Sunday, March 30, 2014

Stop, Collaborate, Create, & Listen! Or How to Bring Creativity to the Classroom With Stop-Motion Animation Videos


If you're a nineties music lover, you might have understood the reference to Vanilla Ice's super hit, Ice Ice Baby, in this post's title. I'm not sure why that song came to mind, but it speaks to me as I think about the project my learners completed last week. By the way, if you aren't familiar with this song, you can listen to it here.

The first lines of Vanilla Ice's one-hit wonder remind me of the general routine steps that are taken to begin a new, collaborative task in the classroom. So, here we go:  Students have to stop for a minute and learn more about the task, collaborate with a classmate to design an agreed upon product, create with their chosen tools, and listen to each other and folks outside of their team as they work. (Let's see, how can we add 'Shave cool designs in your eyebrows for the ultimate Vanilla Ice look?'  OK, I think I'm getting carried away. Moving on.)

All of the talk that has been going on about bringing creativity back to schools and fostering a spirit of innovation has been of particular interest to me. This would not be the first time I've asked students to create, for sure, but I'm challenging myself to bring new life to the projects we do and allow for more hands-on creativity while actively using the target language. Therefore, I decided to introduce the stop-motion animation technique and learn alongside my students of the French language and cultures. 

As a world language educator, I must mention the fact that we have a special challenge when trying to engage our students in tasks that students in other content areas are more linguistically prepared to complete.  In fact, one of our most important responsibilities is to facilitate authentic experiences that push our students to higher levels of proficiency while preparing them for the realities of today's world. This is no small task, especially when working with novices who can only communicate at low levels. What does this all mean? World language educators, like me, can make room for creativity in the classroom, but it might just look a little different from what learners are doing in another classroom.

So, here's a breakdown of how this project unfolded in French class last week :

Project duration:
We spent three days on this project. Some students have to finish upon our return from Spring Break due to absent team members.

Reason for this project at this point in the year:
It was the week before spring break. Sophomores were out on college trip for much of the week, and the juniors left for Costa Rica that Friday. I did not want to start a new unit, but wanted to experiment with an opportunity for creative expression while using the target language.Students who were absent are not required to make up this project unless they want to do it.

Project Resources:
The directions were posted on slides and displayed on the SmartBoard. The document was also uploaded to DropBox. The work will be assessed with a modified presentational speaking rubric (original doc came from Toni Theisen and her district colleagues) -- one for novice high and one for intermediate low learners. (See below for the link to the downloadable documents.)

-This task allowed students with various strengths to develop their team-building skills in small groups.
-Learners thought intentionally about ways to have a global impact through the small organization they envisioned.
-Groups worked together to write the commercial in French. They learned new vocabulary that was particular to their product.
-Along with the language component, students became creators. Although these organizations/commercials were imaginary, this type of task could inspire learners to take more risks and consider not only the needs of the local community, but that of villages in remote areas of the world.
-ALL students actively contributed to the project. In fact, learners in other classes expressed interest in doing a similar project in the near future. Yay!

-This task requires more than three 50-minute days. Students could have used some guided small group pronunciation practice.
-Spend time doing a demo on any new apps and basic stop-motion animation techniques before beginning the creation stage of the project.
-Stress that the background is important, therefore, desktops might not be very appealing.
-Stress that photos need to be taken in the Camera Roll rather than the stop-motion app for best results. (Can move to iMovie and add music, etc that way.)
-Include time for tool (re)exploration, even if students already have experience with the tool. We all (re)learned some iMovie editing tricks that we hadn't really needed or explored before that point.

Looking to the Future:
Since our young learners are not always thinking about what lies ahead, it's a good idea to remind them to think about how projects and other learning experiences in the classroom could add value to their resume. While circulating and helping each group, I explained that they could share this stop-motion design experience with college admissions reps or potential employers. There are always ways to make oneself stand out in a crowd! Of course, this tip to keep track of interesting classroom tasks doesn't have anything to do with their mission to become proficient speakers of French, but it does prepare them for the future. That's part of my job, too.

Educator Materials for Download:
Click here for access to the directions, rubrics, and sample student products. Stay tuned for more videos later this week.

Further Discussion:
How might you use stop-motion animation in your classroom?
If you're a world language educator, how might you use this technique while making the target language an integral part of the task?

Please share your feedback and ideas in the comments.

Hope you enjoyed this post! At the very least, I hope you were inspired to listen to some nineties fun music. Vanilla Ice will rock the mic like a vandal!


  1. Hi! I'm an English teacher here in France and I really like your Stop-Motion project! I've been on your slideshare and it really inspires me. I'll try to use it this year with my Y11. And I steal your idea of Music Monday (but I'll probably do a Musical Friday since it's a difficult day for my students to stay 'tuned')! As for the French name of it, *Lundi en mélodie* could sound better don't you think? ;)

    1. Hello! It has taken me too long to respond, but better late than never, I suppose! Thank you for your feedback. I hope you have enjoyed the Music Monday task with your students!