Some might say that English Language Arts and technology are irreconcilable.
The former conjures up images of dim libraries filled with dusty books and essays scribbled with angry red pen marks. The latter brings visions of cloud computing and chat-speak. However, instructors at Jamestown High School have found that the two fields form a surprisingly complementary pair.
Sam Qadri and Christopher Tehan lead a program at JHS that integrates ELA with media studies. Qadri heads up the media segment while Tehan handles the ELA component. Classes take place simultaneously and students' schedules alternate between the two adjoining classrooms.
Sam Qadri helps student Tessa Sena transfer her photos to the system.
P-J photos by Nicholena Moon
"It is an applied language arts type of environment where students are encouraged to be creative and imaginative as we positively promote multiple layers of learning standards and learning styles," explained Qadri.
In one room, a group of students listens eagerly to a lecture by Ed Tomassini, a professional videographer, regarding the elements of beauty in still images. They discuss what makes an image visually appealing, utilizing art terms like the rule of thirds and depth of field. In the next room, students work on self-portraits, using an odd combination of iMacs, construction paper and glitter glue.
All the students appear to be completely absorbed in the process of learning under the hands-on approach of the program. The class has a high retention rate - although the students may opt out of the integrated classrooms for a more traditional ELA experience, most choose to stay.
"We have very few students choose to exit the program," said Tehan. "It provides an alternative learning method for more creative students. To be able to have some applicable skills in the work world is great too. A lot of kids are really into technology and can't get their hands on the supplies they need, so that's where we come in."
The classrooms certainly are not lacking in that department. Aside from the iMacs, the video studio contains a variety of digital cameras, both still image and video, as well as other useful items like microphones and teleprompters. Qadri encourages the students to utilize the tools readily available to them, if possible. If a student takes a photo for a project on her iPod touch, Qadri will then work with her to transfer the image to the school's server.
Throughout the year, the students work on projects like faux movie trailers, public service announcements, art historical studies, advertisements, visual interpretations of poems and photography projects supplemented by creative writing.
"It's a nontraditional approach that incorporates all of the arts, most of the sciences, a little bit of math, music - it's just a great opportunity," said Tehan.
"The environment is meant to be educational, fostering community and friendship," added Qadri. "At the same time they are learning a lot, but sometimes they don't know they are learning a lot. Beyond the content that we deliver, they are socializing, sharing information, transferring information, and synthesizing and analyzing information. This is ultimately what we are after."
The program has been running for 14 years, and the addition of the newly minted NYS common core standards posed only minor changes to the program.
"I think we are the only people in the state who integrate technology fully with all of the English," said Tehan. "We constructed the English curriculum to be a standard program. We meet all the state standards. But as soon as you add all of this technology, the writing carries over into the tech, making an altogether new piece of art."
The program adds an extra dimension to the traditional ELA experience, explained Qadri.
"Language arts is known to be, for our student population, a dry material," he said. "You lecture at students and try to give them the whole material and content, and rarely do they see application to what they do. So the concept was to integrate media production into language arts as an application for what they learn. Fast forward to what we are doing today - videography is a multi-disciplinary integrated program. We take the same curriculum that is being delivered in any traditional classroom in the high school, bring it into our studios here, and work on projects to reinforce what they have learned in language arts."