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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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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Grace's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
A very inspiring article. Are there samples of student broadcasts that we may see? Look forward to your next post.
Judith Macachor's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Hi, everyone. Thanks for this newsletter. I am especially interested about a student initiated broadcast production-project. As an educational technology teacher in teacher education student based project such as this has been one of the activities I would have wanted my students to experience. I look forward to the next newsletter so I willknow what the group did to put up such a project.
Kathleen Tobkin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Congratulations on launching such a great student centered project! I too am "taking the plunge" and starting a TV class in my middle school this year (although on a much smaller, in-school closed circuit, scale). I am looking forward to your next post. I am very interested in hearing about the mechanics behind your production -- What software do you use? Do you broadcast live or on tape? Do students rotate jobs or keep the same position throughout the year? Is your multi-grade level? How much time does it take to produce a show? Do students ever lose time out of other class periods? How long is your broadcast? As you can see, I am full of questions!! I definitely think having the students call the shots is the way to go -- but it would be nice to hear from someone who has "been there" ! Thanks!
Ann Sisko's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Wow. This is terrific. A project like this is what school -- especially for middle-school age kids -- needs to be about. Reading, writing, speaking and listening are essential to success when you're producing a TV show. As are skills and understandings in math, science and technology. Add to that the essential life skills of organization, planning, cooperation, discovering one's own strengths and appreciating the strengths of others -- a television production brings them all together. Back in the 1984 - 1985 school year, my 5-6 class decided to do a TV program. Younger kids, different times, and early technology. They decided to call it An American Patchwork and take a look at history and current events in this country. We produced one complete show, and the second one is still in the can. At the time, it was all done with a single, simple video camera, and a technician offered to put it all together at a TV station where he worked. The first one took way more of his time than any of us expected, and so the second one never got quite that far. As you might have predicted, the kids were thrilled to see their work on TV (local cable). In-school broadcasting was not even thought of at the time. (Even today, few of our elementary schools have that capability.) It took most of our class time that marking period -- and in elementary school we have the kids pretty much all day. I think it is really exciting for middle-school age kids to have the kinds of opportunities described here. Kids this age are developing their understanding, their insight and their ability to deal with complexity -- just as opposition, cynicism and hormones kick in and frequently disguise those emerging capacities. This kind of total involvement can keep things balanced. Considering the heavy-duty focus on testing and test-prep these days, I find it encouraging to see that projects like these are still possible. (Back in the '80's, that was not one of the difficulties we had to contend with.) Sadly, while the words I hear from the 'powers-that-be' today still support project-based learning, the actions I see all too frequently do not. Congratulations to all of you who are doing this -- keep up the good work!
Maurice Elias's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I have worked with the program that Tony Bencivenga is describing and I can say without exaggeration that he is understating its benefits. This is a transformational project that has the effect of creating a strong sense of community in the school, strong connections of the outside community with the school, and leverage for engaging and re-engaging students in purposeful learning while also teaching them essential social-emotional skills for success in school and life. I look forward to seeing all the entries about this project compiled and posted accessibly on the GLEF website, along with a dialog capacity so that those have or are in the process of implementing this marvelous idea can form a community of support and assistance. Thank you, Tony!

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