration and application of multiple curricular activities.

Unquestionably Schoonmaker deftly articulates an exciting way to approach k-12 education.  Here the video-making is not an instructional add-on, an elective or just a cool thing to insert now and then.  No, it is an integral and imperative tool for every classroom.  In this  superb and timely book, Cameras In the Classroom Schoonmaker shows us how to  engage young people in a participatory form of literacy in which students “see and use video as a tool of  learning, rather than the subject of learning” (76)  Cameras In the Classroom is a must-read for every K-12 educator!