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Crafting Poetry Narratives in WeVideo

/ Katie Melynn

Person writing poetry narrative in notebook.

One of the first challenges I face as an educator at the beginning of each school year is getting to know my students. With a whole batch of new smiling faces (and a few tired ones as we all readjust to the long school days after relaxing during summer break), I have to find a way to connect with them. This year, poetry and WeVideo came to the rescue.

I teach Creative Writing for middle school students as part of a magnet program that connects kids with the arts and the creative process. From 6th grade through 8th grade (and beyond if they choose to continue the program into high school), students brainstorm and draft. They revise and refine. They submit to writing contests and showcase their work at performance events. Poetry, short story, memoir – they do it all. Beyond just learning writing craft and writing techniques, our program aims to develop each student as an artist.

Poetry in motion

As part of a local writing contest in the first part of the school year, my students crafted poems that showcased who they are, where they're from, and the stories that make up each of their unique identities. Sounds great, right? My classroom of pre-teens brainstormed, used templates and line starters to get them started, and read things out loud to see how they sounded. They crossed out words, added lines, and tried to capture the essence of our city in coastal Maryland. We workshopped each piece, providing feedback and praise. My students glowed as they shared about their hopes, dreams, and who they were.

Part of our writing process looked at examples from years past from the writing contest and others who had written similar types of poems. What resonated from their pieces and why? How could we make our work sparkle in the same way? Over and over again, my students were drawn to the accompanying videos that the poets created. Each shared where they were from, describing it in verse and showing it in photos. While we normally would have written a poem and called it a day, something about adding in multimedia appealed to my group of visual learners. I considered other tools like slides or posters, but the interactive aspect was always at the front of my mind. Fortunately, my students knew as much or more about apps than I did so they became the experts. We decided to use WeVideo to create our content.

Students incorporated an image for each line of their poem. Some opted to upload their own photos. I expected ones shared from their smartphones but old, grainy photos kept in family photo albums also made an appearance. As a teacher, I smiled imagining these students looking back at these treasured moments with their families at home, trying to decide on just the right photo to capture the feelings in their poetry. Other students use WeVideo's stock media library to make an abstract representation of their poetry. At every step, students were creating. And it was awesome.

Louder voices

As writers, we don’t often jump at the chance to share our pieces out loud. Many of my students prefer to see their words in print, reveling in the quiet ways that their voices are shared through the written word. When it came time to read their work out loud, WeVideo voiceover tools allowed us to rehearse and record over top of the visuals.

My students were excited to hear their words. But in true middle school fashion, some cringed at hearing their own voices out loud as a recording. This actually worked out great for our discussion and reflection about the creative process. What makes a good poem? Do the words take on new meaning when we hear them compared to when we read them on the page? Did each line of the poem have the impact that we expected? In the end, some students reveled in listening to their poems. Others went back to the drawing board.

After hearing the poems out loud, we decided that instrumental swells would add some gravity to the videos. I sat back and watched as my students experimented with sound clips, matching them to just the right line or word in their poem. It turned out that I had some budding directors in the group. I just hope that when they stand up on stage accepting awards one day that they remember their middle school teacher from way back when.

Features for differentiating learning

This group, grades 6 and 7, are already pretty tech-savvy. Many of them have been using WeVideo since elementary school. To tell the truth, it was an unexpected chance for them to be the experts as they taught me all about features that I had only tinkered with up to that point. I didn’t anticipate tapping into their prior knowledge so much with this project but it sure did! Even my reluctant sharers grinned as they set their poetry in motion with video.

Before starting, I was worried about the pacing of the project. What if some students worked faster than others? How would I keep us all moving forward together? Fortunately, the video editor was intuitive. Students could drag and drop the elements that they wanted to try, let their video run, and make edits in real-time. I could also challenge students to create more, add more, and think outside of the box. The collaboration option also allowed students to work together to edit, provide suggestions, and go through an interactive peer review process. What I had previously used worksheets and traditional handouts to do became something that students could do on their own as they worked.

When we screened the final video projects, there were claps, laughs, and even a few teary eyes as the images, words, and music filled our screen. Students sat in rows, just like a movie premier, to see their own creations and those of other writers in our group. Sharing any work in a middle school classroom usually comes with some awkwardness or nervous feelings. But these writers eagerly pulled up their video when it was their turn to share. Some read live over their photos and music. Others used the recording feature to include their poems in the video. This extra amount of personalization really helped them take ownership not just of their learning experience but of their own voices.

When the list of winners from the poetry contest was announced, a number of these students were on it. Their poems were included in a collection published by the city and shared among the community at a special reading event. As spectacular as it was to see their words in print, I think the videos that they created and the strong voices that went with them are what I’ll remember as an educator. It was the first time we had paired WeVideo with their own original writing. It became one of the highlights of our semester and a project that I added to our course curriculum. It tied into our course content, engaged different learning modalities, and allowed for higher-level thinking and problem solving.

But more than anything, my students valued the opportunity to create with this project. I know that’s what my students took away from the project: finding their voice.

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Katie Melynn
Katie Melynn is a freelance writer and creative writing teacher based in Annapolis, Maryland. She loves working with young writers and showing students the practical side of what it means to write professionally. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys spending time with her three children and trying new restaurants.