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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

The Appalshop School Initiative:
A Report on an Experiment in Classroom Research

Author: Kathleen Tyner

"There's too much concern with systems and too little concern with what kids could do with a computer. It does not have to be an elaborate, top-down system. You can give people equipment and they can do imaginative things." Kentucky Senator David Karem in the Louisville Courier-Journal

AppalShop is a media arts center nestled in the Appalachian hills of the Eastern Kentucky coal fields in the Lecher County seat of Whitesburg, population 1,200. Originally created to counter the kind of Tobacco Road stereotypes seen in countless media renditions of "hillbillies" from Appalachia, AppalShop creates, preserves, documents and presents Appalachian art and culture from the perspective of its residents. It fosters democratic citizenship through active participation in the community via film, radio and video. AppalShop's service to its region includes a community access radio station, arts and crafts exhibitions, community events, recording of Appalachian music, a world-class theater company, and documentary production about life in Appalachia by Appalachian filmmakers.

In 1989, AppalShop embarked on a unique experiment in classroom research with the Eastern Kentucky Teachers Network (EKTN), one of ten networks in the Foxfire Teacher Outreach project. The experiment, known as the Appalshop School Initiative, was an opportunity to explore how video can be integrated across the curriculum to enhance classroom teaching and learning.

The Appalshop School Initiative is breaking ground in the field of educational research by tying media studies to the overall climate of school reform and demonstrating effective uses of media and technology in the classroom. Furthermore, it is perhaps the only program in the United States that has attempted to experiment with video in the classroom as a tool for critical thinking and to study new methods of using video to enhance and reform the whole curriculum. Finally, the Appalshop School Initiative, by partnering with the democratic, student-centered pedagogy of Foxfire, has demonstrated that the study of media is not an isolated phenomenon to be taught in a media course, but an ubiquitous part of the teaching day, inextricably linked to teaching method and style.

Getting Behind the Classroom Door

The Appalshop School Initiative addresses a hidden issue in instructional media: Although school media centers can document the titles and amount of video that teachers check out for classroom use, very little study has been done to see how teachers actually use the videos behind the closed door of the classroom. With that in mind, the Appalshop School Initiative was able to not only distribute the tapes in a way that placed the Appalshop videos directly into the hands of the target audience of teachers (and students), the project was also able to conduct an experiment on effective uses of the videos in the classroom. The Appalshop School Initiative looks for effective uses of video in the classroom, explores the way that television changes classroom roles for teachers and learners, and enhances restructuring and reform as teachers learn to use new classroom tools.

The stated goals of the project are: " 1) to help students define their individual relation to Appalachia by making the region part of their curriculum; 2) to develop media literacy so that students will be more discerning media consumers, particularly in identifying sources of media and the different biases of the different sources; and 3) to develop critical thinking, so that students will see themselves as more conscious, active participants in the creation of their own life, media, education, career, family and political views."

The Appalshop School Initiative, in its third year, is funded with a two-year grant from the DeWitt Wallace Foundation and a little bit more from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The foundation support made it possible to distribute 1400 Appalshop tapes to teachers in Kentucky and West Virginia. Sixteen teachers decided that they wanted to be involved in the case study and reporting aspects of the project. These teachers identified themselves as "Level One" of the Appalshop School Initiative. All of these teachers are from the Eastern Kentucky Teachers Network and each received 20 tapes. The Appalshop School Initiative has provided tapes to hundreds of teachers in Kentucky and West Virginia and estimates that the tapes have been seen by at least 10,000 students.

The Appalshop School Initiative offers an array of educational services Level One teachers: 1) Availability of the Appalshop collection; 2) Supplementary materials and guides for the videos; 3) Professional growth through conference presentations about the Initiative; 4) In-service workshops; 5) Access to an electronic bulletin board service; 6) Publication opportunities; and 7) Outreach, support and model teaching from Appalshop staff members.

In March, Appalshop brought a team of workshop presenters from Southwest Alternate Media Project and Strategies for Media Literacy to work with teachers on effective ways to analyze and produce video in the K-12 classroom.

Teachers Talk: Comments about the Appalshop School Initiative experience:

"I've become more aware and I just keep trying to find new ways to use the media. I guess maybe last year I may have thought of it sort of as a something, 'Well I have to do this because we spent [all this time with the Appalshop School Initiative]... We had watched all these videos and I mean sitting down watching 62 videos 62 was a major undertaking and I was worn out after it was over. And then it was, 'Let's start this project,' and sometimes I sort of felt like, 'Well, I got myself into this,' and maybe it didn't fit in real well and I had to figure out a way to get the videos to fit in with what was going on in the school, because I think you need to use them, but it's like you don't want to do a project just because you have that video sitting there. It seems like it's more natural now. It's like somebody comes up with an idea and you say, 'Oh this would fit in here real good.' "

Judy Meadows, Media Resource Specialist, Graze Branch
Elementary School, Greenup
Greenup County, Kentucky

"When I first started showing [the Appalshop tapes], I would start questioning [the students] about, 'Why did they use that type of music, or why did they ask that question? What did they want to know about that?' 'What question did they ask to get that information?' This kind of thing. They just watched. They had no comments. They didn't even think of it in any kind of critical manner at all. Now they question me with everything, 'Why did they do this?' I just love the way their thinking is going."

Pat Draughn, 5th Grade Teacher, Hindman Elementary School,
Hindman, Letcher
County, Kentucky

"Did I use media [before the Appalshop School Initiative], yes, but in my opinion now, not very well. At the time I thought it was great...we looked at media the way that I looked at using all electronic media back then, videos particularly, and that was to give them information in an entertaining form so that they would not have to read it [because] basically my students were non-readers. There were always questions to make sure they were listening to what was going on and thinking about what was going on, but -- and I'm not saying that's a completely wrong way to use media. I mean I'm sure it has it's place somewhere along the line -- but looking back I don't feel like the kids ever engaged with the material and I never really helped them engage with it before the Appalshop School Initiative project gave me an opportunity to see and understand a little bit more.

My only experience with electronic media was videos that I popped in the VCR and watched. Yes, I would ask about it, because I have been a questioning person, I would probably be more engaged than my students, but in going with the folks at Appalshop and talking with them and looking at how they produce media and what kind of questions they have to ask themselves in the editing process, in the filming process, all of those kinds of things have helped me. When I watch a film now, [I] ask those kinds of questions that say, 'What is the message coming through here and is it really as obvious as it seems?' I directly credit the School Initiative Project with helping me learn how to ask those questions and even to learn that those questions were necessary in the first place."

Kathy Hanon, Coordinator, Eastern Kentucky Teachers Network and Secondary
Teacher, Hindman, Letcher County, Kentucky

"I see the Appalshop School Initiative project helping our students learn to look at how they use media and how media affects them every day. It started out that in our minds we were going to use these Appalshop films and we were going to see what we could do with them, but it's grown into more than that. It's more like how media becomes a part of what our kids are doing every day, especially how they watch tv and how they select what they watch and what part of it absorbs into their brain. I don't think [teachers] know about [media]. I think that we have grown up watching tv for entertainment purposes...I have learned so much through this project about really looking at what we're doing and looking at what information we're taking in and in what ways it's coming in. I don't think that most people are geared to thinking about media that way...I think that most of us, as we started it, just started it because we wanted to be able to use those films.

As we've used them and as we've gotten together and talked about what were doing with them -- because I know that with our first discussion and I remember our first workshop -- we were thinking, 'What out of these can you use in class? Where can you use this film?' It was all content things. We could use a certain film when we study a certain thing in class, which is okay. I still think that's good to do, but I think that as we worked we started talking about how we were using these films. It has grown into a thing of letting the kids look at how information is presented."

Ann Messer, Middle School French Teacher, North Laurel Middle School, Laurel
County, Kentucky

"I've done some work with the adults...I tried to get the adults realizing what was on tv, why they were watching what they were watching, why let your kids watch what they watch. I try to help them figure out reasons why they are watching, instead of having it on twenty-four hours a day just for having it on, but actually having a reason to be watching what's on the screen...Trying to get the kids to critically think about what they're watching and why they're watching, and not using it as the babysitter or just something to pass the time is the main point...If you can learn to think critically about tv, I think you carry some of that to your every day things. You have to be able to think critically in order to survive in our world today, because everything is changing so much that you really have to be able to think things out and not just go with the flow."

Annette Gevedon, Brodhead Elementary, 5th Grade, Brodhead, Rockcastle County

"Last year with the first grade, there was no way to predict how it was going to turn out. There was just no way to know without just doing it and seeing what happened. But even those young kids at that age began to think and see things differently. Like, they were watching Sleeping Beauty and they started saying 'They should of made the dress a different color,' or 'It should have done this, should have done that,' and I thought, 'Man, I never even entertained thoughts like that when I was a child. I didn't know that I could.' I thought, 'Isn't it beautiful?' and that was enough and then when all the Gulf War stuff was going on, this little guy came up to me after he'd been watching the news and he goes, 'Will you tell me, I just can't figure out. Are we the good guys or are we the bad guys?' and another kid, we were watching the Frontier Nursing Station I think, and he said, 'Did the world used to be all black and white?' You know, it's like these little jewels all along the way and the fact that they were so young and the fact that these ideas were coming out. You knew that they were just eons beyond what normal curriculum kids are at that age. While [the fifth graders] were using Gone With The Wind, we broke it up into segments to coordinate with the Civil War sections in the book. I had to be absent unexpectedly one day and when I came back they were furious with the substitute teacher! They said, 'Do you know she put that tape in there and she would not stop it no matter how many questions we had! She wouldn't let us ask the question. She just said, 'Watch the movie,' and now you're going to have to let us go back and watch it again!' That made me feel pretty good, because they weren't just watching it and sometimes you're not really sure. But they were so adamant about the fact that they didn't have a chance to ask questions."

Judy Bryson, 5th Grade Teacher, Wallins Creek Elementary, Harlan County, Kentucky

"One of the main purposes of Appalshop project for me is for my Kentucky Studies Program. I had used Appalshop films long before I got involved with the project, on a rental basis -- which I rented out of my pocket. I did this more to educate my kids as to appreciation and to what we have -- appreciation of family, of local culture values, things that kids totally take for granted. This is still my main purpose -- to eliminate some of the stereotyping ideas that our children have about themselves -- that we are poor and dumb and ignorant and so on. It just amazes me at the things that I got out of the workshop this weekend. The information. Things that I hadn't thought about. You can focus on things that you can point out -- even to very young children -- like the producer, who's making the videos. Stop and take a look at especially commercials, at the audience they're aimed for. Those types of things. Why do they chose this particular way to advertise this? Those are things that could be brought out in a teacher workshop and I think that teachers should be open to this kind of training."

Maggie Cox, 4th Grade Teacher, Dessity Elementary School, Knox County, Kentucky

"We had our workshop and Robert Gipe [Appalshop Education Director] was showing us about women's rights, or women's careers and I thought, 'You know we can get women's careers from so many of those tapes that you don't need the whole tape of any one of them.' I think a lot of times when we're going into something new, we do need to have it modeled for us first or at least give us a presentation of something where we can stem from that and grow from that and brainstorm and move on out and 'How can we can do it another way?' It's, 'What else can we add to this? ' I don't think that you should ever take one model and use it verbatim word for word."

Diana Dattilo, 4th Grade Teacher, Campbellsville Elementary School,
Campbellsville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

"When I do in-services and workshops and when people ask me about Appalshop School Initiative, I tell them that it's a program that involves teachers in using films about Appalachia to teach several things. One is to pride in their heritage of the Appalachian mountains and to do two other things which I feel like were the purpose of the grant and that was to promote critical thinking and to promote critical writing, or being able to write about what they see and analyze and synthesize and organize -- the kind of things for writing. What I observe when I get out in the classrooms are that those are the three purposes that I see being used by the teachers and students. I love the Appalshop films. I see that the teachers are using them really as teaching tools and educational tools."

Jenny Wilder, Teaching Associate for the Eastern Kentucky Teachers Network,
Nicholasville, Kentucky

"What was interesting about that was that before I didn't think it was the right thing to do to stop the film, or to just show a clip or something. I thought you had to see the whole thing, because otherwise you were losing something in that. That was a simple thing and during the workshop last year, we learned that we would take a clip from this video to show a particular scene to go along with whatever you were trying to portray to them and then you'd pull that out and put another one in, so you would have different films and everything. So of course now when we run a video, the kids are very used to me turning off and discussing it or they'll even say, 'Hey! Wait a minute! Let's talk about that right there.' They would never have done that before and I hadn't either until that workshop. Until we were trained, if you will -- showed how to do that. Maybe before I just never really thought about using the videos that much with my classroom and with their structure so I think I have grown in the fact that now, instead of just watching something, I question what I'm watching more and when were watching tv at home I ask my husband, 'Wonder why they did that? It would be more effective if they did it a different way.' He looks at me and he says, 'Just watch television. Don't be criticizing.' That's what he and the kids will tellme."

Burma Wheeler, 4th Grade Teacher, Mansfield Elementary School Campbellsville,
Kentucky, Jefferson County

For more information about the Appalshop School Initiative: Robert Gipe, Education Director, 306 Madison Street,
Whitesburg, KY 41858. 606.633.0108.

For information about Foxfire's Eastern Kentucky Teachers Network: Coordinator, EKTN, P.O. Box 452, Hindman, KY
41822. 606.785.4858.

This article was part of a report to the DeWitt Wallace Foundation and originally appeared in this form in the Summer 1992 issue of Strategies Quarterly.

Reprinted permission of author.

Copyright 1992 Kathleen Tyner.