Romanian teacher finds clever way to turn her students to books in the era of technology
In a time when most children would much rather switch on their phones than open a book, a Romanian teacher has found a fun way to make them read: making trailers for books. And what started as a classroom project is now a big event named Boovie Festival.
Carmen Ion has been teaching Romanian language and literature at a high school in Focsani for many years and has never forgotten what being a teacher actually means. One day she came up with a clever new way to make her students read: making trailers for the books they read. And it worked, her small project was very well received by the students in her class, then by the students in her school, and now by students from both Romania and the neighboring Republic of Moldova.
The project has grown by the year and became a big educational event named Boovie Festival - a competition of book trailers made by students. About 100 students attended the first edition, and their number is ten times bigger this year – more than 1,000 students (100 teams) from 25 counties and two countries, Romania and Moldova. And the Romanian teacher hopes to make the contest-festival a European one.
Carmen Ion talked to Romania-insider.com about how this phenomenon began, what should the parents do to make their children read, and her plans for Boovie.
How did you come up with this idea? What motivated you?
Five years ago I was a teacher at the 9th grade, a class with very good students, very well anchored in reality, but whose preoccupations didn’t include the desire/need to read. They were doing their duty at school without being pushed, but also without too much enthusiasm. One day I proposed this: for them to read novels from the universal literature on adolescence and to make a trailer. They were surprised at first, they weren’t sure what to think about this idea because they didn’t know what a trailer was, and the truth is that neither did I. I said okay, we'll look together, the important thing is if you want to get involved in this or not. They agreed, clearly amused by the idea. I’ve searched for some reference books from the universal and national literature, such as “The Catcher in the Rye,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Le Grand Meaulnes,” and the “Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent.”
We searched Google together to find out what a movie trailer is, and then we tried to adapt the information somehow to the book, making a kind of mental detour, in the sense that we imagined how the film based on one of the selected novels would be like, and then how the trailer would look like. After this first step, pupils began to read with increasing interest, motivated both by the idea of competition and by the novelty of the project, which helped them develop skills other than those required by the school.
Initially, I hoped this would help them develop teamwork skills, encourage flexibility in thinking, form negotiation and persuasion skills, but surprisingly I saw them develop their ability to empathize with the characters, and this has become a strength of the project. We’ve discovered together that making a book trailer means plunging into the depth of the novel, in the deep layers of the fictional life. First of all, this means that you have to understand very well what is happening there, to understand all the joints of the subject and the characters, to put yourself in their shoes, to resonate with them. An exciting challenge for children who are no longer paying attention to the people around them, always being immersed in the virtual world! So one of the extraordinary things happening when working to make a trailer is that it “throws” the students from the book to the real life, to the people around them, and then returns them to the Romanian reality, a little bit richer.
Then I wanted to develop their independent thinking and the ability of persuasion, and this didn’t keep me safe from doing mistakes! In the first year, there was an incredible state of excitement in the classroom. Some trailers were really good after only one try while others were really strange, in the sense that, for example, a team felt the need to introduce all sorts of effects to make the images more dramatic, but those effects had nothing to do with the novel! We had fun together watching the thunder and giant spiders that appeared in the trailer to the “Lord of the Flies,” and then I asked them what was their purpose there, where did that spider come from. And the students said they felt the need to emphasize the tragedy and the mood of the characters. That’s when I realized that independent thinking is also developing within some rules, which we should establish together. Thus we established a set of very important rules for the subsequent evolution of the contest, we slowly figured out how to evaluate the trailer, and we set up a form of judging, which gave the winner the formal and didactic confirmation.
Did it cross your mind at that time that this initiative would grow so much?
Of course not! My original goal was to make children read and be motivated to read for the sake of the book. Oh, and to use the technology so dear to them! They liked the idea and the enthusiasm determined them to continue, and that’s how it all started, like a ball of snow that is still rolling and growing from year to year!
Students who saw the first competition said they wanted to participate as well so we thought: why not take the competition to high-school level? Thus, the following year we launched the challenge in the school and to my great surprise, there were 10 teams (about 100 from a total of 500 students), we made a regulation, and the contest was organized in the gym. We were amused because I invited the school management and the headmistress told me she didn’t like horror movies. Ok, I don’t like horror movies either, but what’s the connection? I then realized that she confused trailer with thriller, and then I saw the principal’s amazement in front of the over 200 students gathered in the gym who were applauding and encouraging their teams!
Tell us briefly how Boovie works and what a book trailer festival is
In short, the competition means the following: the children are organized in teams of 7-11 pupils coordinated by a teacher, and they read a book that is distributed from a list previously established by a committee of teachers. One book can go to a number of teams, depending on the total number of entries, based on a draw organized in the presence of team leaders or online, as it was this year.
After each team knows what to read, the following steps are taken: all team members read the book and they discuss the main ideas of the book, the author's vision of the world, the issues and the relations between the characters. Team negotiations also take place in this stage to choose the moments in the novel to be introduced in the trailer script. Sometimes the students in the same team see different meanings in the book – what one finds interesting could not coincide with what another member would like to focus on. This is the moment when the real team negotiations and the talks based on the book begin.
The next step involves writing the script and assigning the roles within the team - who writes the script, who plays the characters, who shoots, who has technical skills and can edit the trailer, what kind of music to use so that we can upload the trailer on the YouTube page, and so on.
Do students remain interested in reading after participating in this festival? Are there students who have attended several editions?
There are teams already in their third edition, some members have changed, because they finished high school, but the team refreshed with new students, keeping its name and the basic members. It’s hard to say if they remain interested in reading, we plan to send some questionnaires to students and teachers after this edition, to see where we stand. But I can tell you that I have pupils who send me messages about the books they read and recommendations like "this would be great for the trailer, I’m already thinking about the script!"
What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome so far (related to this project)?
The biggest obstacles we are struggling with are the insufficient number of accommodation places in Focsani and the absence of a hall with more than 500 seats. Then, it's hard to find people who can afford to dedicate a lot of time to an event involving 100% volunteering.
Is reading at risk in this era of the Internet? What should the parents do to get their children to read? Do you have any recommendations in this sense?
Reading is in danger in this era of the Internet because the young, growing up in a world different from the one we grew up in, have acquired other habits, other abilities, and have different needs than ours, who, sometimes without realizing it, raise them by our patterns. So, from my point of view, it is necessary to change the parents’ mentality, especially when it comes to those around the age of 40, in the case of which I see the strongest struggle between the traditional model in which they were raised and the desire to meet their children’s needs, which the adults didn’t have in their adolescence.
One of the important things that parents should do to make their children read is to give them their own example, to raise them surrounded by books, to read them when they’re young and to let their children see them read. Moreover, I believe children need to learn to respect culture and education from a very young age, to help them develop some sort of inner civilization, which will yield fruit later and will be visible in the way they treat people and the environment in which they live. The problem is that too often we see adults who lack these internal components…
Tell us your story. How did this project change your life? What plans do you have for the future?
I’ve been a teacher of Romanian language and literature for more than 25 years, so not too young but still restless! I have always liked listening to my students and I think this has been one of the foundations of my relationship with them. Then, I’ve always tried to see learning as a unitary and continuous process that can take place even when we go up to the mountains in winter or camping in summer, when we make projects or invent new strategies to approach a literary text. Since Boovie started, these concentric circles of action have gradually diminished, what happens in the classroom remaining the main activity, as I no longer have the necessary time for other activities, which is a sad thing for me.
Organizing the festival is a new thing for me, so it involves many sleepless nights and stress; sometimes I think I should just drop it, thinking “why on Earth have I ever started something like this?” but the next day I find myself talking nonchalantly about plans for the next edition, completely forgetting that a few hours before I decided to not continue with a new edition next year! The fact is that Boovie has become part of me so, honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to do in the months after the event.
The plan is to extend it at European level in the next few years, not just because it exploits some of the students' skills that the school doesn’t use, but also because it brings some benefits that we have not initially thought of. For example, I found from a team that one of the students left from home (and from school) for days, without any news. He came back because he’s a team man and this project was the only thing he was interested in when it comes to school, as he said himself. Another one, a veteran, had a Skype interview with a committee from a film-directing faculty in the UK; they talked for 50 minutes about what he did at the book trailers, about what this experience taught him. He was accepted. This year we have a team of pupils with special educational needs, others are from the orphanage; there are many stories behind the festival that touch the soul!
All I did was to come up with the idea and implement it, but the truth is that Boovie exists through and for the pupils and thanks to wonderful teachers who have seen their potential! And the festival will exist as long as they keep seeing it as a good framework for expression. When it will no longer meet their needs, it will remain a beautiful memory. And an opportunity for a new beginning, possibly “a stronger and more beautiful one!”
The 2019 edition of Boovie, scheduled for May 17-19, will be the biggest so far and will comprise three sections, including a new one dedicated to middle school students and the new Boovie Plus, which focuses on a subject in the curriculum, namely the principle of inertia. The third section is dedicated to high school students. In addition to the trailer screenings, the festival’s program will also include workshops for students and teachers, meetings with writers, mini-conferences, and outdoor activities with actors and directors. This implies a lot of work and financial resources, and the festival benefits from the support of the Focsani City Hall, which also financed the previous edition. The County Council, local businessmen, and institutions have expressed their intention to support Boovie.
The participating teams are made up of 7-11 students coordinated by a teacher. A teachers’ committee sets the list of books that are then assigned to the teams based on a draw. Making the trailers is entirely the students’ job.
The winning trailer of Boovie 2015:
Irina Marica, [email protected]
(Photo source: courtesy of Carmen Ion)