As part of a five-week, project-based learning experience, seniors in Beth Agarabi’s Honors English classes honed their studies and understanding of documentaries to create their own authentic films.
After studying how documentaries can be read as nonfiction and mastering how mise-en-scène, camera angles, b-roll and music work together to create central ideas, the students collaborated to research a topic of their interest, design storyboards and shot lists, and produce and edit their own videos. The students created documentaries on topics ranging from moms and their dogs to reading as a lost art, the merits of Advanced Placement programs and the high school senior experience, among others.
“I love creating units that tap into student creativity and choice,” said Agarabi, who described her students as spirited, kind and dedicated. “This project invited them to best represent themselves and our Bronxville Promise in our community and neighboring towns. Their documentaries reflected a strong focus and attention to the more technical parts of camera angles and creating and adhering to a central idea.”
Throughout the learning experience, the students were challenged to contact school and community members to further investigate their topics and coordinate interviews. They also collaborated with and received feedback from teacher Brad Ashley, school librarian Eileen Mann and school psychologist Minu Thomas, as well as parents Jenny Thomas, Fern Waters, and Suzanne Pratt Davis and Deidre Naphin Curran, who have produced pieces for “Nightly Business Report” and “60 Minutes,” respectively, in their careers.
“The project required strong planning and stamina to move it forward, just like what the students will encounter in deep research or in careers that require teamwork and patience and a lot of moving parts,” Agarabi said. “I wanted them to feel that sense of accomplishment which the unit provides, simulating a real-world experience.”
To create their documentaries, the students used professional-quality cameras and microphones, thanks to a generous grant and support from the Bronxville School Foundation, which funded the equipment six years ago.