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September Issue

Vol 24|No 1|September 2014


Photo from iStock.com

The videos are coming!
Are students ready?

by Jamie McKenzie (about author)

New tests tied to the CSS (Common Core Standards) now require the skillful analysis and interpretation of videos. Students must know how to "read" a film.

Schools that have already paid attention to media literacy and film will have an edge over those that have ignored them. Because interpreting a video is somewhat different from reading a passage, poorly prepared students may experience frustration and failure on these new tests.

Take the Greenpeace video below . . . for example.

It is easy to watch, but how well can your students manage questions like these typical of the PARCC items?

  • What is the main point Greenpeace is making about Dove?
  • What evidence does Greenpeace offer to support its claims?
  • How convincing is this evidence?
  • How well does this video's treatment of tropical rainforests match the two passages you read earlier?

In an earlier article, "Questioning Video, Film, Advertising and Propaganda:
Deconstructing Media Messages
," I argued that schools should equip students with an awareness of film and media devices akin to the literary devices that have dominated language arts instruction for decades. It is hard to find schools that have inserted such instruction across all the disciplines, yet it is this kind of learning that is necessary to ready students for the PARCC items.

Taking advantage of practice items

Fortunately, PARCC makes items available here so that students can grasp the challenge ahead. Grade 6-8 ELA items start with two passages and a video about Amelia Earhart. You can watch the video on Mojo.com or on the sample test. The sample test is best because then you can see the questions they ask and the format the students must handle.

The PARCC test asks what meaning is implied by one statement in the video and provides a time at which those words are spoken. (1:04)

"the narrator mentions people who qualified [Earhart's] skill as adequate."

Students can and should go back to listen to the actual words spoken as well as the tone of voice to grasp the full meaning of what the narrator says. To do this they must know how to operate the video control bar to find 1:04. Try it now on the video above and write down the narrator's exact words. What is her tone?

"Others merely qualified her skills as adequate."

The actual words and tone become important when picking the correct answer to the item.

Next students are asked which of four film statements is the best supporting statement for the correct answer to the prior question. Each of those statements is quoted fully along with the time spoken. To handle this kind of questioning, viewing and thinking, students will need lots of practice before taking the real tests.

To succeed with these sample items, students must learn to identify more than the main idea of a video, as the Amelia Earhart items ask students to find evidence in the video to support other, less important ideas. Was she courageous? Was she really a skillful pilot? Were her skills exaggerated? This process requires a mix of video watching and reading, as the questions accompanying the video include a great deal of text themselves.

The Release of Spring 2014 Items

ELA performance-based assessments are available for grades 3-11 here. These items work on some browsers but not others. Not on Firefox. Yes on Safari. Once you arrive at that page, you must select "the Practice Tests" tab at the top of the page.

The PBA (performance-based assessment) for some grade levels includes a video that may provide practice to ready students for the test they will take. Formats and tasks vary considerably.

  • Grade 3 - no video included
  • Grade 4 - Video - “Chincoteague Ponies Make Annual Swim" (some times included)
  • Grade 5 - Video - “Endangered Penguins Caught in Oil Spill." (some times included)
  • Grade 6 - Video - “Behind the Scenes with the National Zoo’s Lion Cubs.” (some times included)
  • Grade 7 - Video - "Squishy Science" (some times included)
  • Grade 8 - Video - "Elephants Show Cooperation" (no times included)
  • Grade 9 - no video included
  • Grade 10 - An audio clip (3:51) in which law professor Catherine Ross discusses the context and impact of the Tinker v. Des Moines decision.
  • Grade 11 -Video - “From Subjects to Citizen." (some times included)

A Day of PARCC Preparation

Bring Jamie McKenzie to your district for an exciting, hands-on day exploring ways to optimize student performance on these demanding new test.

Jamie will lead the group through sample items and equip teachers with strategies to prepare students to perform well. Click here for more information.

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