Knowing Before Doing

Video courses always present a bit of a challenge for me. Do I have my students go out and shoot to get familiar with the cameras first, or do we sit inside for several weeks discussing concept, technique, brainstorming and bonding. Personally, I always select the latter. While it is imperative that they know how to use a camera, my course Hip-Hop: The Story in Video is heavily content driven. They have to understand the history and importance of socially conscious rap as well as being honest and aware of their views on society as a youth. I feel they can’t shoot if they don’t know what and why they are shooting. They have to understand why their message must be heard. I remember a moment in Gordon Parks’ autobiography
where he had just been hired by the Farm Security Administration as a photographer. For the first couple of days his photo editor had him wander around D.C., without his camera. He wanted Parks to really see, understand, and have an emotional reaction to his environment. I want the same for my students.

A Breakdown of the first 3 Weeks

Week 1:

  1. First day adrenaline!
  2. Only half of the registered students attend.
  3. I had to leave early to catch a flight out of town, feeling a bit disconnected from my class since I cant stay.

Week 2:

  1. Again only half of the class attends…but this time it’s pretty much a different group from last week…yikes.
  2. Presentations about different hip hop artists, their music and videos, discuss their socially conscious lyrics and their commentary on society.
  3. Throughout class students seem intrigued yet bored, and often don’t speak unless I call on them.
  4. I can tell they are tired of sitting in a classroom and listening to me.
  5. Ok… lets try having the students shoot for the last 20 minutes to wake them up and get them excited… pure confusion on their faces and discomfort with one another…
  6. I went home feeling like I was completely off my game.

Between Week 2 and 3

  • Course / Lesson Plan Revamp
  • I want my students to realize their connection to hip-hop can be personal even if their experiences are different. These are rappers who want their voices/stories/issues to be heard.
  • Have the students realize they have the power and right to discuss society and their stories. How can the students relate to one another?

Week 3

  1. Made the students lead the course without realizing they were doing so.
  2. Had them brainstorm and share about their community, school, environment, and society.
  3. Students finally began to open up, and by doing so I think they started to notice a connection amongst one another.
  4. Had them discuss what it means to be a youth.
  5. Some of their answers- Wild (shooting, drugs, sex), anxiety of living up to expectations, losing innocence, bad decisions, today’s youth have to grow up faster, being exposed to a lot more from an earlier age, making life lessons, learning off of mistakes, figuring out who you are, learning from elder’s stories, making legacies.
  6. Had them brainstorm about a 1 min video that is a visual representation of what it means to be a youth.
  7. Share these ideas. Put students into groups and have them help each other with their ideas.
  8. Introduce Storyboarding.
  9. (Played music while brainstorming/took music request/hip hop in the background!)
  10. In each group their ideas began to merge together creating one idea for the group to work on (My plan worked).
  11. The students are bonding!
  12. Left class feeling very pleased with the work the students had done.

Sometimes we have to take it slow. I love the arts, and while it is important at times to jump in and get your hands dirty, it is beneficial to have students sit, be silent, think, brainstorm, listen and connect. In school, students are taught skills that fit into a box of standardized test scores. But what about analytical skills, investigation, compassion and observation. Are we allowing students to question society? Not in a riotous way, but in a way that enlightens the mind and gives them a sense of power and hope. I want my students to understand the subject matter of the course, take a moment and really observe their surroundings, who they are, who their fellow classmates are, and how can their voice make a difference.

Sophia Nahli Allison About Sophia Nahli Allison
Sophia Nahli Allison is a photographer and arts educator based in Chicago. Using photography and video as a method of educating and inspiring youth, she is a teaching artist with Marwen, Street Level Youth Media, a photographer and writer for "SIFC: The Chicago Arts, Archive and Collective Project", and has worked as the photojournalism teaching artist with Step Up Women’s Network. As a visual storyteller she is dedicated to using photography to examine identity and social issues. Sophia believes art is truly an effective way to educate, empower, and evoke change. She loves sunshine, coffee, the ocean, laughter, and being around phenomenal educators and artists.

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