Using Authentic Media Texts To Engage Students and Improve Learning

Blog Post created by teachontario.team on Sep 28, 2015

Multimedia_slide.jpgIn this installment of TeachOntario Talks, we are profiling and celebrating teacher Derrick Schellenberg's project aimed at increasing learning and engagement through the use of authentic multimedia texts.  Derrick teaches at Sir William Mulock Secondary School, of the York Region District School Board, in Newmarket.

How do you integrate technology in the classroom without “stapling new tools onto old ideas”?

That was the pivotal challenge Derrick Schellenberg says he and his team of high school English teachers faced when they began their Ontario Teacher Learning and Leadership Project (TLLP) in 2013.

Schellenberg, who is Head of English at York Region District School Board’s Sir William Mulock Secondary School  in Newmarket, worked with English teachers Angela Barrett, Michelle von Enckevort and Beverly Woodfine on the teaching team.



Their project aimed to increase student engagement, and deepen critical thinking, creativity and innovation through the creation of authentic multimedia texts. Schellenberg defines these multimedia texts as "student-created, original, meaningful and relevant digital texts, which could include one or all of audio, video, and images." The teachers also wanted to align with the school’s focus on collaborative inquiry.


The Project

The team began by teaching students how to use of an array of digital tools (primarily Google Apps for Education suite of tools, which includes Docs, Slides, Drive, Forms and Drawings). Students were encouraged to experiment with the tools to expand their comfort level of 21st century learning.

“We believe that by giving students tools for collaboration, both inside and outside the classroom, as well as the ability to see others’ contributions in real time, we can create a more meaningful collaboration experience for our students,” says Schellenberg. “By building a unit of study around inquiry questions and providing students with digital tools to access, analyze, synthesize and share information, they will deepen their critical thinking skills.”

Ultimately, the idea was to move students from being users/consumers to producers/creators, Schellenberg says. That meant the teachers first had to know the tools well themselves, then explicitly teach the students how to use them. From there the teachers connected the tools to the secondary English curriculum.


Examples of the Project in Action

So what did this look like in the classroom? The teachers used the open-source learning management system (LMS) Moodle as a central hub for the assignments, Schellenberg says, along with the Google Apps for Education suite for collaboration and co-construction.

Examples included:

  • A Grade 10 English assignment used inquiry to engage students in learning about Shakespearean times. The students used Google Docs to develop their inquiry questions, collect research to discover answers and create a final report on their findings. Teachers were able to leave feedback for the student right on the Doc.
  • A Grade 11 University English course asked students to develop a trailer (short video) and Google Form related to their Independent Study Unit (ISU) to ask their peers questions about their inquiry.
  • Grade 11 and 12 University English classes read an abridged version of Northrop Frye’s “Autumn: Tragedy” using Google Docs and analyzed specific sections using the "Comment" feature in small groups. Students then each created one slide, and built a collaborative Google presentation slideshow about key ideas from the text.
  • An ISU assignment asked students to read a book, construct inquiry questions, watch a related film or documentary, conduct research, engage in a vlog (video blog) discussion, make a film trailer to promote their ISU and construct a final multimedia presentation (slideshow, video, etc.). See a sample student work below, left.


The Outcomes for Students


“We were especially pleased with the creativity and originality of the student work,” says Schellenberg. “We also believe that what they learned about the use of technology will transfer beyond the secondary English classroom to other subject areas. Overall, we made better use of the technology students were bringing to class, and we challenged them to do higher quality and more complex work.”


“Students created some impressive film trailers,” he says. “Although students found the task to be challenging, through observations, conversations and student video_caption.jpgreflections, we learned that they found this task to be rewarding. For the most part, they become very engaged in the task and proud of the work they accomplished."


Introducing classes to a variety of technological tools ultimately empowered the students," he says. “As we progressed through the units of study and the overall courses, there was a gradual release of responsibility (from teacher to student) so the students became more and more independent. We saw this in terms of research, inquiry questions, and tech tools,” he says. “This led to greater self-management on the part of the students, and more student-to-student collaboration, as opposed to individual dependence on the teacher.”


The Outcomes for the Teachers


“This project was extremely helpful,” Schellenberg says. “The strengths of the TLLP and PKE (Provincial Knowledge Exchange) encourage teachers to design their own professional development, and then share the learning with others in a variety of ways.”google_forms_example.jpg


The use of the apps in the assignments was a help in the teaching process, Schellenberg says. The team identified the following benefits:

  • Management and access to student work was convenient and easy;
  • It was easier to give feedback for formative work with the comment and chat features;
  • Teachers could check in on student work in progress and conference as needed;
  • Students could view rubrics-- which kept students focused on what was being assessed;
  • In administering tests teachers could monitor progress, and students in other rooms could get clarification or help;
  • While marking assignments-- teachers could batch upload to Turnitin, leave comments and feedback, highlight rubrics and students would know exactly when something had been assessed.


Teacher Angela Barrett says the project opened her eyes to new ideas, possibilities and interests. "The project pushed me to step outside of my boundaries and think about how my instructional practice, as well as assessment strategies, impact overall student success and engagement," she says. "The students responded enthusiastically and I can honestly say that it has changed the way I teach."


Designing your own project and job-embedded professional learning while working with like-minded peers was rewarding, Schellenberg says. “It feels like we have taken a giant leap forward as teachers, as learners, and as leaders,” he says. “Sharing what we are doing and helping others has become a normal part of our practice. If anything, teaching was routine before, and now we are always looking for new challenges, new experiences, and new opportunities. In terms of teaching, I have never enjoyed it more. Part of the shift for me has been moving from "maybe" to responding with a "yes" when someone brings an idea forward. I am looking forward to whatever is coming next.”


The team also credits the support of Principal Sheila Hetherington and Vice-Principal Sandy Haliburton with the success of the project.


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TeachOntario Talks Discussion: Using Authentic Media Texts to Engage Students and Improve Learning