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Learning Library Blog Member Voices: Video poems bring a creative interdisciplinary approach to any lesson
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Member Voices: Video poems bring a creative interdisciplinary approach to any lesson

By Tim Needles
June 24, 2020
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How would you describe the first five minutes of your day in 10 words? This is one of the questions I ask my students as a way to inspire them to begin writing as part of a video poem project. After writing about a series of topics in different styles and sharing some of our favorites, each student chooses one to elevate with visuals, such as photos, film, handwriting, audio or any other creative tools at our disposal.  

Writing and art has always helped me process my own thoughts and feelings, and I’ve seen it help students in the same way. I find that students often get more in touch with their own emotions as a result of the process and are able to produce more cre­ative works as a result. 

The first-five-minutes prompt is one of many I use that focuses on exploring our feelings in a non-invasive way and articulating them in words, which we later use as a basis for a short poem. I’ve been teaching this STEAM project for over 20 years and it has evolved into a number of variations that cater to the students I’m working with, their skill levels and interests.  

That’s where my signature video poems lesson comes in. These poems are a great way to infuse a creative interdisciplinary element into what you’re teaching. And thanks to their versatility, they’re also great for distance learning. 

The flexibility of the medium is key in making it work in so many different situa­tions. The poetry can be a three-line haiku, a song (which is just poetry set to music), a short story or even a rhyming limerick. The visuals are just as adaptable because they can be drawings, photographs or film clips.

The video poem projects range from a simple four-frame video poem that uses four images with writing on them to a more ad­vanced animated or pixilation video poem, which is more collaborative and great for advanced students.

One example is the project I did in April to celebrate National Poetry Month where students worked together to write a poem in a shared Google Doc while they were home for distance learning. It was a great opportu­nity for students to work together when they weren’t seeing each other in person, and to explore gratitude in their writing, helping them focus on the positives that support social-emotional learning. In addition to writing the poem as a group, students each contributed visuals that were edited together for the final video poem.

As you can see, video poems are both interdisciplinary and differentiated, and cater to each student’s interests. 

As an added benefit, video poems help teachers connect with and understand their students better, providing insight into how each student comprehends learning and how they’re feeling. 

Self-expression and choice are core elements in creating a video poem, making it a terrific tool for promoting mindfulness in education. I’ve always seen poetry as the starter kit for writing because it’s an open form that allows a huge variety of expres­sion. That’s one of the reasons I’ve continued to teach it and adapt it to different learning situations for so many years. 

Video poems have also become a mainstay because they’re so versatile. I’ve successfully led versions of the project with students from elementary school to college, and I’ve integrated a variety of subjects using technologies from smartphone apps like iMotion, Over and iMovie to programs like Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro.
I chose to include the project in my ISTE book, STEAM Power, because I’ve seen firsthand how teachers can use video poem creation in any learning scenario, regardless of age or technology or even skill level. It’s a project you can adapt for a one-period class or for a full week of project-based learning.

When I was in school and teachers offered a creative variance on a project, I would suddenly come alive and jump at the opportunity. Creative projects inspired me to study each subject in more depth, and the knowledge I gained from these projects stayed with me until this day. Why? My theory is that in order to translate knowledge to a creative medium, you have to have a deep understanding of the topic.  

When students are synthesizing what they’re learning and writing about, it helps elevate the experience and that knowledge gets ingrained. What’s really great is that this is not just true for the students who create the video poems, but also for the students who view the poems, so the work becomes a shareable teaching tool in itself. A great example is the musical “Hamilton.” Anyone who has seen it is not likely to forget the actual history it’s based on. 

That’s the power of infusing art into learning.

Tim needles is an artist and educator whose work has been featured on NPR and in the New York Times as well as at the Columbus Museum of Art, the Norman Rockwell Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. He’s taught art and media for 20 years and is the recipient of the ISTE creativity award from the Art and Technology Professional Learning Network. Tim is also the author of the ISTE book, Steam Power: Infusing Art Into Your STEM Curriculum.

(Photo by Steve Smith)