The Common Craft Show: Some thoughts on Visual Story Telling and Animation

The Common craft Show, published by Lee and Sachi LeFever, has really helped me understand some of the principles and ideas I found tricky to explain to friends and colleagues, particularly blogs and wikis, and the principles behind RSS Feeds. During the Summer I was drawn into the "Twitterverse," following friends and fellow bloggers in between posts. An "enthusiastic lurker" perhaps more than a proactive participant, but nonetheless Twitter as a tool has fascinated me, like so many environments in the web2.0 world in terms of its hidden or not quite yet discovered potentials. It has among other things been used to facilitate audience participation at a number of conferences I have attended lately, through live publishing of comments and questions among other things during presentations and events, so when in my feeds and tweats I found the folk @ Commoncraft had made a video about Twitter, how it worked and how it was useful, I was quick to take a look.

This post is not about Twitter actually, sorry... Its more about the "CommonCraft" style and approach, and the additional videos I found in the catologue after watching the Twitter video and the inspiration that they evoked around the potential of this style of presentation for use in the classroom. As you can see the video presentation is chatty, friendly and I think enormously appealing. The professional homemade look and feel, I think lends them beautifully to a genre and style of animation and presentation that could be readily adapted and used to develop multimodal writing outcomes with students in the classroom.

My experiences with students, tell me how challenging amid the excitement of making a film students find taking time to frame shots, waiting for that hand to get out of the frame. It is usually not until the finished product, as they see it, is aired, that groans emerge about the hand in frame that shouldn't have been their. While watching the Commoncraft Show again this week, I have begun thinking about how often my intentions and desired outcomes may overcomplicate what is neccesary to enable the technology to fulfill its roles in class based animation activities. The students are usually happy with the work they make, and the outcomes they achieve excite and motivate them. I began wondering just how important in using audio and video as a writing medium it really is for students to be hindered by the issue of "hands in" productions. We all want quality outcomes to result from the work our students develop, but perhaps the question I have missed when thinking about animation projects in the classroom is why we were really doing them. What purpose will they serve? For me animation is about multimodal communication and storytelling, so maybe if this is what I want to achieve, then I should review this side of the process rather than dwelling on the technical aspects too much. Disney, Pixar and Aardman's animators, spend years honing their skills, and hours/months planning the outcomes and making the sets and environments in which they will set their stories. Perhaps their are other ways to develop situations where emergent learners can develop their understanding of the elements that make up the audio visual storytelling process. Ways that enable them to tell stories while they engage with and explore the nuances of the media and tools involved, and this is where the Common craft show came into my thinking.

I made some films with students in Y4 last year using the Stop Motion Process, and Stick Puppets to tell the story of the Ramayana. The project was split into scenes that we storyboarded in class and which the students went on to use in small groups to recount and tell different parts of the story as short stop motion clips. Their completed group video clips were later compiled as a class movie, by editing together on the IWB in Movie Maker. Communicating beyond the visual however was something the students found difficult to reconcile, and to support their story most drew on the familiar comic strip genre, including speech bubbles and captions to support their narrative. Because of our limited experiences at the time, time limitations for the projects and student eagerness to complete their work, the text elements were displayed for too short a time for their audience to see and appreciate them, but the idea was their. Animation as a storytelling process is incredibly complex, requiring more than the skills and knowledge of how to achieve motion, though in the emergent stages I think this is what the students find most exciting and appealing, the bringing to life of static and inanimate objects. While watching the Common Craft Show what struck me as powerful, was what might have happened if we had actually seen the video creation process as a digital writing outcome. Like "The Common Craft Show" this project used paper based hand drawn and screen printed cut outs. I have begun to ponder on how a "Common Craft" type approach, combining talk with the props we had developed as the "writing outcome" may have enabled text rehearsal and the bringing of these objects to life as a visual narrative.

A common craft type approach to using video and animation in the classroom seems to offer a powerful pedagogical tool, for linking some of the ideas I have explored in previous posts around multimodality and literacy development. Check out this description from The Commoncraft Blog where Lee describes

"How the workflow breaks down:

  • I create the first draft of the script and basic storyboard, we review it
  • We both edit the script, often concurrently using Google docs.
  • I create the illustrations
  • We walk through the storyboard and script together
  • In the studio, Sachi runs the camera and effects (animation/stop-action) and I direct the story
  • Sachi does all the video editing/finishing
  • I blog about it
In terms of our views of literacy and the writing process, what does this reveal about the complexities of digital text authoring. This reflects the complexities of a process based outcome, What Lies Beneath this situation, far outweighs the apparent simplicity of the outcome. Planning, drafting, , reworking/editing/revising, rehearsing, performing, evaluating, before re-editing, revision and publication; and throughout... Collaborating.

The process of oral storytelling, storyboarding and talk for writing we have begun to develop in support of "podcasting" seems very similar. Many of the materials the students develop to do this never see the light of day beyond the planning stage. Using this whiteboard based visual storytelling medium and process would I'm sure not only be really good fun but an interesting way to blend and evidence the role of talk for writing through practical activity and outcome. The added bonus is that using this medium as the writing outcome, we have courtesy of Common Craft a number of ready made models of the text form to draw on, share, evaluate and work with as a frame to hang the text development process on.

As a final soundbite, how about this project or one like it to link ideas from a science or geography project through ICT and an extended Literacy unit. How would you classify it? Is it a non chronological report, an explanatory or a Persuasive Text or does it encompass elements of all three?

How could we use this tool to enable students in taking ownership of and sharing their conceptual models or in bringing concept cartoons to life, perhaps using the process to explain pollination, photosynthesis or condensation? What about creating a set of instructions? Could we use the process to tell stories drawing on storyboards as writing media in their own right, with cut out characters and voice overs using digiblues. This would also be relatively easy to accomplish using digital cameras/ scanners and PhotoStory. How about using IWB presentations, capturing video through the smartboard recorder, with students adding narration through tools such as Movie Maker. The smartboard software could be installed for use as an application suite for this purpose on machines not attached to the whiteboard. This as you can tell has really got me thinking. What do you think?


Doug said...

The Common Crafts style is superb ... just think about getting children to explain to others in this way ... think of it as 'design and build' ... a brilliant way of doing how tos.

What about getting them to explain about multiplication or spelling rules ?

With an ordinary video camera or with a Digital Blue this could be very motivating and a good start to peer tutoring.

I have already suggested it to my PGCE ICT Specialists when they come to present to their groups.

T. Benjamin Larsen said...

Great post. I'm not a teacher or anything and just happened upon your blog by chance.

Anyway, you just introduced me to the Common Craft Show which I agree displays a most excellent example of visual storytelling. This is, as should be apparent from my blog, one of my main fields of interest. (Made you look).

I just wish I had a teacher that could be bothered to introduce animation in the classroom, but I've always been patient when it comes to these things, even as a kid. Great blog and I've bookmarked it. I will be back. Keep up the good work.

PS: If I may be so bold: I think you should change the background and/or the text-colour of the "ICT Inspirations" header it's really hard to make out at the moment

Melissa Techman said...

Very helpful and thoughtful blog. This post alone worth the price of admission! I am a school librarian/IT teacher in Virginia, participating in School Library Journal's 23 Things group. We will explore 23 fun tech things in 12 weeks - we are on week 2. I am putting your blog on my links. My bog (10 days old) is:

thanks again,