Monday, February 24, 2014

Backpack journalism: Day #4

Today was the last day of the backpack journalism workshop in Washington, DC. I learned so much during this time, and would encourage any journalism or film teachers to attend to learn about backpack journalism. 

Here is my completed film.

I had a great time learning about backpack journalism from Bill Gentile and my colleagues at the workshop. Special thanks go out to Bill Gentile, Jerry Gartiner, Dr. Gwen Poss and Anna-Lynn Morris who made this experience possible for me.

Receiving my certificate of completion from Bill.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Backpack journalism workshop: Day #3

Screening the rough cut of my documentary.
This is the third day of the Bill Gentile backpack journalism workshop. Today will be spent editing my project.

Let's get started.

Write your script for a 12-year-old. They should be short, simple sentences.

Use the two-column script format. The video/visuals are on the left, and the audio is on the right. I wanted to resist this at first and write my script like an academic paper with big works and complex sentences. Once I simplified things in my script it worked much better.

Make picture stories. Write your words to compliment the pictures. Turn the sound off and see if the pictures tell the story.


How to set up a "platform" - the place where all of your fans can reach you. 

  • Use Google Hangouts to live broadcast events. Your video is saved to YouTube.
  • Platform - website, blog, Facebook... any place where your friends can find you.
  • Should have accounts with all of the top social media platforms (YouTube, Blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc...)
  • You want everyone to be able to communicate with you - so people can find you. Give people ways to get in touch with you (e-mail, address, Twitter, Facebook)
  • Build your e-mail list through your website. Have a place on your website for people to sign up for your e-mail address. 
  • We all get the same window. Everyone has the same window to release information (You, NBC, Coke, etc...) all have the same platforms available to find you.
  • Connect with your audience and Google will reward you for it. 
  • YouTube is one of the largest social media platforms. 
  • Respond to comments left on YouTube/Blog. This builds your community. (Note: I need to be better about this on my blog!)
  • The gatekeepers to broadcasting, publishing, marketing, etc... have all fallen. Anyone can push out their own information. YouTube is your broadcast platform.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Backpack Journalism workshop: Day #2

Working with my new friend Jerry on our documentaries.
This is the second day of my experience at the Bill Gentile backpack journalism workshop. You can read about the first day here.

Review of what we learned yesterday:

  • The six shot system. 
  • How to hold and operate a camera was huge for me. This is something I will bring back to my students.
  • Eye contact with subjects. This is very different from the journalism I am used to with my students where the subject is looking slightly off to the side of the camera. 
  • Shooting for 20 seconds. 
  • Managing the lights when shooting the characters. 
  • Think of the camera as a finger pointing at things. 
All stories have three components: a beginning, a middle and an end. 

My controlling idea: My documentary shows an African man on his first trip to America and how his expectations of America mesh with the reality he sees on the ground.

Dramatic Arc: The spinal column of your story.

Characters are vehicles to get you from point A to point B.

People want to hear stories about people.

In a good documentary you should be able to turn off the sound and understand what is happening.

Formal interviews

Point one leg of the tripod at your subject.

Get in close and intimate with the subject.

Can cut off some of the hair, but not the chin so you can have a lower third if necessary.

Confirm the source of the light. Cast shadow on one side of the face. They should be looking INTO the light. If they are looking into darkness they will look evil. Simple trick - your LCD screen should be pointing into the light.

Last two questions to ask:
Is there anything you would like to add?
What are your deepest concerns and fears about this subject?

AFTER the interview, go to a wide shot and let the camera run for 60 seconds. This will give you great cut-away footage of the subject. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Backpack Journalism workshop: Day #1

Bill Gentile
I am live blogging from a workshop about backpack journalism. The idea is that you can fit everything that you need to tell a story in your backpack: laptop, camera and a microphone. I hope to bring back ideas and information to my journalism students after this workshop.

Bill Gentile is running the workshop. Here is his website.

There are six people in the workshop, including a woman named Zar from Afghanistan and a gentleman named Jerry who flew in from Western Africa!

Let's get started.

When filming:
50% should be close-ups or extra close-ups
25% medium shots
25% wide or extra-wide shots

What makes a good character? Three tests:
  • Take your camera and walk around with your camera down. Wait for someone to come to you who wants to talk to you. These people will open up to you and be willing to talk. People who want to be characters.
  • They must have compelling stories to tell.
  • Can they tell the story? Are they articulate?
If we learn how to DECONSTRUCT a story, we will know how to CONSTRUCT it.

Story - How do we get there?
  • Individual clips. (Words)
  • Then we build sequences. (J and L edits, etc...) (Sentences)
  • Then you build scenes. (Paragraphs)
Shoot at least 20 seconds for each clip.
  • Make pictures that MOVE. Find places where you can have cutting points. (If focusing on someone writing (close up) and they reach up and touch their nose, that is a cutting point.)
Don't use LCD screen. Hard to see in light. Sucks up battery. You can't get a good sense of what is going on. Can have a conversation with someone. Should look

Connect the subject to the audience and the audience to the subject.

Learn to use your body as a tripod. Left hand should be support for the camera. You can distribute your weight down to your hip. Left elbow should be down toward your hip, knees slightly bent.

Shoot at eye level.

Clip alphabet:
  • Extra close-ups. (Close-up of an eye)
  • Close-up (Close up of face) (Can take off some of the hair, but don't take the chin off. Want to be able to have a lower-third)
  • Medium shot (Top of head to the belt)
  • Wide shot (Head to toe)
  • Extra wide shot
  • Tracking shot (Following someone. Cameraman does not move)
  • Pan shot (Stitching together information. Person-to-person)
  • Tilt (Up and Down)
  • Zoom
  • Point of view (If you shoot someone walking over brush, then you walk over the brush so you can see what the character is seeing.)
  • Over the shoulder (Ties the character together with what they are doing or connecting two characters together)
Start with establishing shots or master shots.
Then start shooting visually interesting/defining things around the room. 
Then start shooting characters (The Six Shot System)

The best stories are about CONVERSATION.

Six Shot System:
  1. Close-up of hands.
  2. Close-up of face.
  3. Medium shot to put together face and hands.
  4. Wide shot (head to toe) (Gives more context of what is going on)
  5. Over the shoulder (Tight)
  6. Extra-wide shot to put the subject in context
Informal interviews. (Magic questions):
  • What are you doing? (Present)
  • What did you just do? (Past)
  • What are you going to do? (Future)
ALWAYS shoot with headphones on.

Controlling idea: "My documentary shows ________________________." If you can't answer it, it isn't a story.

Script - Should be able to hand the script to an editor with the footage and he should be able to edit it together.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Finding your story

"I don't know what to write about."

If you teach English, you have heard that statement numerous times. I know I did when I taught English.

In my new role teaching Convergence Journalism, my students often struggle to develop story ideas that are unique and fresh.

For example, they want to tell a story about football, which is a very broad topic.

I often ask, "What story about football do you want to tell?" They struggle to dig deeper and come up with a story angle that is more specific than the broad topic of football.

To attack this problem, I returned to my English roots and Kelly Gallagher's Six Modes of Writing from his book Write Like This.

The six modes of writing are:
1. Express and reflect
2. Inform and explain
3. Evaluate and judge
4. Inquire and explore
5. Analyze and interpret
6. Take a stand/propose a solution

First, students generate a list of interest areas. These are the broad topics that they will then narrow down. For example, some of my broad topics include:

  • Coaching
  • Teaching
  • Football
  • Journalism
  • K-State
From there, students will choose one of their interest areas and develop 2-3 story ideas for each mode of writing. This gives my students between 12-18 different angles, rather than the broad topic of "football."


Here is a simple handout that I use:


I always model this for my students first. Just like when writing, I employ the "I go, you go" approach where students see me model first and then they proceed to develop their own story ideas. Here is a picture of my modeling of the topic "football."


In five-ten minutes, I generated 19 viable story ideas for the broad topic of football. If needed, I could turn all of these ideas into stories.

So far, my students have only picked one from their list and turned that into either a video package or written story. My next step is to have the students choose one written and one video story from their list to combine together as a package.


I have found this method forces students to dig much deeper and come up with better story ideas. 

What methods do you use to have students generate story ideas?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Packaging Plays: Stick & RB Screen

I love packaging plays together. It has become the option attack of the new millennium.

Previously, I wrote about packaging Inside Zone and Quick Screens, the Draw-Stick concept, and the Double Screen.

One other packaged concept that we started using was combining the Y-Stick concept with the RB Jailbreak Screen.

The play is very simple. Out of trips, we run Y-Stick to the trips side and the RB Jailbreak to the single receiver side. The QB counts numbers. If he sees 3-on-3 to the trips side, he will look off the stick, retreat and throw the RB screen. If he sees 3-on-2 to the trips side, he will throw the stick concept immediately.

Here is the play drawn up:


We love this play vs. man coverage, especially since Y-Stick is not very good vs. man.

Here is a cut-up of the play:

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This has been a great concept for us. We are going to experiment with other quick game concepts out of this, as the possibilities are endless.

What other plays are you combining together?


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mentor texts outside of the English classroom

This year I moved to a new teaching assignment called Convergence Journalism, which is basically an English class on speed. Think of it as writer's workshop, but with video cameras, editing software and a blog. My students create videos and write stories for our school website. I am also teaching a class called Sports Information where students read, write and talk about sports.

In this transition, I have relied on my English roots. If you are a regular follower of my blog, you know that I am a huge fan of the Yoda of English teachers: Kelly Gallagher. Specifically Gallagher's latest book Write Like This. From this book I have borrowed many ideas, but the one I am using the most now is his idea of mentor texts.

The idea is that students first analyze how professional writers write, then emulate that style with their own writing.

We do this analysis through first close reading the text. This is no different from how my students used to do Articles of the Week in English class. The students need to see the moves and style that writers employ.

Once we have performed a close read, we then move to using it as a mentor text. I follow Gallagher's model of we go, I go, you go. The steps look something like this:

We go: Analyze the text together. Look at the style of the writing. Examine the sentence structure. We look at what the author is SAYING, but also what the author is DOING. This offers two very different perspectives of a text.

I go: Gallagher says that the teacher is the best writer in the room. I agree, and believe that students need to see their teacher writing in front of them, even if they are struggling with it.

This. Is. Scary.

I don't know if there is another thing in teaching that makes one feel as vulnerable as staring at a blank computer screen and writing from scratch while 30 students are watching.

I revised that last sentence at least five times, but you didn't see me do it. When you write in front of your students, they will see you go through the entire writing process, warts and all.

One tip: Don't write for more than five minutes at a time. I found that if you write for too long, students will begin to zone out or lose interest. At some point they will get the point and be ready to write on their own. This is when I stop and we move on to the next stage.

You go: Students are then responsible for taking what they saw in the mentor text and my writing and applying it to their own work.

I know what you are thinking: There is a fine line here between plagiarism and creating your own work here. I tell my students that we aren't emulating the IDEAS of the author, but his/her STYLE. I also tell them that they would not want to write so close to the same style of a writer on a true academic paper that a teacher might think they are plagiarizing. It is a fine line.

One of the first mentor texts I use is this book review for Catching Fire that falls under Gallagher's writing categories of Analyze and Interpret, as well as Take a Stand/Propose a Solution. In order to write a good review, students must analyze the subject and take a stand about it.

We look at this book review closely. What does the author do?

I point out to students that it isn't just plot summary; in fact there is only one paragraph that addresses the plot specifically. They notice that there is a paragraph comparing it to the previous book. There is one that analyzes a character. Another talks about the author. Finally, they notice that one short paragraph gives the writer's opinion of the book.

Then I write in front of them.

Finally, I turn them loose to write their own reviews of a book, movie or restaurant. Here are a couple of the results:

Succotash: The Hipster's Restaurant.

Monster's University.

As you can see, the students took the writing model and put their own spin on it. Had I just said, "Write a book review" I would have seen 90% of the paper just retelling the plot.

This is how I implement mentor texts in my Convergence Journalism class. In upcoming blog entries, I will show other mentor texts I have used along with student examples.