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

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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 and I will post appropriate files for downloading.

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Rushton Hurley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I look forward to further posts on building a video production program, as I have just agreed to try doing exactly that starting next week. (If there are follow-up posts that I am missing, I humbly ask someone to point me in the right direction.)

I also run a new non-profit, Next Vista for Learning, focused on creating a free, online library of video resources by and for teachers and students, and offer it as a resource to anyone interested. Any feedback on our effort is also welcomed.


jeff spence's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I taught video production at the high school level for ten years. We produced 187 television shows that we aired on local Educational Access TV. Our shows were a combination of edited news packages, animations, video vignettes, and multiple camera live-to-tape productions of events such as talent shows.

One of the most memorable experiences was working with ESOL classes where I coached each student in creating a short video that shared some aspect of his/her culture. Besides validating their position in our school culture when these videos were shown in their World Cultures classes, the students also made measurable progress in their ability to locate illustrative materials online, to script clear and engaging content to go with the pictures they downloaded, to speak in a manner which is intelligible to an audience and to use iBooks and iMovie to create their videos.

Some of the early projects this class produced are still online at:

Ben Goodman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We have had a daily 10 minute news program at Cimarron Springs since 2004. We use a video splitter, four cameras, two-four announcers, have video output from a camera, create a daily podcast, webpages, etc. Our school boundaries have changed every year since the school was formed, but the Stallion Network groups stays steady between ten and twenty students. We use Pinnacle Plus to edit pre-recorded video. Our podcasts are now put up daily, with a goal of getting a video uploaded on a daily basis, but that's a tough one for us. Visit our website and give us some feedback!

I wholeheartedly agree that a television program can change students and a school. I am certain that has happened here. The students that have been active in this program for two or three years have been transformed - and so has the teacher. We are located at Cimarron Springs Elementary School in Surprise, Arizona.

John Concilus's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our district in Alaska - it's about the size of Minnesota with 16 roadless locations - has offered student written and produced a weekly news show, and done special event coverage for three years now. We don't teach it as a class, but rather weave into our regular curriculum.

Bill Bryson ( is our distance learning facilitator, and supervises the Bering Strait School District's Student Broadcast Team (SBT).

In a nutshell, here is how it works:

- Students have a Monday meeting at which they pitch their stories for the week. If they are from a remote school (not where the SBT room is), we bring them in by video conference or Skype for the meeting.

Each student has their academic strengths and weaknesses assessed in their subject areas, and we try to have them do stories that will provide learning where they need it.

- After pitching their stories, students post them to a wiki

- SBT members edit each others stories in the wiki, add resources, and edit interview questions

- Footage is shot during and after school, remotely if needed, audio or video interviews are done, and so on...

- Editing is done in Fincal Cut Pro by Wednesday

- Script is done collaboratively by the SBT members on Wednesday and a rehearsal is completed

- Thursday mornings the broadcast runs live via H.264 video conference to anyone who lets us know to connect them (just drop us a note)

- It also goes out by QuickTime (rtsp) live stream from our QuickTime streaming server...the QT Player is free

- Thursday afternoon the SBT gets together to prepare XML and posts most weeks to the iTunes Music Store as a Video Podcast (Vodcast)...RSS feeds and so on.

Stories range from how berry picking is going, to Eskimo dance festival converage, whaling reports from our Siberian Yup'ik and Inupiaq Eskimo villages, to sports reports and weather...which can get interesting up here ;-)

Here is the SBT website and our district website.

We have also covered the Iditarod Sleddog Race for three years. We connect daily during the race for free to schools around the country, and our SBT crew does interviews and live race coverage since the Iditarod Trail goes right through our communities.

Anyway, I've been thrilled to read of other districts who are or who have done similar, place based education using student broadcasting, and encourage you to contact Bill Bryson if you would like to learn more, or share about your own program.

Regards, the Bering Sea

Audra K's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What a great site. I'm interested in starting a TV program at the junior high where I teach. Our high school has a studio with cable access but it would be a huge learning curve for me to learn how to use all the equipment in making a video and publicly broadcasting it from start to finish. We have a push-pull system at our school so I was hoping to start out with some simple equipment and broadcast within the school. If things went well, I would like to have students work on getting the "news" during and after school. We could use these video segments within out live broadcast as well as upload them to our server as podcasts.
Thanks for all of your comments. You've given me hope.

Audra :)

Erin Mason's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I LOVE reading about what Tony and others are doing with students to give them creative ownership. Check out Brian Schultz's Spectacular things happen along the way: Lessons from an urban classroom. New York: Teachers College Press - another fine example of students owning their learning and benefitting beyond our wildest dreams.

As a former school counselor and now a counselor educator, I encourage those doing this work to INVOLVE SCHOOL COUNSELORS in this process. They are trained in the social, emotional and developmental needs of kids, advocacy and community building, use of data, and if they are good, they should be directly plugging into the academic initiatives and school improvement plan.

Marilee Palot's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have worked with elementary students creating a morning show for several years. They enjoy the creative process and feel empowered in their school. I have moved to another county and am struggling to get the equipment needed to start a TV show. This article helps to articulate the importance of student broadcast and I will use it to continue to seek support to snag the equipment we need.

Amanda123's picture

Hey thanks for the post and are there samples of student broadcasts that we may see? Look forward to your next post.

Amanda at VoIP - voice over ip

Larry Langley's picture
Larry Langley
Journalism, English language arts, theater arts, reading and yearbook

Ladies and gentlemen: you all obviously have the Cash Cow hidden somewhere. Tell me how a small school (less than 300 students K-12) can afford even the most basic equipment to initiate a broadcasting program? I can't even afford a disposable camera for my journalism class let a lone mixing boards, mics, cameras and so on. If you have a secret stash let me know.

Dan Nightingale's picture

I am preparing to travel as part of a team of 10 Christians on a short-term missions trip to the Czech Republic. While there, we'll be teaching English as part of a summer camp. Myself and one other team member have been assigned the task of teaching the advanced group. One of the ideas we've settled on is to work with the students to create a mock TV news broadcast. I'm wondering if you have any lesson-plan-type materials available that we might use as a jump-start in preparing a lesson plan...

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