A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words – That’s Too Many

When grading photo assignments, just like anything else, I often find it a difficult task.  Having a rubric can be a big help.  I focused my rubric on those things that I really want the photographer to do:  take the pictures, write captions, save the files and create a contact sheet.

Feel free to adjust this template and use it in any way.  Photo Assignment Template (word doc)

Mr. C

Grading Writing Is A Teachable Moment

I hate grading.  It is the bane of nearly every teacher.  Many years ago a student showed me the need to have a rubric when grading written assignments, yearbook layouts or even photographs.   Today I’m posting my yearbook layout rubric.  This rubric focuses on what I feel is important.  Following design rules, spelling, grammar, timeliness and saving the files correctly.  You can change it to focus on what you feel is  important.

Yearbook Layout Rubric

Mr. C

How Not To Do A TV Interview

I don’t think this poor girl was really prepared for this interview.  I also don’t think they really practiced how to read or understand the on camera director’s signals.

Mr. C

Winning Scholastic Journalism Awards or Not!

This week I took seven of my students to a yearbook camp at Texas A&M University in College Station.  It was a great experience in spite of the fact that A&M does not offer a journalism or communications major.

But the real attraction of camp is the final day.  All the hard work for four days is summed up by the awards assembly.  This year we didn’t take home a single certificate or trophy.  Too bad I guess.  But my students took their defeat well and I’m proud of them.

On the long two and a half hour drive home, we discussed what our “loss” meant.  Before we turned in our project to be judged, we had already decided that we had worked hard, created a theme that our students will like and came up with some marketing plans that may help sell more books.  The photographers shot more photos than ever before and put in a decent amount of time putting together a spirit of Aggieland layout.

So, the kids said that awards would have been nice, but weren’t that important.  They drove home wearing their matching maroon shirts and were proud of their work and happy that they had worked hard.  And they had fun too.

Most of them bonded in a way that they never can do at school.  For four days, they lived together in a dorm and shared their lives.  They worked, ate, slept and had fun together.  It is a great experience.

But sometimes we can get so hung up about the awards.  There have been many camps we have left with trophies in hand and others we have left with nothing.  That has meant little to our success at selling and creating the yearbook.  Camps where we got great ideas have been much more helpful for us.

I’m not saying you should try to win awards.  Submit your yearbook or other media publications to your state associations, CSPA or other contests.  Read or listen to the critiques that they send your way.  But then digest it.  They don’t live in your world.  Every school is different.  Your school board and community have values and priorities.  Your principal has her/his goals.  Your budget may be different.  Your communities ethnic and economic make up is different from others too.  Cultures, local traditions and much more vary from place to place.  No one can know all of this when they look over your book or other media work.

So much of what we do is subjective.  Just look at the “real” media.  Which publication is better Vogue, Rolling Stone or Entertainment Weekly?  I can’t judge.  They are so different, for different audiences – as are yearbooks.  Sometimes, the one size fits all rules of yearbook design just don’t work at every school.  Don’t fret.  Learn when you have to break them to keep selling books.  Sales should matter more than awards.

Journalism is important for yearbooks, but remember it is a memory book first and foremost.  Don’t let that get hijacked by too much journalism and high design that your student body does not understand.  Are the basics of design important?  Yes.  But research your audience, know what they want and give it to them.  You will be rewarded with higher sales.

Awards are nice, but sales are better.

Mr. C

Easy Yearbook Ladder Template

Today we head off to yearbook camp.  Composing the yearbook ladder is always one of those fun tasks that must be done.  Here’s a template file to make that go easier.
Yearbook Ladder (Excel File)

Mr. C

Student Video Journalist Kit

What should a student VJ pack for their every day use? I’m going on the theory that your school is like mine, and you don’t have all the money in the world to spend. Here is what I consider the minimum to shoot good video.

-Canon ZR800 Mini DV Camcorder: For under $300 the price is right and the camera has a good viewfinder, decent zoom and most importantly a microphone jack.

-Canon Deluxe Tripod: At $40 it is a great value for the money. I’ve tried a lot of tripods and most that are cheap, break. Canon tripods take a lot of abuse. The price is good and it has a quick release head. It pans and tilts fairly smoothly and does not become overly loose with long term wear.

-Handheld Mic: We buy most of our mics from Radio Shack or Walmart for less than $20 and then buy a 1/4″ to mini converter. In the field your students need something reliable, easy to use and unpowered. Powered mics fail and without an audio monitor, you will never know. We buy cheap mics because expensive ones will get damaged too easy and because it is very difficult to hook up an XLR to mini adapter without it having problems. You can get pretty good audio from a $20 mic. Save the quality mics for your studio.

-Firewire Cable: You will need a quality 4 pin to 6 pin Firewire cable to connect your camera to the computer.

-iMac 20 in.: You need a great computer for video. The new Intel Duo iMacs rock with 1GB RAM, 150 GB hard disks, large screen area and iMovie for Free. At $1000 it is a lot of bang for your buck. You can get away with the Mac mini for about $600, but you lose a lot of processor speed.

-Plastic Storage Bin w/lid: $2 each at Big Lots, Dollar Store, etc.

My kit is $1,387 per student. Now of course, I usually only have about 8 kits total, so they have to share. And it helps that you try to keep a camera working for 2-3 years, so you can build up your equipment before replacing it.

Mr. C

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Yearbook

My apologies to Robert Fulghum, who wrote the most excellent book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten from which this post is based. It didn’t make my book list the other day, but should have.

Yearbook publishing can be complicated stuff, but much of what makes a good staff member isn’t all that different from the earliest things we learned in school.

1. Share everything.
Borrow good ideas from magazines, the web and newspaper articles and then help your fellow staff members. Share your time, your chips, your money and your friendship.

2. Play fair.
You’re not the only one who needs the camera today. We all must make deadline or it doesn’t matter, so help someone else out when you’re finished. Don’t just sit there listening to your iPod.

3. Don’t hit people.
And don’t attack them verbally either. Don’t spread gossip. Don’t attack their ideas or call them stupid.

4. Clean up your own mess.
Don’t turn in half finished work. Check your spelling, grammar and links. Make sure your photos are the correct dpi. Pick up when we do something fun. Pick up the trash and put it in the can. Put your stuff away before leaving the room and close all your open applications on the computer.

5. Don’t take things that aren’t yours
Don’t make up quotes. Look up the names and grades of people in photos. If you borrow someone’s tape recorder or clipboard, give it back. If you borrowed a cable from someone else’s box, put it back where you found it.

6. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
If you make an honest mistake, make a correction as soon as possible. If you make another staff member mad, say you’re sorry. And mean it. We could all be a little kinder, a little more understanding and a little more helpful.

7. Wash your hands before you eat.
Don’t grab a donut on Saturday and then put it back in the box. Don’t take the last piece of pizza. Don’t roam the halls when you are supposed to be doing interviews. And use the Kleenex when you sneeze and the hand sanitizer every day.

8. Flush.
Don’t be afraid to replace, rewrite, redesign or give up on something that is crap. Sometimes “when in doubt throw it out” is the best philosophy. Never fall in love with your story, page, package, graphic or photo.

9. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
When we have a party, bring something; same goes for Saturdays and meeting days. You like to eat, so do we.

10. Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
It is OK to play some, but first we have to WORK some. The work must get done or the thing will never be finished.

11. Take a nap every afternoon.
Staying up late and getting up early doesn’t make you more productive. Take breaks, go home, take a real nap in the afternoon. Get some sleep at night and come to school ready to be a great staff member. If it is after 1 AM, turn off all the lights and electronics; close your eyes – set an alarm. You’ll be amazed how much better you feel.

12. When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
A lot of people will say bad things about the yearbook and the staff – don’t be one of them. On the road of life, you need someone to walk with. Become friends with a staff member and you will be friends for life. Push them away and they will stay away. You only get back whatever you put into any relationship.

13. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Every day something new and wonderful appears in the little world we call our school. PAY ATTENTION. Check it out. Be amazed. Learn something new everyday. Bring it to class. It keeps your mind fresh, your options open, and our book up to date. If you think writing is boring or dead, then you may need a new class.

14. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
Every year, the seniors will graduate, the book will be finished and we have to plant the seeds of a new book. That is the circle of life. Seniors need to find one freshman and get him or her to sign up for the staff next year.

15. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.
You won’t learn anything at all if you don’t try. Everything I learned in yearbook came from trying new stuff and generally playing around. Every day I read many sites to see what is happening in the journalism world and the world in general. Every day I see something new happen at our school. LOOK and LEARN, then write about it or take a picture.

Mr. C

Ouch! Paper Cuts, Sick Students And Other Things

This is a companion piece to yesterday’s post about keeping your room clean and germ reduced. Students (and you) will get ill and have accidents. It is a fact of life. Most of these accidents are of the very minor kind. Since journalists work with paper and sometimes scissors, this usually means minor cuts. At the start of every school year our school nurse gives us a health survival kit. This contains one set of latex gloves, four band aids, four safety pins and five health referral forms. I always supplement to this and I recommend you do too.

Here’s what I stock up on each year. Don’t forget to buy it cheaply and deduct it from your taxes, but remember there is a maximum that the Feds will allow you to deduct.

Band Aids: I get a box of these things each school year and usually run out before the end of May. We do have paper cuts and the occasional scissor cut, but more often than not it is a kid with new shoes or one who cut themselves in the hall between classes. I could send them to the nurse and lose them for 15-20 minutes (half the period – I’m a long way from the nurse’s office a three or four minute stroll) or I can give them a band aid or two and send them to the restroom to wash it off.

First Aid Cream: I get a small tube of this germ fighting ointment too. Tell them to use it sparingly. A dab will do ya.

2×2 Gauze Patches and Medical Tape: Sometimes a band aid isn’t big enough for a long scratch or cut. I’m not talking about a deep cut, but a long cut that just scratches the surface.

Peppermint Candies: These are doubly useful. In most schools, even high schools, kids can not take ANY medicine without going to the nurse. This includes medicated throat lozenges. So a lot of parents won’t give their kids anything to take at school for their sore throat. So I keep some candies on hand. Give them two, that should last them a while. Tell them to suck on it slowly, not to eat it. Second use is for kids who have low blood sugar. Now, this is important – don’t give anything to a diabetic, let the nurse deal with it. But if they are not diabetic and haven’t eaten anything for more than 12 hours, they may get low blood sugar. This happens more than it should with high school girls trying to lose weight. They starve themselves, they get sick to their stomachs, clammy and worse. If you can get them to eat, even better. But a little sugar will keep them from throwing up in your room. Don’t give them too much sugar either. A little water is good too, but again, everything in moderation. So, get a bulk bag of these things for like $3 for 100-150.

Safety pins – These things are not really a medical supply, but more of an emergency clothing helper. At least once a month, I have a student come and tell me that they, or their friend, is having a clothing emergency. They are usually telling the truth. Ripped, torn or just loose a the seams, clothes come apart for dozens of reasons. I buy safety pins in bulk (under $3 for a bag of 100). I usually buy two bags, large and small. I give them out liberally to any who need them. That has included myself more than once in 12 years.

Cups: If you have a student who is feeling a little under the weather and needs something to drink, you don’t want to make them walk down the hall to the water fountain. I recommend keeping some paper or plastic disposable cups in your first aid kit.

Latex Gloves: Our nurse gives us one pair at the start of each school year. I keep them in a quart sized zipper bag. Each year I add another pair and check the old ones to see if they still feel safe to use. I’ve only needed to use them once, but didn’t have time to go and get any. So I didn’t. It was after school and I heard a horrendous noise near my classroom. I went out to investigate and found that one of my student’s sister had been playing around on the stairs with a friend and fell. She had cut herself on her hand and smashed her nose. She was otherwise fine, but bleeding. Blood is a serious disease vector, but I didn’t think about that at the time. Her brother (who was working on a project in my room) and I helped her up and walked her to the school nurses office where the after school duty Asst. Principal helped take care of her and called her parents. Sometimes you have to be more concerned for their well being than your own. If you do get bodily fluids on you, wash up as soon as is practical. Use hot water and soap. This will kill most germs and your skin, if unbroken will protect you from most others.

Lysol Spray: If you ever have a student toss their cookies in your classroom, then you will want this to help cover the smell. Even after the custodian comes to clean it up.

First Aid Training: This won’t fit in your box, but in your mind. I’ve taken several first aid courses over the years and I’m glad I did too. I’ve had students pass out in my class, get sick outside of it, get hurt and need help. Sure, the nurse is in the building, but on a field trip, after school hours, or sometimes they need help until the nurse can arrive – then YOU are the nurse. The more you know, the better. You may not be required to take a first aid course, but it is a smart thing to do when you are in parentis locus in other words – you are responsible for them.

Nurse’s Phone Number: Post it prominently in your classroom near the phone.

So, this summer, hit up the dollar store or Walmart and stock up on first aid supplies.

Mr. C

Keep It Clean: Things You Need For Your Classroom

As a media/journalism teacher, you will be with your kids more hours a day than nearly anyone else will. I routinely get to school at 6:30 am and leave around 4:30 pm. During most of that time there are students there, and where there are students – there is mess. What is worse than mess are germs. Here are some things that you might want to keep on hand in your classroom.

Kleenex – This might seem obvious, but I keep it on hand. The kind that the school will give you for free is the “John Wayne” kind – rough and tough, but won’t take snot from anyone. (sorry but true) Buy your own, or have it as one of your classroom supplies for the year. If every kid brings one box, then you won’t need to have them bring any for the next 2 years. Leave a box out in the classroom and keep one on your desk. Insist that the kids use it. Hand it to them if you need to.

Hand Sanitizer – You just won’t believe how many kids (and adults for that matter) don’t or won’t wash their hands. If you work with computer keyboards and mice, then you are passing germs. That goes for cameras and mics too. I use the same system for all these kinds of supplies. Have the kids bring 2-3 supplies each year, most will bring it. Then you have a huge stock pile that will last 1-2 years. Rotate for the supplies your class needs. The kids are the ones using it. So, they are really supplying themselves – you are just the quartermaster.

Broom and dustpan – Messes will happen. Broken glass, shredded paper, crumbs from a birthday cake and more. The custodians are never around when you need them. (Don’t get me wrong – I’m not cracking on them, they are great. But in an emergency, you need to clean up NOW!) Go to the dollar store. Keep it in the closet.

Mop or Swiffer: I highly recommend it. We have yearbook Saturdays once a month Oct.-Feb. every year. This means donuts, juice, milk, soda, chips and often a mess. We have a rule about keeping drinks away from the computers and it is respected. But that means cups and cans are often on the floor and get kicked over. If you have carpet, eww! But we have tile, so it really is not hard to clean up.

Compressed (canned) Air: Keyboards and intake fans get really nasty. Every year, at least once, we clean out every computer and keyboard. The dust can be really incredible. This last year, my server looked like it ate a carpet. Nasty. But it was quick work for compressed air. Just be careful of how quickly the can gets cold. Really cold.

Lysol: Keep a can of the spray on disinfectant to spray on your keyboards and mice once a month. First Friday of the month, lightly spray each one. By Monday morning no one will even smell it. But the germs should be less. During cold season, do it more often.

Alcohol and cotton swabs: Keyboards and other electronics (battery contacts) sometimes need deeper cleaning. Always make sure you don’t over wet anything electronic and disconnect it from the power before cleaning.

Wet Ones: If you are like me, every minute is precious. I often eat lunch in my classroom while helping a student. That means sometimes my multitasking equals multimessing. Wet Ones are quick cleaners for the ketchup or whatever you just dripped on yourself.

Shout Wipes: It will also be a white shirt you drip the barbecue sauce on. Keep a stash of these lifesavers in your desk or closet.

Big Roll of Brown Paper Towels:  Become friends with the custodians.  They will give you one for free.

Keep it clean for safety, health and just plain sanity. Don’t forget to buy it on sale, use a coupon and keep the receipt. Come tax time you can claim everything (up to $200 it think) that you bought for your classroom from your taxes.

Mr. C

Read All About It: Books For Teachers

This is a blog for journalism teachers. Today I will stress the TEACHER part. If you are still new to teaching (five years or less of experience), then these books are for you.

The First Days of School: By Harry Wong. This is a book that every first year teacher should read and many who have taught for a few years can still learn from. Lots of great advice about how to run your classroom and stay organized, planned, focused and maintain discipline.

The Truth About Teaching: By Coleen Armstrong. Short book about what it really is like out there in a real classroom.

South of Heaven: By Thomas French. A Pulitzer Prize winning novel (non-fiction) about real kids in high school. The book focuses on how today’s kids get through their daily lives in a modern high school. Great read.

On Writing: By Stephen King. The master of horror has a great book about how to write. His method is easily adapted to journalistic style and in fact he was both and English teacher and a one time newspaper reporter.

There Are No Shortcuts: By Rafe Esquith. Former National Teacher of the Year from Los Angeles, this inspiring story of how Mr. Esquith and his students refused to let the school, the district and local poverty stop them from learning.

The Radical Write: By Bobby Hawthorne. Mr. Hawthorne is the former head of the Texas ILPC (Interscholastic League Press Conference) and a great teacher, speaker and journalist. I’ve had the pleasure to listen to, meet and even eat lunch with him. He is a great guy and his book is sprinkled with real stories written by student journalists (both good and bad examples). He has great chapters on all the important segments of journalism.

Friday Night Lights: By H. G. Bissinger. This book is a great example of in depth journalism that even your students can understand and enjoy. Mr. Bissinger spends an entire year with a football team at one of Texas’ elite public football high schools – Odessa Permian High. It is a treat for both fans of football and journalism.

The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Teens: by Sean Covey. This book is a great resource for anyone who works with kids, but especially if you work with a yearbook, newspaper or broadcast staff that has to produce a product. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. It helps me personally and professionally every day.

AP Styleguide: If you are a journalist or teacher of journalism, then you must have at least one copy of the AP Styleguide in your classroom.

The Elements of Style: A great resource for grammar and punctuation, plus basic rules for good writing.

Happy reading for the rest of your summer.

Mr. C


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