Inquiry Post #4: Visualizing Understanding

The video embedded above is a crude video essay designed to fulfill two purposes. First, it’s meant to stimulate student thinking and conversation about the way that the story of Romeo and Juliet is visualized. Second, it’s meant to be a model of what can be done with a basic program, images, and sound.

For the program, I used iMovie, which comes with my laptop computer. (I also used GarageBand, which I’ll talk about later.) The images were, as I say in the video, simply collated from a Google image search for “romeo and juliet book cover.” As a transition from the drama unit to the film unit, the video builds on something students are already familiar with — book cover art and the play itself — and asks them to regard these familiar objects as aesthetic artifacts in their own right, artifacts that work on their imaginations as readers. It’s a way to introduce the idea of intertextuality, meaning that the interplay of book cover art, the text of the play itself, and the images culturally associated with the story, is something worth considering in its own right as a source for filmmakers to draw upon. The questions I ask in the video set the stage for them to think about such things in the unit to come. The video itself is hosted on Vimeo, which is a popular video hosting site. I like its functionality.

The other purpose of the video is to show students that it’s not that hard to make a video artifact with some very basic programs and materials. It is a challenge, and the video is not necessarily a model of how to make a multimodal artifact well, but it does feature a number of deliberate choices, and I can walk students through how and why I made them.

To be honest, my understanding of my topic wasn’t deepened much in doing this visualization project. It was about as frustrating as I expected, and the end result is about as satisfying as I expected, too. I’ve tinkered with video essays before, and the main difference between this one and those is that I’m required to share this one with an audience. I am not a master of this craft, and there may be virtue in showing students something as crude as this, if only to reinforce the fact that I’m not expecting Scorsesean mastery of the cinematic form from any of them.

This kind of project — a video essay — is something I would like to incorporate into a film unit as part of the embedded assessment. But it requires a lot of scaffolding. That’s the part of this project that I found valuable. This is the first time I’ve tried to make one of these with the idea in mind that I might have to show someone else how to do it. There’s a lot of finnicky stuff involved that I resolved by trial and error, and I have some research to do to figure out some of the other basic functions of this program. When I tried to record the voiceover, for instance, the microphone simply didn’t record. I don’t know if that was because of a weird driver error or what, but I ended up recording the voiceover in chunks in GarageBand, then importing those files into the iMovie project. It was much more time-consuming in the trial-and-error phase, but I found that recording discrete chunks as .wav files actually made it easier to edit together: something to file away for helping students manage workflow in the future.

Another problem is that the programs I used are unique to Apple products, and they’re not free. I’ll have to figure out free and accessible programs for this if I want to incorporate it, which will involve a lot of legwork. There are a few dozen logistical difficulties I can already envision just thinking about accessibility and affordances with regard to my students.

The big thing that something like this will emphasize, though, is just how many individual decisions and levels of expertise go into any film, even a very short one. That’s a lesson worth learning firsthand.

Below are links to the sources where I found the images used in the video.

Amazon (Dover Thrift)

Amazon (German edition)

Amazon (Standard Classics)

Annemarie Kloosterhof

Barnes & Noble (Folger)

Barnes & Noble (Prestwick House)

Book Cover Archive

Buttered Kat Poster


Hannah Lock Illustration

Harper Collins

Mavu Domusdad’s Pinterest Collection of alternative covers

Memoria Press

Penguin Random House

Pinterest (Sarah Green)

Prestwick House

Usborne Children’s Books

Visual Narratives

4 thoughts on “Inquiry Post #4: Visualizing Understanding

  1. Matthew, I think your video essay turned out very well (not crude at all). I think you make an excellent point about the fact that making videos and films involve so many decisions that can not be learned from just reading in a book but must be engaged with first hand. I would love to share this video essay with others if you don’t mind.

    Thank you, Matthew, for sharing your passion for cinema with all of us here on your blog. I learned a lot and know that others interested in the topic will was well. I wish you well as you move forward in your professional studies.


    • Hi, Candance! I appreciate your kind comment, and you’re welcome to share the video with others, but — to be honest — I’m not sure if my use of the music is covered under fair use laws. (That’s one of the many things I have yet to investigate more fully before I start asking students to undertake similar projects.) Similarly, a more refined draft of this video would probably include citations for all the images as well; since I was doing this for my blog, I didn’t bother with that, but for a more ambitious project, I’d probably include that. It’s important that credit be given, and I have to think about how to do that effectively in video formats. I’ll keep it up until Vimeo asks me to take it down, I guess! Thank you again!


  2. Hey Matthew,

    This video is amazing! I can see all the hard work you put into it. This would be great for students to do through scaffolding as you mentioned. I like your focus on the covers, the colors, and all the aspects they entail. The many different covers of Romeo and Juliet is something I never thought of. Some of them made it look like a love story, a violent story, and blood shed, all traits of the story. The different between software and website uses between mac and pc is something I am continuing to work with as well. I see thing thoroughly on of of them, and then need to reintroduce it on the other. Even though these task are simple, it is larger when it is a classroom of students we are working with. It has been great working with you this semester and I wish you luck in the future.



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