Halfway through last year, I decided to move my blogging over to Schoology. To be honest, I hate blogging in Schoology and only decided to give it a go to be on the same platform as our teachers. So, I’m back on WordPress after a weekend that gave me a jolt.

This past Saturday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the Library of Congress celebrated the 16th National Book Festival. If you have never attended this event, you are missing out. I have only attended three of these events, and I’ve really enjoyed all of them. This last one, though, was special. I drove to DC in the hopes of seeing just a couple of the long list of great writers scheduled to be there. Among them, the one I wanted to see the most was Ken Burns. Not only did I see him, but I actually got to talk to him! I asked Ken Burns a question and he was excited to answer.


My question was, “If we are updating curriculum standards to include coding and computer science at all levels, shouldn’t we also include media literacy to make people aware of how images, video, and sound can be used to manipulate them?”

Ken Burns, of course, is a master of multimedia. He has a knack for combining images and sounds to communicate in ways text can only approximate. And while I love text, and books, and writing, I really find it most fascinating to sit in front of a screen and be moved by history.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every subject could be taught by experts that engaged their audience like the readers and interviewees in Ken Burns’s films do? Why can’t textbook publishers be more like Ken Burns and his team?

Instead of asking these things, I think the better approach is to teach our own students to create small scale documentaries to share with their peers and with the community at large so we can all be teachers and learners. You can’t create a compelling film about ANYTHING unless you know what you are talking about. Asking students to make and present a documentary is not watering down a research paper assignment. It is making it much more rigorous. It is asking students to add relevant, compelling images and sounds to to their message. It is teaching to make the kind of media they consume. And in making it, they learn to “read” it.

Yes, we read media. We decode the camera angle, the lighting, the cropping, the movement, the level of the audio, the tempo and tone of the music. And while it is all great fun when we are at the movies being entertained, it is also a great tragedy when we can’t discern what digitally altered images and sounds can make us think is true.

This year I’m working harder than ever to steer teachers in the direction of multimedia projects. We have invested so much time and money into equipping all our students with devices that are, in effect, portable movie and recording studios. We even have a bit of Ken Burns in our iMovie app. We can’t let this go unused. We have to ensure our kids can read, not just text, but everything that comes their way on a screen.