Williston Central School Interview Project

Last summer, elementary school teacher Michael Kellogg at Williston Central School was a participant at VFC's Summer Institute, and this fall he began to implement his learning from last summer. Both Mary and I have been visiting his classroom and have observed the impressive classroom culture he has created. One thing that was a big learning experience for me was allowing the students the space to think about an issue or a lesson before responding. Mr. Kellogg frequently gives students the space to process what is being introduced or discussed, allowing the students opportunity to put new ideas in to their own words, with the space to articulate what they don't understand. Mr. Kellogg also has 'public records,' where notes from the day's lessons are written down and can be pulled back up for students to reference in future conversations.  

With our numerous visits to the class, some simply to support the use of technology, we have been able to bear witness to a combined third/fourth grade classroom's learning: how to ask questions, how to identity the difference between "easy" questions and more challenging or thought-provoking questions, and when the right moments are in the course of an interview to use each kind of question. The students were tasked with learning how to operate iPod touches with microphones attached through an interface - a small adapter. This created many opportunities for students to interview each other, listen to what they had recorded, identify mistakes and try and learn from these technological hiccups.  

After students had practiced interviewing quite a bit with each other, Mr. Kellogg invited adults from the school community into the classroom for students to again have another practice interview opportunity.  The video below shows the process of students practicing their interviews with each other and ends with adults from the school.

We find Mr. Kellogg's approach working very well. The idea behind all the practice is to eventually have students interview their parents or grandparents. Mr. Kellogg has brought to our attention a body of research that indicates that students who learn about adversities that their parents or grandparents overcome helps them learn resiliency in their own lives. The metaphor of 'weathering the storm' helps youngsters understand how to bounce back from hard times and allows them the guidance and space to understand how to overcome adversity.  We are looking forward to the students' final products and are hoping we can eventually have the students interview each other about the process. This reflection could yield very interesting insight into how the students relate to the family stores, how they express those stories to their peers, and how they see themselves in the process.

Vermont Commons Interview Allenwood Residents

For the second year in a row, Kris Mohlman at Vermont Commons school has been bringing his students to meet and interview residents of Allenwood, a retirement community close to the school. Having learned a few lessons from last year's project, Kris decided to schedule more visits to Allenwood this year and offer students training from the Vermont Folklife's Discovering Community media educators. Both Mary and I have visited class several times. During our first visit, we introduced the VFC's central concept and method of ethnography - understanding experience from the perspective of those to whom the experience belongs. Our later visits were workshops on interviewing skills, audio recording, and visual storytelling -- what it is, how we use it, where we see it in our everyday lives. This brought up a great discussion on what it means to represent reality, and I shared with the students an exercise that demonstrates how to create a visual sentence with just five shots: an establishing or wide shot establishes the setting, a medium shot directs the viewer's attention to the characters, a reverse shot allows the viewer to see where the conflict exists, and the close-up helps drive home and direct the conflict and resolution. This exercise was coupled with a quick look at the web-based video-editing platform WeVideo, to be followed up in a later visit with a WeVideo tutorial.

Mary and Myles' visits incorporated a model interview and an introduction to "logging" an interview. During a model interview, students have the opportunity to observe an interview, to see firsthand how to conduct an in-depth and formal interview, to participate in the interview themselves by asking the interviewee followup questions, and to ask questions about the process to both the interviewer and interviewee. When we introduce students to the concept of logging interviews (breaking down the interview recording into timed sections and making organized notes about the content), we show examples and explain that it's about listening, summarizing, analyzing, and planning for the editing of a final piece. Logging is a tool that addresses what can be a very intimidating process for students: how to create a compelling and clear two- or three-minute piece out of many minutes or hours of interviewing. We stress the importance of listening to an interview multiple times, making brief notes (not a word-for-word transcription), and finding the themes or storyline that emerges from the conversation. I think partly because students rightly want to honor what the interviewee is saying, it becomes difficult to select specifically what drives the story forward. It helps students to understand if they can see an example of the entire process, from interview to final piece.

I had an older interview with my 92-year-old grandfather around the 2016 Presidential Election. See the first recording, below ,for the full interview, and then see the second audio piece for the edited version.

Students were able to identify what the through lines were, what other sounds were added, how environment and setting were created through b-roll or background sounds, and how voice-over narration was added to contextualize the piece. This reinforced points I had made to the students earlier, about form and content: once you have your content, the formats you choose and formal techniques you use can make a story come alive.

I was also able to attend one of the class's initial visits to Allenwood. It was quite touching to see the young people interact and listen to the stories of the elderly. See below for a brief look at the students interviewing the Allenwood residents:   

EDGE Academy @ Essex Middle School Peek Through the Window Revolution Poetry Slam & Sugarhouse

Posted by Myles David Jewell

Lindsey Halman and I have been working together this year to document activities around her classroom at Essex Middle School.  In the fall, Lindsey held a mock election and I was able to support students as they documented the day with iPads and then later edited their own videos with WeVideo (a web-based video editing tool).  This spring, I am working with Nicola and Jessy, who are each working on independent documentaries as part of their final projects for the Edge Academy at Essex Middle School.

As a past Summer Institute participant, Lindsey brings community partners into her classroom and believes this work benefits the students greatly, opening the classroom far beyond its four walls.  My role is to work with Jessy to produce her video about the discrepancy of resources in education worldwide, while Nicola's documentary will focus on climate change.  We meet one-on-one to discuss best ways for them to approach their subjects: what is the content?  Who are the characters?  How are you going to formally communicate these ideas?  What other techniques will you be using?  Voice over?  Interviews?  Graphics?  B-Roll?

Last week, after our initial media visit and brainstorm with Jessy and Nicola, the Edge group was having a Revolution Poetry Slam. The Flynn Theater came in as a community partner and worked with the students off and on for a few months to create poems in groups that dealt with certain issues that are meaningful to the students - from gender identity to climate change. The performances were thoughtful, and having students' parents in the audience added value to the experience for the students.

Lindsey and I used the Poetry Slam as an opportunity to get Jessy and Nicola to film the performances and get some experience shooting. After they were given a few instructions and goals (one camera shoot b-roll- the other cover the performance), Nicola and Jessy documented the event (one of them sat by the tripod with me and we worked on zooming in and out of the performances, and then they would switch). I was able to edit this short behind-the-scenes look at the day, but will also be going back and going through this edit with Nicola and Jessy and inviting them to try some post-production work.


After the Slam, students presented their independent projects to their parents and community members, including a visit to the Sugarshack located behind the school.  For a peek into sugaring, see the video below.

King Street Youth Center: Lighting Interviews and Video Portraits

Posted by Myles David Jewell

Oh King Street, Oh King Street- the enthusiasm that the students bring to every workshop makes it so easy to come back and keep working with this gang.  And on top of all that, a simple workshop on lighting for interviews can turn into a fantastical interrogation scene.  And who am I to not let them play?  To not let their imaginations run wild?  This may be more telling than forcing them to engage in content that they have no interest in.  

Point is, I think if we can load up their tool belts with a bunch of formal techniques that range from stop motion to video portraits and interview lighting, once they find content that they need to handle more seriously, perhaps they will bring some of the humor and imagination to a sometimes otherwise stuffy situation. Our participation at King Street is within the after-school program, and we try to create an opportunity for students to explore their interests during that time - to let their creativity and curiosity drive their engagement. So I am plenty happy to allow them to run their imaginations, to work out that muscle that we as adults all to often let atrophy because we're fearful of being silly.  For me, every time I step in there and work with these kids I learn something about how great an imagination can be.

Nepali Bhutanese Refugee Equipment Drop-Off

Posted by Myles David Jewell

More and more of the collaborations we are embarking on are not inspired by the Discovering Community staff pushing media as a viable way to tell stories; it's the younger generation that ask us for the technical support.

In the case of the New American Community, this is the second group of Nepali Bhutanese refugees who have asked for support to produce media for their community. The first group called themselves the Creative Bhutanese Circle, and the second group approached us a few months later with a new target.

Neema, a high schooler, wanted to create a short PSA about the pitfalls of drug use.  After an initial discussion, we were able to bring Neema and his group of friends some equipment to shoot with over the weekend.  Here is a short observational piece looking at the equipment drop off.

Walden Student Documentary: Editing with Grace & Silas

Posted by Myles David Jewell

The VFC's Discovering Community program teams up with The Walden Project quite a bit. We offer workshops on ethnographic approaches to media, we travel to Ethiopia with their staff (Walden head Matt Schlein went just this past February as part of a graduate education course led by Kathleen). But sometimes, our support comes in on a smaller level; one-on-one work to help students produce a project meaningful to them.

Last year, one of the Walden students, Grace Smart, worked as an intern at the VFC every Friday.  I was able to visit her at Walden and help her video some of the daily activities of her classmates, and they even fed me a meal made on the fire that we read Walden around. The Walden Project, supported by the Willowell Foundation, allows students to go out into the community and, in the words of Thoreau, "confront the essential facts of life."  The minimalist classroom also forces students to live deliberately, and in my scholarship, I've always thought that documentary filmmaking could also be a form of living deliberately. We have to understand why we hit "record," why we use some pieces in an edit and not others, and why we frame things the way we do.  

These are some of the lessons I like to try and teach students, and last Friday I was able to sit with Grace and a fellow student of hers, Silas Goldman, and help them begin the editing process on their project.  Their goal is to debunk some of the myths about alternative education. Below you can see a clip where they explain their process.

Peoples Academy Community Screening

Posted by Myles David Jewell

I can't gush enough about what Kate Toland and her People's Academy Geography class have accomplished. Their work typifies what we believe Discovering Community is capable of: getting students to go out into their community, or any community, to dive a little deeper and uncover all the stories that are around them. Not only did Kate's class do this, they ended up hosting a community screening and invited all the folks who were involved. The result was a beautiful screening with an amazing Q&A where I got see first-hand how much the students gleaned from our work with them.

An top of all this, Kate was a Summer Institute Participant last year and this is proof of how a teacher can implement this work in his or her classroom. Was it difficult?  Of course. Did it feel impossible at times? Double of course. But this is media-making, and the screening was proof that despite all the technical hiccups with WeVideo, with audio, with scheduling interviews, with editing in groups, at the end of the journey you have stories about the process and what you learned from it, and a product for people to watch that shows the process in a refined way.

To my mind, hearing the students talk about how they wish they had gotten more b-roll, how much they enjoyed being able to talk to people they never would have been able to talk to without the camera, and how much they learned about their community - all that is the power of this work. I have to admit, the ethnographer in me found one moment in the documentary especially impactful, the moment when the movie took a self-reflective turn. All throughout the picture, we were hearing from community members, and near the end, one of the brewers from Lost Nation Brewery turned to one of the students behind the camera and said, "Well, what do you think of Morrisville?"

Fade to black and a text appears signaling the point at which the students then reflected on what they learned, and what they think about Morrisville. I love how they found the content from their interviews to prompt their reflections. As a viewer, it was very satisfying to hear the voices from behind the camera, because after all, they are also the fabric of the Morrisville community.

"Symbols" slideshows in Spanish and French

Emily Smith, a French and Spanish teacher at Harwood Union High School, participated in the Vermont Folklife Center's Summer Institute in 2016, where she practiced audio recording and creating multimedia projects in WeVideo (a cloud-based editing program). This past fall, Emily brought those skills to her classes, and she had her students create videos about objects or items that are symbolic for them in their lives, and narrate their videos in French or Spanish. From a courageous chicken, to the story of a brook trout, to stars in memory of lost friends, the students created thoughtful, heartfelt, funny,and reflective pieces. 

Some excerpts, in translation:

"When I was little, a little tree was just a tree... Now, I'm fifteen, and I see the tree as a symbol of growing up, because it's the same age as me."

"My symbol is a chicken. The chicken is cute, but it is also brave. It represents courage and spirit."

"A snowflake represents my point of view about surviving, because it is very beautiful, but also cold. Beautiful to the eyes, cold to the touch."

Thanks to Emily and her students for sharing! Here's an example of one of the student videos: 

Conversations From the Open Road 2017 Trips!

One of our partner organizations, Conversations From the Open Road, offers on-the-road digital storytelling and learning opportunities for students (high school and college). Read below about opportunities available this Spring and Summer (the April trip has only one spot left, but the others are open), and visit the trips page at the Conversations From the Open Road website for more information and to sign up!

About Conversations From the Open Road:

Conversations From The Open Road is an opportunity for Vermont high school and college students to experience and compassionately participate in our world in a meaningful way. It is a traveling citizen-journalism, digital storytelling media program engaging with communities on the front lines of significant economic-environmental-cultural justice issues. By the end of each 2 week exploration, each student creates a documentary short about a thread of the people, place and struggle. Together, this collection becomes a reflection of this moment for a particular community.


April 18-30 Clarksdale, Mississippi: Learn about the Blues!

We are traveling to the Mississippi Delta to learn how a place and its people, a long thread from the past into the present, have shaped a musical tradition: the Blues. This is a partnership with Champlain Valley Union's Nexus Program. (1 spot remaining)

July 7-21 Santa Fe, New Mexico: Learn the pioneering efforts to see addiction as a health care concern instead of criminal justice.

There are a few cities in our country transforming how we understand and treat people with addictions. Santa Fe is one of these inspiring places (along with Seattle, Albany, Ithaca, and Gloucester, Mass).  Students will travel to this beautiful part of our country to learn from the individuals and the community initiating this change. We will thread these stories together, while indulging in the cultural influences and the carved landscapes of the American Southwest. 

As a crew, we will be part of this cultural change here in Vermont!  We have been invited to be part of a team, led by Attorney General TJ Donovan, who will be tour the state and talking with communities about this compassionate turn in how a community cares for this growing epidemic.

August 11-25 Minnesota: Come and document this exciting moment with us - From Standing Rock and beyond!

More than 10,000 people came to show solidarity with the people of the Standing Rock Sioux, protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline being proposed to be built under the Missouri River, within their reservation's lands.This is THE largest congregation of Native Americans and allies in a century! The rippling effects of this movement is palpable.

We will travel to another battle gaining momentum in the indigenous community's fight to assert their sovereignty and basic rights.

Indigenous Americans "en masse wild rice harvest" in late August in northern Minnesota will most likely continue the battle in court as an important test case about treaty rights.

Leech Lake Ojibwe band member Arthur LaRose, chairman of the 1855 Treaty Authority, has said that his group's concerns go beyond ricing, fishing and hunting. "From pipelines, to wild rice and walleye, the State of Minnesota does not appear to be protectively regulating the natural resources," LaRose wrote to Governor Mark Dayton. 

Creative Bhutanese Circle Interviews Refugees and Produces Video

Posted by Myles David Jewell

We are very proud to have collaborated on the work that the Creative Bhutanese Circle has produced! The truth is we have also been really impressed by them - they conceived, designed, and were able to shoot, edit, and distribute their video with minimal support. We provided the three-part workshop, and the group did everything else, including editing and subtitling the piece. I am excited to see what they come up with next!

Vermont Nepali Bhutanese Heritage Dance Group Creates a Media Group

Posted by Myles David Jewell

The Vermont Nepali Bhutanese Heritage Dance Group now has another group that is focused on producing media.  I have been fortunate enough to work with these folks to help get them started producing their own media.  I ran a basic workshop in November, brainstormed ideas in December and went to work with them in January.  

The shoot was a lot of fun and very grassroots; they organized members from their community of different ages, and asked them the same set of questions.  We were able to create a really cool feel for the interview by using a black background, blocking some light, and creating a set-up we could use for each subject.  

The Integrated Arts Academy has been instrumental in giving us a space to work and collaborate, and we can't thank them enough.  Here is a quick look at the process of shooting the video over the course of a week.

King Street Youth Center Camera Obscura Share-Out Video

Posted by Myles David Jewell

One thing we always try to do with our media pieces is share them with community partners. For us at the Vermont Folklife Center, this is a big component of what we teach, and one that we follow in our own work as well.

In January, Mary Rizos and I went to King Street Youth Center and built the camera obscura with the students. Then last week, before a stop-motion workshop with the students, we showed them our behind-the-scenes video of all of us creating the camera obscura.  Here is a look at the students getting a look at the video (not to be too meta).

King Street Stop Motion Workshop

Posted by Myles David Jewell

Building off our success last year at King Street Youth Center, as well as our first Camera Obscura workshop, this past week at King Street we held a stop-motion animation workshop.  Two students who are really engaged with the media literacy work we are doing came out of the class with two great pieces.  Evan created an emoji out of legos that he animates into frame and deconstructs itself, while Jasper created an alternate world with paper cut outs and green screen.  His imagination is unrivaled and I've really enjoyed working with both these youngsters.  Our hope is to build off the formal techniques we are using to eventually get the students out in the community and using these tools to create a short video with another community partner, or even, something for King Street Youth Center.

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at the workshop:

In a few weeks I will head back to King Street along with Mary Rizos and work with the students to reveal the editing process of some of the more tricky techniques of green-screen and chroma key work, as well as how to export and upload.  Below are my initial strings of the two student projects.

Discovering Community Summer Institute Promo Video 2016

Posted by Myles David Jewell

Last year was my first year teaching the Summer Institute, which is the culminating professional development program for the Discovering Community program. And I do have to admit, I enjoy teaching professionals just as much as teaching kids.  

I can continue to gush about how much the gang we had last summer was not only like a bunch of sponges, thoughtful and willing to engage with the field work, and not only did they feel renewed and inspired to tackle the 2016-2017 school year, but they also provided me with the same inspiration.

Below is the promo video edited together from vèritè footage of the week, teacher-shot media, and the incredible field visits to local farms.  Look for more video snippets from the institute in the coming weeks.

Vermont Youth Rally Promo Video

Posted by Myles David Jewell

Harwood Union High School social studies teacher Matt Henchen was a VFC Summer Institute participant and has been doing a lot of really interesting work in his classes, particularly with a group of students who have organized a Youth Rally to promote student voice.  I was impressed with how the group operates, with a sincere focus on the students doing the organizing, choosing the topics, and even operating the budget.

Last week, I was able to join Matt and the students for an afternoon of brainstorming a social media strategy to promote the April 12th rally. I also helped a student produce a video, and we even ended the afternoon with another video I edited to help them get the save-the-date info out there. I was able to share some editing tricks with the student I was working with, and I think going forward they will be able to use some of these techniques in future projects.

Here is a look at the video we edited:

Peoples Academy Community Documentary Behind the Scenes

Posted by Myles David Jewell

Peoples Academy Social Studies teacher Kate Toland was a Discovering Community Summer Institute participant, and has brought the media skills from last summer into her classroom to produce community documentaries with her students. Each student is choosing a theme, finding a community partner to interview, and then editing a short video to be shown in a community showcase. Since the beginning of the year, the class has been working with community themes like youth, elders, tradition, challenge, and change. They even dedicated a whole wall in the classroom to map out how all these themes overlap and intersect and to keep track of the production process, from pre-production, production and post-production.

During one of the visits, I set up one of Kate's students, Larkin, with my camera rig to get some experience with a DSLR.  Below you can see a quick look at the behind the scenes of a typical class.

Camera Obscura at King Street Center

Posted by Mary Rizos

Last week, Vermont Folklife Center Education Outreach and Media Instructors Myles Jewell and Mary Rizos spent Wednesday afternoon with students at King Street Center in Burlington, and with some plastic bags, tape, and a ladder, covered the windows of a room of the center in order to turn it into a camera obscura, a chamber ("camara,") closed off to light that can act as a camera when a small hole is created to let light in, projecting an image of the outside world into the dark room.

Throughout the planning, set-up, and execution, the students documented the process by using multiple cameras to record what was happening, narrating the events, and interviewing each other about their experience. Below, check out a short video created from their footage:

Woodstock Middle School Speak Chorus

Posted by Mary Rizos

In September, the Vermont Folklife Center worked with Woodstock Union Middle School teachers Matthew McCormick and Anne Lessard in preparing students to interview community members about Hurricane Irene. Together, we did a workshop for students on using an ethnographic approach to research, and on interviewing skills. Many thanks to Molly Thompson in Grade 10 and teacher Jeff Thomas for participating in model interviews with me and for taking students questions as the 7th graders observed, reflected on, and practiced the interview process. The 7th graders later did interviews with people in the community, and those interviews provided information that was used as part of an interdisciplinary project examining the effects of Hurricane Irene on the community and the landscape, five years later.

One outcome of the interviews was a “Speak Chorus,”  an original performance the students created by the selecting and re-combining quotes from the interviews they conducted. A student describes the process:

“The very first thing that we had to do, before we had to do anything else was learn about interviews. After that we had to do practice interviews to prepare for our real interviews. Then came the real interview, which we recorded on  an iPad so that we could listen to it later (we had to email the interviews to ourselves). After that we listened to the interview and put down promising quotes in our “interview quote catcher.” We then made the quotes into a script, practiced the script many times. And finally we performed our speak choruses.”

An example of the final product that came out of the students’ work (thanks to Woodstock Middle School for making the footage available to us!):

Woodstock Community Television has the entire student performance available at this link: http://wctv8.com/index.php/2016/11/memories-of-tropical-storm-irene-speak-chorus-performances-by-wuhs-7th-graders/

Here are some excerpts from one student’s reflection on the project:

“One thing in particular that I liked about this project was that we got to make our own scripts... I liked that we got to be creative and that everyone’s script was different from everyone else’s.”

“One thing that challenged me during that process was doing the real interview because I was super nervous and I didn’t want  to somehow mess up the interview.  One thing I learned from this challenge was that, sure you make mistakes sometimes, sometimes you mess up, but it’s okay to mess up, everyone does sometimes.”

“I thought this was a really fun challenge.  Can we do something like this again?”

Thanks to Matt McCormick, Anne Lessard, and the 7th graders at Woodstock Middle School for reaching out to us and for the opportunity to collaborate with them in this unique project. It was a great fit for our Discovering Community philosophy and model, and had so many important and interconnected elements - community connections, community relationships, connections to place and environment, communication skills, student ownership, choice, and creativity.


Harwood Media Studies Introduction to Ethnography

Posted by Myles David Jewell

Every year, I find myself doing more and more work with Harwood students, particularly with their Media Studies class.  In December, I was able to give an Introduction to Ethnography lecture to Krista Connelly and Christopher Whalen's class.  The first half focused on the ethics of representation and the impossible expectation of representing reality (see lecture outline below), while the second half we did a short exercise to aide a basic tutorial on WeVideo.  

To engage the students with the theory of representing reality through visual mediums, I give students the hands on process of shooting a series of images to upload into WeVideo.  I generally explain five different frames that can be used to show setting, characters, and formal approaches like shot reverse shot.   As a result, I handed my phone to one of the students, had them take five pictures from different angles, showed them on the projector how to upload to google drive, download into WeVideo, and then edit the five shots into a coherent image sentence.

Here is short video exemplifying the outcome:


December 14th, 2016 - Media Studies

  1. Intro

    1. The Vermont Folklife Center

      1. http://www.vermontfolklifecenter.org/

      2. Discovering Community:  http://www.discoveringcommunity.org/

      3. What is Ethnography?  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnography

II.  What do we think of when we think of documentary?

  1. List out what we watch by genre?

  2. What are we actually seeing and hearing?

  3. Make point of Form and Content

III.  It wasn’t always like this:  

    1. Colonialism and Power Dynamics

    2. Shortcomings of representation always trying to better itself.

    3. Bad practices with power dynamics

    4. Form and content part two