I was walking to school one autumn day four years ago, when all of a sudden I got this idea that would in fact later generate a whole range of other similar ideas for all ages and all levels. We had been working on a text about Jamie Oliver and subsequently on food vocabulary with my 7th-graders. The plan was to have a test on this later but for the lesson that particular day I had scheduled for us to work in the textbook with a new text on another subject. I was well prepared, as I usually is, but felt zero inspiration. Working with textbooks tends to be boring for the students – there are no surprises, nothing breaking the constant lull of the same activities over and over again. I’ve heard representative for publishing companies say that it is pedagogically important for the teaching material to be uniform, the same principle governing the whole series, but for the life of me I cannot imagine what that pedagogy could foster in terms of motivation or student engagement. Even I, the teacher, finds it incredibly boring, and as hard as I try to come up with new ideas around the themes in the texts, at times I just can’t take any more worksheets or do a text in class the way the material writers had planned it to be dealt with.
I thought, maybe I can postpone the new text until another day when I can muster up some enthusiasm for it, but what should I do right now then? I love introducing authentic video into my classes, but I wouldn’t have any time to prepare it for this particular lesson. Anyway, the students needed more activation now than watching a film clip. But what if they could do their own films? It couldn’t all be done in this one lesson, but they could prepare for it today and then film it maybe next week?
Still walking, I went through what steps this scenario would include in terms of subject matter, time frame, props, technology etc. and I directly thought of the text we had been working on, Jamie Oliver and his cooking shows. Yes, that’s what the students were going to do – their very own cooking shows. It could easily replace the written test I had planned and would be much more fun. Also, it would include oral skills which a written test hardly does. It would necessarily have to be zero-budget films, completely dependent on language and the students’ own imagination. The technology would involve their own cell phones – couldn’t use the school’s expensive video equipment, anyway, as I wanted everybody in class to make a film, not only a few protagonists. So I needed a lot of cameras not only one or two. We would use the school cafeteria and kind of play act all the ingredients in the show – couldn’t afford to buy all that food stuff anyway. And the students were free to come up with their own favourite dishes. What was important was that, like Jame Oliver, they would introduce all the ingredients while they were play-acting, and explain how these ingredients were prepared and put together – all in English of course. They would use the props available in the school cafeteria – actually nothing but trays, plates, glasses and cutlery. What remained was the problem of how to design the project so that everybody had the possibilities to come up with a film of their own. They wouldn’t be able to film and to play-act at the same time.
By now I had already reached the school building, and I was out of time. Then I got it, and this is how it turned out:
Language learning objective
1) Understanding what to do from reading a recipe in English
2) Orally explaining and physically showing how a dish is prepared
Previous learning activities
Studying a Jamie Oliver text in the textbook, learning the English names of vegetables & other food articles, watching a videoclip from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution in America with accompanying activities, learning cooking terminology
Four lessons in all
The class consisted of 21 students, ie. they were divisible by three: they would work in groups of three, and the groups would be put together so that there would be at least one student with a cell phone with video recording possibility in every group. Each group would produce three video clips, and there would be three roles in the group, that of the head chef, the sous chef and the camera man, roles that would circulate for every cooking show video. In that way, every single student will have served in all capacities.Recipes – pre-production activities
The first lesson would be dedicated to every student choosing their favourite recipe, something they had made in the home economics class or just something they knew how to cook. They would list all the necessary ingredients and start writing the instructions in English. There would be no computers, but they could use their cell phones for looking up words they didn’t know – I didn’t want them to get any shortcuts by looking up ready made recipes in English. The teacher would also help by building up a vocabulary list on the whiteboard. If they didn’t finish at school, this would be their homework for the next lesson.
During the second lesson the students would work in their home groups of three, collaborate on each other’s recipes and making corrections where necessary. They would also plan the actual video session – who would do what during each video.
The third lesson would be all about practising (dry runs without camera) and learning their lines by heart.
The fourth and final lesson would take place in the school cafeteria for the real action – the filming. There would be no editing, what got on camera would be the real thing. Re-takes were possible though.
Tools and props
Cell phones or digital cameras, basic cooking utensils
Watching with peer evaluation in class
Student assessment of the whole activity afterwards:
Fun and much better than oral presentation in front of the class, fun to watch what the other groups had done. The students also felt the assignment had been demanding, much more effort, engagement and hard work were required than a mere written test would have done.
– Cooperation absolutely central, everyone’s activities are intertwined making it a “whole” (group formation essential)
– Students support each other
– Differentiation natural – everyone can choose their own recipe according to level of difficulty
– Choice of location really awful – though lots of space the acoustics did not work, the individual performances were almost incomprehensible because of all the other action in the room –> students need more freedom to choose their own location which is perfectly possible as they are using their own equipment.
– Problems with what to do with students who were absent on the day of filming –> the teams incomplete (I solved it by leaving it to the teams to decide when and where to film on their own time, I merely gave them a deadline.)
– Oral proficiency: meets the teacher’s requirements. The stronger students needed little support from keywords or manuscripts, the weaker or lessconfident ones more. On the other hand, the teacher had not really laid down any rules on the use of manuscripts, so…
– Expected file format circus actually never happened. The students all brought their videos to me on memory sticks, which was an enormous relief. I had prepared for emergency conversion scenarios but I never had to put them in action.
Nowadays I actually consider this particular experiment a failure, just because the final products were so bad soundwise. This had nothing to do with student performance or the cell phones that we used. I had thought the school cafeteria would be a good location because there would be plenty of space for each team to work undisturbed by the others. I didn’t realise how bad it was until the actual filming part and then it was too late to do anything about it. Good thing was that everyone could work simultaneously and were given free hands on how much time to spend on the production, which was only possible because they were using their own at-hand equipment.
There were, however, a couple of teams that had to do the shooting at home, and that proved to be a so much better solution, as you can see here, where Christian is demonstrating how to fry an egg:
But even if this project was to a certain extent a failure, there still were so many positive aspects to it that I was definitely going to reuse the concept, but with a few modifications. I’ll return to these in future blog posts.