Teacher Consultant

Kevin Hodgson

Southampton, Massachusetts

Western Massachusetts Writing Project

Recommendations

  1. Encourage the sense of playfulness: Bringing clay into the classroom is a clear signal to students that the act of play and creativity will be at the heart of the activity. Allow students to create their own characters and provide them with enough space and support to take chances. Give them the opportunity to envision the bizarre and bring it to life with clay. Laughter is good. What I have found is that encouraging playfulness produces stories and characters that students are invested in – as writers, as filmmakers, and as an audience. One side note: I suggest that you allow students to make bloopers. They love bloopers and I have found it is fine to have some intentional or unintentional clips for the end of the program.
  2. Connect the visual arts to the writing: The use of a hands-on medium such as clay allows students to visualize characters in a very different way than the flat page allows for. In this project, students are experimenting with building someone, or something, from very basic elements – a blob of clay. They are bringing something to life and putting these creations into action through the use of stop-motion animation. The tangible qualities of Claymation construction bring a new element to the writing of stories, and they can envision their characters in the story just by holding them in their hands. It is often the case that the characters inform the story, and not necessarily the other way around.
  3. Patience is a virtue: Stop-motion movie production is comprised of the act of tiny steps forward, and the teacher’s role of reinforcing the art of patience is a key to a quality movie. When a movie is stitched together in frames, and where 30 minutes of filming might lead to only two minutes of final video, students need to learn that the more methodically they can work, the higher the quality of their finished movie will be. For younger students, in particular, this can be a difficult challenge. We do a lot of experimenting with the software, using Legos and other objects, before we even begin working with our clay figures. This allows them to see, in a very rough way, how attention to detail can later pay off. Also, in stopmotion animation, the less movement of characters that happens per “frame capture” will mean more fluid motion in the final video. It’s almost counter-intuitive until they try it themselves. One way to demonstrate this is to the show the behind-the-scenes documentary of the Wallace and Gromit movies, where the producers talk about the techniques they use and the amount of frames and time that can go into crafting a feature film.
  4. Revision is a circular pattern: The collaborative writing process can be a messy one. Ideas come and go. Characters are envisioned, changed, and morphed into something else. Focus on the heart of the story is the key here, but there should also be the understanding that the writing is not very linear. As the ideas move from storyboard to script, and then to the act of filming, the stories do change and revision to the writing happens all the time. Sometimes, this revision is the result of limitations of the technology (such as a scene that has been envisioned on paper is suddenly found to be impossible to film, and so students have to go back to the drawing board). At other times, it is a result of reading the script as a group and realizing that something is not quite right and needs to be changed. There is never really a final draft of the script until the movie is completed.
  5. Extend your audience: The audience for our Claymation movies may begin with our classroom and the other students working on their movies, but it doesn’t remain there. At our school, we show our movies to the entire student body (about 500 students from grades preschool through six) over our closed–circuit television network. (My students bask in the light of being seen as movie producers at that point.) We invite students’ families into our school for a “premiere” showing of the finished movies. We burn DVDs for all of the contributors. And we create a website to show our movies to a potential worldwide audience. My students keep all of this in mind as they are writing, filming, and editing their movies, and this sense of audience keeps them focused on doing their best work.