By Jonna Kuskey
Make room, Steven Spielberg. I’m going into the movie business.
Well . . . sort of.
As the old adage goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and the pandemic that forced us to move quickly to online learning forced me to make movies. With a big box office budget of zero dollars, no big-name actors, and no brilliant CGI, I made videos to teach concepts or explain assignments so students could access the information wherever and whenever they needed or wanted. (Thank you, free version of Screencast-O-Matic!)
When it came time to turn our attention to the new school year, the overwhelming consensus of our department was that we needed to first assess our students’ ELA skills and then find a way to individually teach or reteach students who were having difficulty with particular skills. As a result, the John Marshall High School English Department’s JITS (just-in-time skills) Library was born.
Our department compiled a list of the skills we most often have to reteach (see table below for our top 14 skills), and we have now started to make just-in-time skills (JITS) videos for those ELA concepts to be accessed by students and teachers whenever the need arises.
|Top 14 How-To JITS|
|Write a thesis|
|Write a claim|
|Select appropriate evidence to support a claim|
|Write persuasive explanations for evidence and claims|
|Create blend quotes|
|Create comma quotes|
|Create colon quotes|
|Annotate text for understanding|
|Create a compound sentence|
|Create a complex sentence|
|Create a compound-complex sentence|
|Identify credible and noncredible sources|
The videos will be short, 3-5 minutes in length, and created so all of our 9th-12th grade students can benefit from their content. They can be used both as a tool for reviewing and as a method of introducing a concept from a distance, or in tandem with an in-classroom lesson. Teachers can actually embed them into their lessons using Microsoft Forms, and can add questions within the videos or quizzes at the end to assess students’ progress. The videos can be used as a refresher for the whole class before a big assignment as well as a tool for individual students having difficulty with a skill. Teachers can guide a student to a particular video if they notice the student struggling, but students will also know that they have access to any video, at any grade level, at any time of the day and from any location. This kind of accessibility is so important for students who may be learning from a distance.
We have a team of teachers from all four grades helping script and revise the videos to ensure our vocabulary, examples, and explanations are applicable to every ELA classroom. For instance, some teachers may say claim while others say assertion or argument. Some say explanation while others say commentary or justification. By working together to make these videos, we can create a common vocabulary across the department when discussing skills with our students. At the same time, we can bring those synonyms into the videos to reinforce the idea that while the words are different, they are meant to define the same skill. Creating the videos in this way allows for consistency both horizontally and vertically—students moving to a different teacher because of either a new semester or a new grade level will be able to transfer the skills. All students will have access to the same videos, hear the same message, and learn the same vocabulary no matter the teacher or the grade. With the chaos inflicted on the spring 2020 semester by the pandemic, and the uncertainty of the coming school year, it’s essential that students be able to catch up on any material they may have missed, and this type of scaffolding allows them to do so at their own pace.
These videos will be of help to students and teachers whether we end up fully face-to-face in the classroom, totally online, or a hybrid of the two. The JITS library will be loaded to our online classroom sites for students to freely access at any time, and it can also be downloaded to their devices to access the videos offline.
So while the summer days dwindle, we will be busy making movies. I think Spielberg is safe, though. I don’t think we will be winning any Oscars . . . yet.
Jonna Kuskey is a National Board Certified Teacher at John Marshall High School in West Virginia, where she has taught English for 14 years. She writes a monthly column for the Wheeling Intelligencer, and is a 2018 winner of the Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award and the 2017 recipient of the CEE James Moffett Memorial Award for Teacher Research.