Energizing Project-Based Inquiry: Middle-Grade Students Read, Write, and Create Videos

In this theory-into-practice article, we reported on a project-based inquiry process that involved 8th grade students reading, writing, and producing videos to create new knowledge and understandings with content.

In today’s media-rich society, a new generation of students embrace video as an important mode of communication and learning. As a result teachers can use video creation as an innovative way to engage students in learning across the curriculum. By merging the pedagogies of multimodal representation such as video creation with project-based inquiry, teachers have an especially powerful combination for engaging students in content learning. Digital video products provide students with unique opportunities to showcase their newly constructed knowledge in a manner that demonstrates their unique points of view on a topic of interest.

The project-based inquiry process uses students’ interest in grassroots video and marries that interest with educational content that is aligned with state and national standards. Students worked in collaborative dyads both in and out of class to create a 5-minutes video as a final product or learning. The phases in the process are: 1) Ask a compelling question; 2) Gather and analyze information; 3) Creatively synthesize information; 4) Critically evaluate and revise; and 5) Publish, share and act. The project took place over a 6-week period Twice a week during class, we provided mini-lessons that aligned with the 5-phase inquiry process. To ensure high quality of student learning and products, in addition to ongoing teacher scaffolding during the project-based inquiry process, students engaged in a 3-level evaluation process: self-evaluation, peer evaluation, and outside expert evaluation. Students published and shared their final videos by making face-to-face presentations with class members and by posting their videos online for a larger viewing community.

Our classroom observations and student feedback revealed that the students enjoyed the digital video production project and were highly engaged throughout the inquiry process. Despite the success of the project, we encountered some pedagogical complexities and challenges. First, we need to strike a balance between student creativity and appropriateness of content and style. Second, we need to provide the appropriate level of scaffolding for students as they are engaged in various complex tasks within the inquiry process. Third, we need to diversify the choice of video-editing tools by expanding the tools from traditional video editing tools such as Movie Maker and iMovie to include web 2.0 tools such as Animoto and Photo Story.

We will address these challenges as we move to the next step of conducting classroom-based research in which we will create multiple case studies to illustrate the cognitive and social processes that are in play as students delve into project-based inquiry and video production. We are particularly interested in how struggling readers take advantage of a multimodal inquiry process as they learn content.

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