Movie Trailers–Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision

Cut the flowery stuff!!!

As a IB History teacher I try my best to impart to my grade 11 and grade 12 students that while working in the discipline of history they can cut the flowery stuff in their writing. Part of my students task is to take the most important information and to synthesize it down to the most important information so as to. to create strong critical commentary. For some reason students come to me at the start of 11th grade with the idea that being concise equals less knowledge and that the more they write the “better” their understanding in.

To help myself understand how to support my students’ work on the conciseness of communicating their ideas I turned to the 16 Habits of Mind, specifically the 9th habit of mind, Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision. This habit of mind urges students to “Strive to be clear when speaking and writing; Strive be accurate to when speaking and writing; Avoid generalizations, distortions, minimizations and deletions when speaking, and writing”. This is a much more articulate way of me saying, “Cut the flowery stuff!!!”

I have found providing student feedback on the need to be more concise and precise with thinking and writing is not enough. Yes students understand that they needed to be precise and concise but they still have a hard time putting that knowledge into application. I realized the process of preciseness needed to become visible and real to them. But in order for it to become real for them I would need to facilitate an opportunity for them to be precise. This opportunity came in the form of a movie trailer.

Using the iMovie trailer function on an Apple computer, students were challenged to take on very large subject — American military involvement in a WWII battle — and condense the most important aspects and outcomes of the battle into a one minute and thirty second trailer. This time limit of the movie trailer would force students to be precise in their information so as to present an informational, yet concise, product. What is even better, beyond the time limit is that there is limited text that appears in a trailer for a limited time. With limited time that text is shown, the words that students choose had to be specific, precise, and meaningful so as to communicate the message accurately but not flowery. It was this constraint that challenged students the most. The movie trailer forced students to be concise and precise, they had no way around it. If they were too long winded with their text then the text and information would become unreadable and thus make their trailer ineffective at communicating the information.

When student were first introduced to this task they viewed it as easy. Drag some photos in and batta boom — they would have a polished finished product.  However, as their work progressed and I checked in with them, I found that the biggest struggle they were having was being precise and concise in the textual information that they were including. To be honest, I celebrated that this was the problem that they were having. It allowed me to work with students on an individual basis and coach them through how they could effectively communicate in a concise manner. The constraints that the movie trailer template gave students only allowed them limited time and space to communicate their information which also forced my instruction to them to be precise and concise as I also had to work within the limits of the program. Through a process and lots of me asking students, “Is this information vital?”, students began to see and feel what it means to be precise and concise in providing evidence and analysis.

In reflecting on how I could improve this in the future there there is one thing that sticks out to me. I would make it explicitly clear to students that they should be using the text of the trailer to get across a point, supply evidence, and all give some brief analysis or recognition of the significance of the event. By giving this explicit instruction I would hope to push student s in the clarity communication in relation to the topic. I had some students use their limited text to include things such as coming this summer, an event like no other. While a statement like this could be appropriate for a trailer it did not support their understanding of the content.

Overall I am happy with the creation of a movie trailer as a tool to work on synthesizing and analyzing information in a succinct, efficient manner and will for sure use it again in the future.

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