We use 5th grade writing to supply all of the narration and video portions of our program. In the past, we have simply given a writing prompt and told them to write about that, or they create a poem or write a letter to a veteran. While this method provided plenty of material for the program, it was difficult to organize the students' thoughts in a way to make the program flow.
This year, I decided to provide a 3-page questionnaire for each student to complete during their writing class. The questions were written to help organize the students' writing into topics that we wanted to include in our video presentations. We instructed students that they didn't have to complete every question, and that they should start with the ones they felt the most strongly about. The last page was for a letter to a veteran, which could be to any veteran, or to someone they know.
You can download the PDF here: Veterans' Day Reflections
While we have gotten some good information in the past, this year's writing seems to feel more personal. There is a place for them to tell something about a veteran, and we have learned about sacrifices veterans made, such as grandfathers missing out on their child being born.
My fellow music teacher and I read through all of the papers (approximately 120) to select the writings that will be featured, and we do not want to know whose paper we are reading. We prefer to select solely on the quality of writing. Therefore, students are instructed to only write their name and homeroom teacher on the back of the last page.
This questionnaire doesn't have to be used for a extracting thoughts for a program. The writing assignment has merit on its own. I feel the questions led students to reflect on veterans and their sacrifices and service for our country, which is a good thing.
One other change we made in our program this year is the addition of the song, "You Are Our Heroes," by Teresa Jennings. It is available through Music K-8. The song was originally intended for the heroes of 9-11, but it works beautifully for Veterans' Day. It is a very poignant song that will be very meaningful when sung directly to the veterans. We tweaked one or two lines to gear it towards veterans. (We also used the free computer program, Audacity, to speed up the tempo of the soundtrack a little.) Here are our lyrics:
Well, the students have completed their writing, and most of the songs are memorized. Now all that's left is to hold auditions for solos (and make selections), videotape students, make a video of their letters and record student voiceovers, edit 3 videos, type up the program....You know the drill! (Speaking of solo auditions, I'm using my Google online registration form again this year. It works like a charm. You can read about it here.)
Meanwhile, I hope to see you at the national NAfME conference in Nashville next week! I'll be the one editing videos on her MacBook in between sessions. :)