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Small Screen, Big Success: Creating a Student-Produced Television Program

In an earlier post, I posed the question "How do we begin to create a school culture that values social and emotional well being while promoting academic success?" I suggested that it begins with a shared vision.

If that vision is to be shared by all the stakeholders in the school community (including the children), to what extent are we willing to give the children ownership of their learning? If we trust them to play a meaningful role in their education and give them real-world opportunities to feel a sense of wonder, they will meet the challenge and help achieve the vision.

Giving students a chance to create a school television program is one of the potentially powerful opportunities a school can offer. In the late 1980s, relatively few middle schools featured a television program. In the fall of the 1990-91 school year, Benjamin Franklin Middle School gave its eighth graders an opportunity to create their own program.

How did we do it? How did we sustain it? What was its impact on the school community? How did it help achieve the shared vision, and how can it be replicated? I will try to address these questions in my next few postings.

In September 1990, fifteen eighth graders and three teachers (including administrators -- I was fortunate to be one of them) gathered for an elective class called Broadcast News. None of the teachers, and surely none of the students, had experience with television broadcasting. What we shared was a commitment to produce a program that reflected the interests, talents, and creativity of the children.

Our mission was to create a visionary program that would link students, teachers, parents, and community and serve as a venue to share and showcase student work. The show would reflect much more than school news. It would be a real-world venture into broadcasting and an opportunity to feature the exciting, challenging, and creative nature of our instructional program.

We decided to give virtually all the decision-making authority to the children. There was no course outline and there were no preconceived notions of what the course/show would be and no directives from the teachers. Our hope was that the class would be a model of constructivist, reality-based, and project-based learning at its best.

I remember vividly our first class. We told the children that they would design and produce a television program for the school. We challenged them to decide its name, content, mission, format, set, personnel, logo, theme music, and everything else they thought necessary to deliver a student-produced broadcast. We offered only support, trust, and commitment. The fundamental decisions were theirs.

After months of brainstorming and planning, the first BFBN (Benjamin Franklin Broadcast News) broadcast aired throughout the school on December 11, 1990, and in spring 1991, BFBN broadcast to the entire Ridgewood community and to thirteen surrounding towns on local cable channels. Since then, it has broadcast every school day. The pride everyone felt during those initial broadcasts has carried on for more than 3,000 shows.

The students knew they had created something very special -- BFBN belonged to them. They realized that it reflected much more than an example of the use of technology. The students recognized that we had given them ownership of what could play a significant and visionary role in shaping the school. BFBN demonstrated how a learning environment can create an instructional program designed to bring synergy to the culture of the entire school community.

What is BFBN, and how did we put it together to produce that first broadcast? See these related posts:

Lights! Camera!: Student News Coming Your Way . . .
Student Broadcasters: Feature Stories Reflect Local and Global Awareness
On the Air: A Student's Dream Fulfilled

Moderator's note: If you are using specific software or hardware you'd like to recommend, please share what you're using with the group. If you have planning documents or lesson plans about student broadcasts that you'd like to share, please email spiralnotebook@edutopia.org and I will post appropriate files for downloading.

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Kerri Wosek's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am also beginning a new Broadcast Class. I am very interested in how the students rose to the task of creating it all "from Scratch". If this can give the students at my school an experience like that, I would be thrilled. I am a bit nervous about not having any kind of lesson plan, I don't know how my administrator would feel about that...but look forward to future postings that give tips and ideas to incorporate that element of freedom into my framework.

Sara DaSilva's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Congratulations! I, too, have been teaching television production in my elementary school to 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students for over 10 years. We were fortunate to have received a magnet grant which enabled us to renovate a classroom into a state-of-the-art studio complete with a separate control room. We produce a news show every day and also produced a 30-minute kids cooking show completely created, scripted, and edited by the kids. I would be VERY interested in knowing what software and equipment you use and how you were able to broadcast your show locally.

Edna Heller's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would love to see some of the student produced work. I have taught a News Broadcasting Class for the last three years in an elective class for 4th through 8th graders, and your article reminded me of my experience. I agree it is one of the best things students can do to feel a special connection to their school and to their own learning. My one regret is not connecting to our community and so our broadcasts are only seen by the students and the parents.

I wanted to offer some answers for Kathleen. I think I could help, since my class is on the smaller closed circuit scale.

Our broadcasts are taped and viewed at a later date, kids sometimes try to make them seem "real-time" when they do the weather, but it takes about 3 monthes to produce one broadcast. Remember we only meet once a week for 1 1/2 hours. I have two computers in my classroom and we use them both. We use Windows Movie Maker and ArcSoft Movie to create and burn the movie. Student do all the work and I supervise. They brainstorm stories, do the planning and research, interview key players, film the footage or the story on location, download the footage to the computer, record voice overs, edit and create final stories on the computer, add text and transitions, etc. Two students are picked for the desk and they create a opening story, introduce every other story and close the broadcast. Some students are reporters, some are support staff(helping the reporter), and some are camera operators for a story, but students do every job throughout the semester or year if they decide to stay in the elective for all 3 semesters. Sometimes students need time out of a class to get footage, but most of the work is done during the elective. Our broadcasts are about 20 minutes, give or take and they are the most enjoyed show. In fact, students request seeing them over and over, and on any given rainy day recess students watch old broadcasts.

I hope this helps you. I am glad you are planning to launch such a project, you will have so much fun and your students will surprise you with their final projects. Cheers.

Roberta Loniewski's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Great article! Here at Kinnelon High School in Kinnelon, NJ we have been broadcasting a daily news show and a once a week community broadcast for over 7years and it has been a great learning experience and great fun. I currently teach Intro to TV and Video Production, 1st year advanced and 2nd year advanced classes and I never stop enjoying it.

Jerry Silverstein's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It's great to read about video programs in Middle Schools, especially since the technology is becomming more accessible every year. We offered media (which included video production, photography and ultimately computer graphics) as part of the required program at the Shoreham-Wading River Middle School on Long Island since the doors opened in the early seventies. I was privileged to teach five sections of this course to 6-8 th graders for twenty of those years (83 - 2003) and can vouch that this is a perfect medium for Middle School students. They can integrate what they learn about video into so much of their "academic" program, and in a culture that is media driven, students are empowered by understanding the medium as well as the message.
Besides the media class where students created original videos, students were able to produce videos for presentations in their academic classes as well as documentaries of other school programs.
In addition, we wrote original screenplays and produced "feature films" on video, and a group of students created an end of the year video that was shown on "Eighth Grade Night" in lieu of a graduation ceremony.
Though the program began on reel to reel videotape machines, most of what we did was shot in VHS and edited on three stations of editing decks. Now these could all be replaced by more affordable computer based programs. We emphasized script writing and story boarding so that students were engaged in a variety of stages of pre and post production as well as using the cameras so that we could transcend the hardware limitations. Also, by going through all of the stages of preparation, students understood that all media represents a created reality.

Jill Proehl's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I, too, would very much like to see the lessons/structure you created out of the brainstorm and hear about the process and/or technology/software you used. I would love to create this in my suburban St. Louis middle school.

Jannora Lauderdale's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really liked this idea and its outcome. I feel giving our youth a chance to develop and implement their hidden talents is great. Keep up the good work and I hope this idea continues to grow throughout all schools. I would love to have more information on this process.

jim becka's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I worked as a writer/producer for a syndicated TV program before coming to our high school to put together a cable TV program produced by students.

I was amazed at how the technology has changed over the years. The Macintosh computer programs are simple to use and produce high quality graphics. Best of all, they come on every computer.

We have a weekly program. The kids enjoy putting it together. It is very easy to teach.

The use a variety of skills in putting together the programs: writing, graphic arts, and photography. The students have learned a lot more about the world by putting together their TV program.

Pam Smith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Your post really caught my eye. I've just been assigned to teach advanced tech in my school's middle school section. When I asked the students what THEY would like to do in this class, the idea of creating a broadcast received almost unanimous approval. I have no idea how to get started (I've only been teaching K-5 technology for the past 5 years). But I am very enthused about letting the students create their product from scratch, letting them explore the ins and outs of this endeavor. However, I could sure use some background information as I facilitate this project! When will your next post be!?

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