While I cannot force students to create videos due to a lack of access to reliable hardware and software, I am encouraging them to try out video of some sort, since video has become a dominant form of argument, particularly on the internet. So, to apply our understanding of how visuals and language can work together to build meaning based on Scott McCloud’s categories, we will watch a series of videos used earlier in the semester and analyze the relationship between visual and language, and also look at camera angles, shots, music, etc. I’ve chosen to use videos we’ve already worked with in part because of our previous work with video, and seeing how challenging it can be (because of the swiftness of images and the inability to easily look back to the last frame as you would look back to a previous sentence in a book, and the tremendous amount of rhetorical strategies to use, learning to analyze film is quite time consuming). Since we already worked with the central ideas of these videos, we can summarize those quickly and move to recognizing how the author/director builds and refines meaning throughout the arguments both visually and with language. Were we to use new videos, we would have to first spend time determining central ideas, purpose, etc., before moving on to the construction techniques.
Before beginning, I will ask students to take out their textbooks and review the categories for how visuals and language work (PG #S). I will then ask students to write down observations based on the category descriptions while watching each video.
I will start with the video "Why I Hate School but Love Education" because it is the most simple to observe—so we can see how the camera angles and switches, background, etc., enhance the words and overall argument, but that the language is critical to any understanding.
From there we will watch two others with increasing complexity of strategies. First we’ll revisit the “God Made a Farmer” commercial that is a series of photos shown at different lengths that sometimes enhance the language and sometimes add to the argument (such as the times the narrator says “so God made a farmer” and a picture of a person appears at farmer—once a white man, once an African American man, once a white woman, etc., arguing that farmers can be anyone—of course, since this is a commercial, they are trying to reach more buyers!). In this video, we could watch without the words and gain some understanding of topic and emotion, with the visuals playing a larger role for the argument.
Then we’ll finish with “This is Water,” a video depiction of David Foster Wallace's speech, which uses lots of different techniques, including reenactments, still frames, motion effects, etc., to get a sense of how those can work to enhance meaning, though similarly to the last one, the argument is far from complete without the words.
After each video (I will likely not show the whole video each time, since the focus is on technique, and short chunks is better for teaching those) we will go around the room and share observations—not only how the language and visuals are working together, but also the filming techniques (camera angles, special effects, color, background, etc.) to give students a toolbox going into the project. As I relate these observations back to the project, I will also stress to them that they will be evaluated with the same argument rubric (Grades 11.12 argument Essay rubric.doc) as their essay, and that the visuals will be part of the evidence and organization parts. However, I acknowledge that I want them to feel it is okay to take risks and try a new medium—and something using video software is a good way to go because that medium has become so important in our society. Therefore, the arguments should be short (two minutes), and part of the presentation will be to explain what rhetorical appeals and strategies they were trying to utilize with the visual elements. This way they can feel like they can take a risk and not be penalized.
One other goal in looking at the videos again that they all responded well to the first time was to inspire the students—to get them thinking about their own projects. To take advantage of that, I think it is important for them to put their thoughts on paper right away, so the thoughts and excitement are cemented rather than fleeting. So I will make sure there is at least 25 to 30 minutes of class left for students to plan (either with their partner or individually—because this is a big independent project, I usually prefer to let students partner up themselves or work alone; I have found that independent projects with more than two people in them often end up with one student not really participating, so I want to avoid that). This will also let me meet with everyone about their proposals and give some feedback. Having done this sort of project in other classes, I’m anticipating that some of their ideas will be too big and complex, particularly with the number of items they wish to use as evidence. In these cases, I will try to help them narrow their focus, using one or two examples to explore deeply as evidence of their larger ideas.