The Grade 4 team together with art, music and myself have just finished a successful How We Express Ourselves transdisciplinary unit of inquiry on persuasive advertisements.

Here are the details:

Central Idea: Different forms of expression can be persuasive

Key Concepts: Function, perspective, connection

Lines of Inquiry

  • The techniques used to persuade (Function)
  • How different forms of expressions evoke different responses (Perspective)
  • How we connect to different forms of expression (Connection)

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Empowered Learner: students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
  • Digital Citizen: students demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property.
  • Innovative Designer: students select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks.
  • Creative Communicator: students publish or present content that customises the message and medium for their intended audience.

Learning Engagements

Students began by “tuning in” via viewing and commenting on some of the teachers’ favourite advertisements.

In rotations, we then examined one common advertisement through the lens of each specialised domain: music (what musical techniques did this ad employ?), art (what visual techniques did this ad employ?), IT (what camera techniques did this ad employ?), and homeroom (what language techniques did this ad employ?). We called these our “Function Rotations” so that students were linking their explorations to the lines of inquiry.

In the third week of the unit, students were presented with their challenge: to plan, film, edit, and explain their own persuasive video advertisement using persuasive techniques from all four domains.

Students got into groups, brainstormed, created storyboards, then went off to film. Over the next two weeks, students filmed their scenes, received peer and teacher feedback, refilmed, got more feedback, and filmed again. This feedback cycle culminated in a whole Grade “Feedback Festival” in the theatre, where we watched each others’ advertisements then gave feedback to each group using red, orange, or green signs we all held up.

There was one last frantic morning of quick changes and edits based on that feedback, then we held a parent celebration where parents came in, the students explained their advertisements, and then provided some summative feedback. Here are three examples below of some of the advertisements presented on the day.

Reflection

Transdisciplinary units, where traditionally “single subject” teachers are released to work together with homeroom teachers, are a bit of a tricky thing to coordinate. Planning time is limited. Making sure everyone is heard and on the same page is a challenge. We had a limited amount of meetings, so we had to be focused in our discussions. When we were not meeting, emails were being sent back and forth – it was important that all teachers had the expectation to keep up with these. What really worked well though was a ten minute “scrum meeting” we had at the conclusion of each transdisciplinary session. We reviewed what happened that day, and quickly planned for the next session. This worked because it was timely – we were all still in the mindset of the session – and we could quite clearly see next steps based on where student understanding was at. Communication is key in these transdisciplinary units, and we developed some helpful rules of thumb for this over the course of the unit.

Having a central project to “unite” around helped too. Perhaps summative assessments in these transdisciplinary units should be more project based such as this, where every subject has a role to play.

Helping students understand the feedback cycle is of central importance. We must have been through 4 or 5 of these cycles as students refilmed and polished their advertisements. At a certain point though, enough is enough!

Volume of voices. This was probably the most received feedback. The students needed to be far closer to their subject than they thought – the iPad microphones are just not good enough. I’m looking into purchasing third-party microphones for next year.

Shaky camera. This was the second most received piece of feedback. Next year I’ll think about some more concrete strategies I can give student to help with this. Or just buy a bunch of tripods.

Authentic audience. Students shared their final videos A) with their parents, together with an explanation, and B) on their Blogfolios (to share with extended family). This provided an excellent source of motivation.

Feedback Festival. Students sat for too long in the theatre and they began to lose interest in the end. Next year, cut this in half, or have 4 separate in-class festivals.

All in All…

It was clear in their final written explanations that students had developed their understanding of how expressions can persuade, their ability to know when someone is trying to persuade them, and also how to create persuasive expressions themselves. They developed collaborative and creative capacity, and drew together usually disparate areas of school into one unified whole.

An effective unit – looking forward to acting on these reflections next year.