A Universal Declaration of Human Rights Video Project

by Linda Mei
BCTELA Executive Member

Initially, I had envisioned a relatively small project that should take no more than six or seven classes.  The digital media project on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) ended up taking a month to complete, and reinforced the value of 21st Century learning for me.

Project background

My school district’s literacy consultant and I partnered together to create a mini unit for my English 11 classes on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  For me, its purpose was to serve as a socially relevant introduction to the upcoming novel studies unit on Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.  However, the project evolved to being something that empowered me, my students, and the audience who viewed their final creations.

We decided that the conventional methods of representing understanding in an English class might prove redundant, as I have already marked plenty of paragraphs and essays.  Instead, we believed that students spread and acquire new information much more effectively via video-sharing and social media, which led to our consensus on the use of videos as final summative products.

21st century learning concepts we kept in mind as we developed this unit

  • Choice
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Building community cross-culturally
  • Citizenship – moral imperative
  • Collaboration
  • Self-reflection, metacognition and self-regulation
  • Communication – oral, written, technology, integration, reading, visual, etc.
  • Relevancy – context
  • Engagement
  • Challenge
  • Personalized learning

The UDHR unit

I started the unit with an inquiry question: Why do human rights matter?

From this, we discussed the history and significance of human rights and the United Nation, instances of social injustice, and examples of human rights violations in our community.

We also watched a video titled “The History of Human Rights” (link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oh3BbLk5UIQ) that succinctly outlined the development of human rights in history.  Afterwards, we reviewed the thirty articles on the UDHR (link: http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/humanrights/declaration/index.asp) and identified which human rights we felt was the most important and why.

For example, my students commented on a line from Article 26, “Your parents have the right to choose how and what you will be taught at school.”  They felt that parents deserve to have an opinion on the subjects and topics their children learn at school, but were strongly convicted that they have the final say in the matter.  This component led to many insightful observations about the human rights that were included on the UDHR, and interesting connections of these rights to their own lives.

Following this activity, students paired up and selected a UDHR article to conduct further research.  The objective was to have them present their findings in a 30 to 60 seconds advertisement or video to inform others about a specific human right, or how a specific human right is violated.

I purposely offered vague instructions.  I wanted to see what they can do once they are given something that is socially relevant and personally interesting.  I wanted to see how their creative minds may inspire ideas that I had not originally conceived of.  The only requirements I provided were that the videos must be between 30 seconds to 1 minute long, and that the videos must include text, images / visuals, sound and voiceovers.  We even created an evaluation rubric together to ensure that they had ownership over their own evaluation, and understood what is expected of them.

For the next few weeks, students accessed Google, YouTube, and various other human rights websites for information.  They spliced clips and images together.  They downloaded music files.  They recorded their voices.  And on software like iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, Adobe Pro and Animoto (www.animoto.com), students produced their videos.  At the end of each class, they wrote metacognitive reflections about how the collaboration was going, what challenges they are facing and potential solutions, and their goals for the next work session.  The idea behind these was to help them develop self-regulation skills so that they can drive their own learning and use the provided class time efficiently.

Before my final summative evaluation, I asked my students to self-evaluate their own video, and to peer-evaluate another pair’s video.  I also reviewed the videos and provided them with verbal feedback about what worked well and what they could improve upon.

Presenting the videos

I would argue that the most successful aspect of this unit was the final presentations we did.  My district literacy consultant emphasized the importance of celebrating hard work and achievement, and helped me extend invitations to other district personnel, elementary schools, administrators, literacy leaders from other schools, and teachers.  The guests left feeling both impressed by the quality of work, and touched by the powerful messages about humanity.

I think that this part really helped my students realize that their videos had meaning, and that by doing so, they have participated as citizens of our democratic country by educating their peers and younger youth.  The audience’s appreciation also helped them recognize the value of their efforts.

What worked well

  • Working in pairs of their choice and allowing students to pick their articles
  • Feedbacks on videos (self / peer / teacher) prior to presentation
  • Metacognition at the end of each period (with some guiding questions if needed)
  • Final metacognition (summative metacognition of the journey) after presentation to gauge what they learned
  • Students became advocates
  • Elementary school audience and visits helped boost their self-confidence and recognize the significance of the project
  • Felt pride, importance and significance when presenting
  • Building community because they helped each other and also because they recognized the value of their work
  • Portfolio to collect evidence of process and progress
  • Created a buzz within the school throughout the process
  • Created a huge buzz during presentation day due to special guests (school board, other district personnel, elementary students, other teachers, administrators, local teachers’ association representative)

What to consider or improvements for next time

  • Reiterate the purpose of the project and importance of collaboration throughout the process in explicit terms (why we’re doing what we’re doing)
  • Explicitly teaching the elements of collaboration
  • Explicit discussion on transfer (what can you take from this project and use in your life)
  • Consider extension / challenge / enrichment for students who finish early to provide time needed for struggling students
  • Emphasize learning process (for example, metacognition) on par with final product
  • Further extension of the approach (project based learning) in different contexts
  • Continue to revisit assessment (series of weighted bins versus holistic portfolio)
  • Importance of taking the time to debrief with students and with teacher collaborator (for example, PMI charts) and to celebrate accomplishment

From this unit, I learned more about the value of student-driven learning (I found that they felt more engaged and motivated than usual, and many commented on how much they learned in their reflections), and about my role as a facilitator to support students’ creativity (I served as a one-on-one guide to discuss ideas).  My goal is to continue to develop this unit so that my students can experience the opportunity to create change, even if it is only a small one.

Linda is a Science and English teacher at MacNeill Secondary in Richmond and has a Master of Arts from UBC.  She is passionate about transdisciplinarity, and often attempts to break down the barriers between different subjects in her teaching.

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