Chalk Talk with Tom Fanning: Student essays, slides and photos in video? Meet Screencastify

  • TOM FANNING

For the Gazette
Published: 9/16/2021 1:38:46 PM

Students and teachers can easily create video essays in their Google Chrome accounts using the extension called “Screencastify.”

Screencastify can open up new avenues of creative writing with visual media tools. Student work done in Drive, Documents, Slides, Sheets, Photos and Sites can be presented by them in video format.

Once they become comfortable with using Screencastify, then the focus turns to video composition and script writing. This tool can be applied to projects including book reports and research in history, math and science.

In mathematics, combining Screencastify with Google Sheets can add a new component to solving word problems. Teachers can expect students to provide an explanation of the problem or situation, then deliver their proposal for the solution. All done in the students’ own voice.

Why should teachers invest valuable time in learning Screencastify and implementing it as a frequent classroom practice? Answer: Because it puts the student in the driver’s seat!

When I joined my local middle school at the turn of the millennium, our principal had overseen the transition from the junior high model. She was a creative and capable leader who followed the “Turning Points” model for whole school design. This approach was based upon research from the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development. One major component of the Turning Points model was student-run exhibitions.

At least once a year our seventh and eighth graders had to create a performance and present it publicly. That presentation had to be based upon original research done by the student. During the decade that we embraced student exhibitions, we saw a startling phenomenon: Students who did not shine in traditional classroom settings performed skillfully. In fact, they exhibited dynamic presentation skills that were hidden because traditional classroom structures didn’t ask for them.

Those days have disappeared back into traditional pedagogies. But screencast videos provide a simpler, less time intensive path back to student-centered performances. Once students have completed a research project, they can exhibit what they have learned via video presentations.

To increase the value of these presentations, teachers can evaluate student work and give feedback for each video screencast over the length of the school year or marking term. If these assessments are done in succession, teachers have a series of data points to record growth.

This process is complex and is best done when teachers work in teams, be they grade level, cross grade level, or intra- or interdisciplinary. Teamwork spreads the load and creates a working environment that can be the foundation of other academic projects.

Obviously, this means a longer development stage before video essays become a normal, everyday assignment. But the payoffs will be expanded student literacy: writing and speaking with digital media.

But for now, just go ahead and create your video. For instructions on how to add Screencastify and use it, visit sites.google.com/view/tom-fanning/home.

On that site, check out the sample screencasts about walking on the Norwottuck Rail Trail, and a math model in Google Sheets.

Additionally, students could put images from Photos onto a few slides and record that presentation with Screencastify. Or create video instructions for inserting a Comment in a Google Doc.

Happy ’casting!

Tom Fanning is a Pelham resident who was the Integrated Studies computer teacher at Amherst Regional Middle School for 15 years, then worked as the technology teacher at Pelham Elementary School for five years.


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