Muddling through the blogosphere

May 10, 2015
by blogwalker

NWP 20, Hmong 40

Twenty years ago, I started on an amazing, ongoing professional development journey by applying for the Area 3 Writing Project’s Summer Institute (SI). I knew from the opening day that my SI experience would provide me with exceptional best practices in teaching writing and, equally important, with an incredible professional learning community. But in 1995, I certainly had no idea of the life-changing connections that would come my way as a result of my joining the NWP community. I’d like to share one of those connections.

At the close of the SI, A3WP director Jayne Marlink invited our group to a celebration at her home. As I entered her hallway, I was completely drawn into an elaborately decorated wall hanging. The intricate embroidery depicted groups of people clearly fleeing an area and attempting to cross a river. Soldiers were everywhere. That was my first time to see a Hmong story cloth. It was a gift, Jayne explained, from a former student, a Hmong student whose family had fled Laos after the U.S. pulled out of the Vietnam War.

I grew up with the Vietnam War. It was in the news during my high school years. By college, the war dominated the media, with an escalating protest movement on and beyond campuses. So I thought I knew about the Vietnam War, including its extension into Cambodia. But I do not remember any news coverage from Laos. The Hmong story cloth hanging in Jayne’s hallway was a new chapter for me. Over the years, I continued to “read” about the Hmong migration from Laos, mainly at Sacramento area farmers’ markets, where Hmong often sell story cloths along with their produce.

In 1998, I transferred from a small, semi-rural school district in the Sierra foothills to the Elk Grove School District, a rapidly-growing district in the south Sacramento area.  Prior to World War II, the Elk Grove-Florin area had been home to hundreds of Japanese-American families who farmed the region’s strawberry fields. When President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of all citizens of Japanese heritage from the West Coast, the history of this community overnight and forever changed. Few were able to return and reclaim their farms.

The Elk Grove USD annually commemorates the forced removal of its Japanese-American citizens through its Board Resolution 33: Day of Remembrance. As a technology integration specialist for the district, it has been my privilege to help document the internment stories through the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project.

History does have a tendency to repeat itself. Two wars later, the strawberry fields of Elk Grove-Florin are primarily farmed by Hmong and Mien. They are refugees of the “Secret War in Laos.” This year, 2015, marks the 40-year anniversary of the Hmong and Mien migration from Laos and Thailand to the United States. During the Vietnam War, the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency formed a secret alliance with the Hmong army to fight Laotian communists and the North Vietnamese. Shortly after the U.S. military abandoned Laos in 1974, the communist group Pathet Lao announced plans to wipe out both the Hmong and Mien. Their only option for survival was to flee Laos.

Yien Saetern: Elk Grove strawberry farm

It is through the vision and support of Steve Ly that have I become actively and deeply involved in researching and documenting the stories of the Secret War refugees. Steve’s family fled Laos when he was four. Thirty-eight years later, he was elected to the Elk Grove USD School Board, the first Hmong member. In his tenure, he introduced Board Resolution 59 to commemorate the critical role the Hmong played in supporting the U.S. during the Vietnam War, to celebrate relocation of over 100,000 Hmong to the U.S., and to encourage teaching students in grades 7-12 about the Secret War (in alignment with California AB 78). Forty years later, Steve now serves as the City of Elk Grove’s first Hmong City Councilman. Through text messages, emails, and phone calls, he keeps me in the loop on upcoming events in the Sacramento area, such as a recent CSU, Sacramento, presentation by author Gayle Morrison, or a local hosting of a Hmong Story 40 celebration.

Steve Ly: Thai refugee camp

To commemorate the 40-year anniversary of the Hmong and Mien exodus from Laos, my colleague, the very talented EGUSD graphic designer Kathleen Watt, and I have been developing and curating a new section on the TOR website: the Vietnam War. We currently have completed interviews with 10 Hmong and Mien refugees and are in the process of annotating each interview so that teachers can easily locate and share specific parts of the interviews. We’ve posted snippets of several interviews, and should have complete interviews available within the next few months. Thanks to Steve Ly, we’ve even connected with and interviewed five Ravens. Ravens were the U.S. fighter pilots used for forward air control in conjunction with the Central Intelligence Agency during America’s Vietnam War. The Ravens provided direction for most of the air strikes against communist Pathet Lao targets.

From my first foray into the Secret War in Laos via Jayne Marlink’s Hmong story cloth, I now have on my night stand a small but growing collection of publications on the Secret War: The Latehomecomer; Tragic Mountains; Hog’s Exit, Jerry Daniels, the Hmong, and the CIA; and The Ravens: The True Story of the Secret War. Kathleen and I connect almost daily to discuss “Secret War” updates to our TOR site and its accompanying TOR Talks site. Twenty years later, I could now confidently and enthusiastically provide a guided tour of Jayne’s story cloth, enriched by stories shared during our interviews.

It is through Writing Project networks that I’ve come to understand the value and importance of telling our stories. It is through the support of my department (EGUSD Technology Services), in partnership with our Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium, that I’ve been able to digitally document community stories from two separated yet connected wars.

As California commemorates the 40-year legacy of the Secret War in Laos, through projects such as Hmong Story 40, I eagerly anticipate expanding the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Archive and facilitating discussions on the TOR Talks site. Your input is warmly invited.



October 7, 2012
by blogwalker

A Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom – 5 years later

Five Octobers ago, I gave a Saturday workshop for our Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium (SECC) on A Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom. On October 20, I’ll join SECC videographer Doug Niva at the Alliance for Community Media’s Regional Conference: Merging Local Voices and Digital Technology.  Our session is on …. A Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom. This morning I visited the original 6-slide presentation to see what has changed over the past few years and what remains the same.

Slide #1 – Addressing the ethical use of the Internet – needs updating. Although students are still filming and uploading locker room and school yard fights, the “ethical use of the Internet” now has a broader title: Digital Citizenship. Five years ago schools were starting to address “Internet safety, ” with “stranger danger” at the heart of new legislation.  Legal mandates have evolved over the years to CIPA’s July 2012 requirement that all districts applying for e-Rate discounts must now actively be teaching students  “about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking sites and in chat rooms and cyberbullying awareness and response.”

Slide #2 – Promoting critical media consumption – needs an additional resource.  The images below are from a 2007 keynote address from the National Council for Teachers of English’s  Ernest Morrell, who elaborated on the NCTE’s then newly released definition for literacy in the 21st century by explaining a critical need to provide students with first-hand opportunities to explore and manipulate media so that they might become as skilled in reading and interpreting images as they are with decoding traditional text.

Today, I would add to the mix Renee Hobb’s research on the importance of media literacy:

“To fulfill the promise of digital citizenship, Americans must acquire multimedia communication skills that include the ability to compose messages using language, graphic design, images, and sound, and know how to use these skills to engage in the civic life of their communities. These competencies must be developed in formal educational settings, especially in K–12 and higher education, as well as informal settings. The inclusion of digital and media literacy in formal education can be a bridge across digital divides and cultural enclaves, a way to energize learners and make connections across subject areas, and a means for providing more equal opportunities in digital environments.”


Slide #3 – Providing students with multiple ways to access the core curriculum  – I’ll be leaving interviews with an elementary school SEVA film producer and a middle school SEVA film producer, who share their perspectives on how the process of filmmaking translates into learning venues. But I’ll be replacing CogDogRoo’s (Alan Levine) 50+ Ways to Tell a Story  with first graders explaining a math problem via video and 12th grade AP Stats students filming and editing their teacher’s lectures and then uploading them a class blog to provide students, and a worldwide audience, with 24/7 access to the lesson. Wonderfully, the sample bank of student-created core curriculum content and concepts continues to grow!

Slide #4 – Supporting a collaborative learning environment – I’ll be replacing reference to filmmaker Nikios Theodosaki’ (The Director in the classroom: How filmmaking Inspires Learning) quote that “Filmmaking is a collaborative art, requiring dozens of passionate craftspeople to bring about a focused vision onto the screen.  Each brings with them their own experiences and insights and makes the final film richer and truer than the director originally imagined” (p 7) with Common Core Anchor Standards for Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.”

Slide #5 – Responding to current research – Will be eliminating this slide.  Between the research of Renee Hobbs and what’s gone into the Common Core in defining what students need to be career and college ready, I will have already referenced the research several times.

Slide #6 – Engaging students – I’ll replace the original SEVA Awards night clip with a more recent one. The new clip shows a student stepping up to accept an award – and having to give a completely impromptu acceptance speech….a student, who within one school year “walked the red carpet” for the first time… and also moved from “Far below basic,” almost passing beyond “Basic” and into “Proficient.” If I were limited to one justification for filmmaking in the classroom – including Title 1 sites – it would be for the impact of taking student voices beyond the walls of the classroom. When student see their work as valued by and having an impact on a genuine audience (beyond) their teacher, they are empowered and motivated to created and share content that makes a difference.

So five years later, filmmaking in the classroom remains alive and well – with Common Core Standards supporting the argument. I rest my case.

January 1, 2012
by blogwalker
1 Comment

Tips and Tools for Making an Award-Winning PSA

“To fulfill the promise of digital citizenship, Americans must acquire multimedia communication skills that include the ability to compose messages using language, graphic design, images, and sound, and know how to use these skills to engage in the civic life of their communities.” ~Renee Hobbs

As we head into the New Year, it is exciting to see a number of great video competitions open to students.  From our regional spring SEVAs competition to NextVista’s national and international events, students can hone their 21st century skill set (critical thinking, communication, creativity, collaboration, (digital) citizenship) – as they build their ePortfolios and digital footprints.

It is also exciting to see a growing number of free online tools and tips to help student filmmakers through the process of taking a message and transforming it into a media gem. For example:


Storyboards – From printable storyboards to Mathew Needleman’s more organic approach to storyboarding, storyboarding is a starting point for creating a powerful PSA.

Script writingPSA Scripting Template – Thank you, Bill Ferriter, for this excellent resource!


Camera shots:

  • Rule of Thirds – This basic camera rule/practice will rock your world – and your students – if you’re not already familiar with it.  Here’s a great video by Kids in Action on everything you need to know about the rule of thirds. Once you’re aware of the rule of thirds, it will change how you view videos – such as this trailer from High School Musical (thanks again to Mathew Needleman for sharing this one).

  • Wide-Medium-Tight Shots – I had another big ah ha moment, right up there with learning about the rule of thirds, when I attended SECC’s SEVA Training session with News 10’s multimedia journalist Nick Monacelli.  I recommend watching the entire 40-minute session on Building a News Story. But if you’re short on time, move the play head  about 15 minutes into the presentation and watch Nick explain the importance of taking B-roll footage. It’s B-roll tight shots – not transitions – that “professionals” use to quickly and smoothly move a story along.

And the big ah ha?  Hey, until hearing Nick’s presentation, I had not considered that almost never in a news story will you see transitions used.  Aside from the rare dissolve transition, used to show a flashback or change in time, transitions are  not part of an award-winning newscast. But, oh my, do students, especially elementary students, love to use transitions! Nick’s presentation could be just the tip students need to rethink the use of star wipes, for instance, in transitioning their viewers from one scene to the next.



  • UJam – I am no longer envious of Mac users’ access to Garageband (I teach in a PC district), thanks to UJam, a free, web-based program for creating music – even if you (like me) are music-challenged. UJam was one of my favorite take-aways from last summer’s Merit program.
  • ccMixter – ccMixter is a community music site featuring remixes licensed under Creative Commons where you can listen to, sample, mash-up, or interact with music in whatever way you want.  I learned about CCMixter in Silvia Tolisano’s wonderful Digital Storytelling How to Guide for Educators.
  • Jamendo – A rapidly-growing community of free, legal and unlimited music published under Creative Commons licenses.
  •  Audacity –  A free, cross-platform program for creating and editing audio. Here’s a link to my favorite Audacity tutorial: Audacity Basics

Video editing – Although I’m still grieving the loss of cloud-based JayCut, such an awesome freebie that even included green screen options – and allowed editing from both Mac and PC, eliminating all kinds of school-to-home/home-to-school issues – I continue to be grateful for iMovie, Movie Maker, and PhotoStory3 (one of my favorite digital storytelling tools!).  And I look forward in the New Year to exploring free smartphone apps for filmmaking.

I think one of the most important things we can do for students is to support and promote their efforts at becoming effective multimedia writers. Providing tools and tips is one way – along with providing authentic audiences.  Over the next month, I’d like to gather a comprehensive list of student video competitions.  If you know of any, please jump in and leave a comment.

The great films have not been made yet. The ones who will make them are out there, though, riding a skateboard.” ~Robert Altman

October 23, 2010
by blogwalker

Building a News Story = Building 21st Century Literacies

News 10’s Nick Monacelli’s September SECC session on Building a News Story was outstanding! And the good news for teachers – across grade levels and subject areas – who were not able to join us live at Channel 10 is that you and your students now have access to the entire presentation:


As I’m writing this post, I’m also re-listening to Nick’s talk – and thinking that the samples, tips, and discussion all help  to make visible NCTE’s Definition for 21st century literacy:

Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
  • Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments”

Many thanks to SECC and cameraman Doug Niva for hosting this wonderful resource.

January 28, 2010
by blogwalker

Teaching Students to Write Creative Non-fiction for Video

vernonI walked away from media teacher  Vernon Bisho’s Thursday night SEVA session Understand > Care > Feel > Learn with a whole new understanding of the art of creative non-fiction writing for video.  Vernon provides his high school students with the scaffolding needed to produce award-winning entries.  But his program could easily be adapted to elementary and middle school students.

I’m betting that if I roll out Vernon’s strategies with 4th and 5th grade filmmakers, particularly tips for interviewing, they too will gain a better understanding of this genre,  and very likely improve their media literacy skills in the process.

In a nutshell, Vernon believes:

“If you don’t understand, you won’t care.  If you don’t care, you can’t feel.  If you can’t feel, you won’t learn.”

He embeds this philosophy in his non-fiction idea web/brainstorm worksheet, which includes the reminder: “Must capture  your audience’s attention in the first 15 seconds: interesting B-roll, music, or a catch lead line is key.”  And just in case we weren’t familiar with the term B-roll, Vernon shared a YouTube explanation.

So here’s how Vernon’s students move through the process of creating a non-fiction story:

  • Part 1 – Start with the back-story (who, what, where, when, why + how). The back-story clarifies the reason for the story. It is the first step in helping the audience to UNDERSTAND the problem. Connect Part 1 to Part 2 by explaining the goal or the motivation for the story – building the transition for your audience to CARE.
  • Part 2 – Introduce the specifics about the reason for story and the process (obstacles – or moral premise). Create tension and deal with feelings.  Between Part 2 and Part 3, introduce the lowest point or emotional high. Your audience needs the emotional impact in order to FEEL.  And the most important thing in telling a story is to make people feel.
  • Part 3 – Make visible the lesson learned/payoff.  Where do we go from here? As your audience makes connections between the story and their lives, they LEARN.

How can your students begin practicing and applying the above  concepts? How about by viewing samples of creative non-fiction video clips, such as CBS’s High School Hero comforts Kids with Cancer or a sample from one of Vernon’s students: Gabe Lock, Rising Star.

Elementary teachers and secondary content area teachers often struggle with how to include media literacy within their programs. Why not start the day/period with a recent TV news interview, local or national, which most likely will run no more than 3 -5 minutes (about the time needed to take attendance, etc.), and ask students to identify how the producers provide the audience with the opportunity to understand, care, feel, and learn? Such a simple way to help students make those inter-textual connections that lead to higher literacy levels!

Vernon has posted a number of his handouts to our newly formed Digital Media Communit (which you are warmly invited to join):

As soon as he posts his 2-column storyboard for non-fiction and his overview handout, I’ll add them to this post.

I’m heading into the SECC site to find the date for the next SEVA training event!


October 18, 2009
by blogwalker

The Single Most Important Thing About Telling a Good Story…

The single most important part of telling a good story is asking throughout the entire process: ‘What is the story all about?’”  Bryan Shadden, KVIE

I look forward to our regional (Sacramento)  SEVA Trainings for Teachers series. Saturday’s event was an opportunity to learn about Tips for Building a Documentary, a session lead by KVIE producer Bryan Shadden. Bryan’s handout will walk you and your students through his steps to creating a video narrative (documentary) – starting with Research & Story Focus. I love that the basis of building a documentary mirrors teaching the writing process: “After a producer (writer) has researched the subject matter, she should be able to say exactly what the story will be about in one sentence. The more focused the sentence, the more focused the story.”

I also learned a new term: B-roll, which is “TV jargon for the cover shots you need to correspond with the sound bites from your interviews and the words you write.”  Huge “ah ha” moment for me…From now on, I’ll encourage students to make sure their production team includes a designated B-roll person. From 4th grade – 12th grade, I’ve too often seen student filmmakers scrambling after the fact to come up with cover shots when they realize that the audience will quickly lose interest if too much of the interview is just footage of the interviewee.

And some tips from the audience:

  • fastest way for students to create their storyboards: use online comic book generators such as Comic Life.  Love this idea!
  • great collection of student-made documentaries:, with teen entries such as The Bus Stop (a great team effort!)
  • Center for Sacramento History – a growing bank of photos for classroom use.  I looked at this site several years ago and can see that their vision for becoming a rich archive of oral histories is starting to take shape.
  • PBS Guide to Ken Burn’s The Wara collaboration between the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, Florentine Films and WETA public television station in Washington, DC — contains hands-on production tips and interview techniques from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick as well as information on how to send completed interviews to the Veterans History Project.

And Bryan’s last question to an interviewee: “Is there anything I haven’t asked you that I should have asked?” I’ve used this question before for my Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project. This final question can take an interview in a whole new direction!

I don’t know who the speakers for the next SEVA event will be, but without a doubt there will be blog-worthy presenters ready to take teachers to the next level in their filmmaking skills and vision:-)

August 22, 2008
by blogwalker

Why Filmmaking Belongs in the Classroom

“I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything, and by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker.” Stanley Kubric

For the past couple of years, Nikos TheodosakisThe Director in the Classroom has been my top recommendation to teachers wanting to venture into filmmaking as part of their curriculum. In addition to tips and wonderful graphic organizers, Nikos also lays out a compelling argument (on behalf on his own children – and all children) for why filmmaking belongs in the classroom, starting with Part 1:

  • Learning in a world of change
  • Living and learning in a visual world
  • How filmmaking develops higher order thinking skills
  • How filmmaking develops personal and social skills
  • How filmmaking raises awareness

I have a new favorite: Reading in the Dark: Using Film as a Tool in the English Classroom, by John Golden. I found this gem while attending the July National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Institute for 21st Century Learning. What a great resource for secondary teachers – and probably upper elementary too. “Even though this book deals with cinematic technique and film study, it is ultimately a book about using film to help students improve their reading and analytical skills.”

Golden includes over 30 films, ranging from E.T. The Extraterrestrial to Life Is Beautiful , and provides strategies for viewing each, including reading strategies (e.g., predicting, responding, questioning, and storyboarding), textual analysis (e.g., characterization, point of view, iron, and connections/comparisons between authors’ and directors’ choices) and classroom tested suggestions for developing units. Tons of powerful images pulled from films, along with thought-provoking “Questions to Consider.”

I’m working on a presentation right now for our Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium‘s upcoming Video in the Classroom event.  I’ll be sharing both books during my session – and am seeking a third to add to the list.

April 29, 2008
by blogwalker

The Importance of Storyboarding in Digital Storytelling – A Student Perspective

Over the next few weeks, I will be uploading and showcasing some of the amazing student projects that have come out of the DOLCHE project. Right now we are gathering input from students on their tips for future filmmakers. If your students are questioning the value of storyboarding as part of pre-production, I think Florin High School student Xavier Carillo (from Bob LeVin’s 12 grade English class) explains it well.


Many thanks to SECC cameraman Doug Niva for sharing the interview clip…with more to come:-).

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