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August 20, 2014

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Amped Up Readers’ Theater: A 21st-Century Spin on ‘Miss Nelson’

msrsnelson Amped Up Readers’ Theater: A 21st Century Spin on Miss Nelson

They may be young, but teacher Arturo Avina’s talented kindergarteners are already celebrities in their own right. Students at the Los Angeles Unified School District Olympic Primary Center are the stars of a short-film adaptation of Harry G. Allard Jr.’s beloved children’s classic Miss Nelson Is Missing (Houghton Mifflin, 1977). Over the course of two months, Avina directed the youngsters, filmed the scenes, and, with the help of the budding actors, edited the movie with technology available in most classrooms. The video uses songs by Garbage, Bjork, Blondie, and Madonna to emphasize the story’s montages, and the class can be heard on the background as part of the soundtrack.

Inspired by a similar experience from his elementary school years, Avina embarked on the project with a script he had written while working at a previous school. Each scene had to be shot separately, with the bulk of it being completed during recess and after school.

mrsnelsonbook 233x300 Amped Up Readers’ Theater: A 21st Century Spin on Miss NelsonEven though there was a script already in place, the students had a large say in how each scene was filmed, what lines they chose to make their own, and how they wanted to portray their characters. “Even though I gave up all my breaks to work on this project, it was well worth it to see how their oral language skills improved, and how it gave them something to look forward to every day,” Avina tells School Library Journal.

The video was a collaborative effort, with support from the principal, teachers, students, and parents. “I would sometimes assign difficult lines as homework, or parents would have to stay after school until kids were done for the day,” Avina says. “Even in the editing process, I ran it by the kids each time. We would play with different camera views, effects, and filters. We would discuss how we wanted our story to begin and end. I tried to expose them to the process and let them give as much input as they could.”

The tools that Avina and his class used to create the film weren’t that out of the ordinary. With only a new video camera, the iMovie and Garage Band software found on any Apple computer, and his iPhone for recording the children’s singing voices, they created their musical production. Using Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and other social media channels, Avina promoted the film to networks of teachers and librarians. It caught the attention of the media and education leaders, such as SLJ blogger Betsy Bird, and teacher-librarian Shannon Miller.

Miller contacted Avina via Twitter and arranged a Q&A Skype session between her own kindergarten students in Van Meter, IA, and his class. “One of the reasons why I reached out to him to connect with our class was because I wanted his kids to take ownership of their great accomplishment,” Miller tells SLJ. “It was really sweet to talk to them and how they worked together and thought of their ideas.”

avina Amped Up Readers’ Theater: A 21st Century Spin on Miss Nelson

Arturo Avina

Though the schools are almost 2,000 miles apart, the students shared much in common. “We’re a very rural school in the middle of cornfields, so many of my students haven’t ever been anywhere else,” Miller says. “And it’s the same thing for Art’s kids. Though they’re in a busy city like Los Angeles, they’re just as isolated as we are. He’s given a lot to his kids by connecting them to people on the other side of the country.”

The two classes have also done some collaborative brainstorming and storytime together, and they plan to exchange even more ideas via Skype, including a Tux Paint art project that Miller’s kindergarten class has already begun. She explains, “We have to continue to share and promote stories like this one. A story of how we as teachers can empower kids and help them find their voice and tools to connect with kids all over the world.”

Don’t miss this new video with outtakes and bloopers from Avina’s original Mrs. Nelson film.

Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is Senior Editor of School Library Journal's Reviews. She recently received her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.

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