Skip to main content

DOCS ROCK at Teachers Workshop

By Thelma Vickroy

DOCS ROCK, a digital documentary film curriculum targeting high school students, was officially expanded in October 2002. A two-day teacher-training institute held at San Pedro High School in Los Angeles brought together teachers from seven LA high schools and filmmakers from the greater LA area. The scope and mission of the workshop was to train high school teachers in the DOCS ROCK curriculum, one that integrates standards of English and visual arts set by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The workshop followed a successful collaboration among the LAUSD, IDA and the City of Los Angeles that produced a pilot program of DOCS ROCK at San Pedro High School in fall 2001.

Throughout the US, schools are struggling to find integrated curricula that combine art with standard subject matter. Such curricula allow schools to fund art education programs through basic subject budgets. Art education has been virtually eliminated in most public schools, unless funded from an outside source. The DOCS ROCK approach not only allows for funding through a basic subject budget, it also provides a fresh approach to English education standards. DOCS ROCK is the first media curriculum to integrate English and visual arts standards set by a school district.

In recognition of this innovative approach to arts education, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Arts Learning/Media Grant awarded funding for the DOCS ROCK teacher training institute. Additional matching funds were provided by John Langley of Langley Productions, IDA, LAUSD, Pacific Coast Capital Partners & Overton Moore Properties, San Pedro High School and Boys & Girls Club of America, San Pedro. The institute was organized by the IDA and LAUSD and hosted by the DOCS ROCK pilot program lead teacher Tony Saavedra. Sandra Ruch, IDA's executive director, and Richard Burroughs, LAUSD's director of arts education, welcomed the workshop participants.

Dr. John Ramirez, professor of film and television at California State University, Los Angeles, and co-author of the DOCS ROCK curriculum, and I led the workshop. The participating teachers were walked through the entire 40-week DOCS ROCK curriculum design. DOCS ROCK consists of one 20-week course dedicated to critical thinking via the study of documentary film history and aesthetics followed by a second 20-week course focused on the students' productions of digital documentaries. In the process of teaching the DOCS ROCK curriculum, we integrated the expertise of local filmmakers, screened films, invited student participation and feedback and spent some time in the community as part of an outreach segment of the curriculum.

In an effort to show how to integrate a visiting filmmaker in both sections of this curriculum, we invited Pam Cohen and Jay Rosenblatt to participate in our training. Cohen directed and produced the award-winning documentary Maria's Story and was also filmmaker-in-residence for the DOCS ROCK pilot program. Rosenblatt has been making films since 1980 and was recently named both a Guggenheim Fellow and a Rockefeller Fellow.

Cohen shared with the teachers how to best utilize filmmakers-in-residence in their own DOCS ROCK programs. One lesson she shared was that the filmmaker is a visiting artist and should not be asked to grade students. She also distributed a digital production resource list.

Students from Tony Saavedra's DOCS ROCK class spent one morning participating in the DOCS ROCK institute. Rosenblatt screened his film, Human Remains, and led a post-screening discussion with students and teachers about this film, his other work and the art of filmmaking.

Participating teachers were also invited to visit the Boys & Girls Club in San Pedro, which provides extra editing facilities and training for students enrolled in the DOCS ROCK program at San Pedro High School. This added community support makes it possible for students to edit their projects after school or on weekends.

Our final topic in the DOCS ROCK institute was how to assess and evaluate the curriculum and student performance effectively. Many participating teachers did not receive training in the visual arts, so we conducted a thorough survey of art course assessment models, tools and examples.

On the last day of the institute, we worked toward setting a timeline and a plan of action to implement DOCS ROCK classes into all seven participating LAUSD high schools by the end of 2003-2004 school year.

Although the workshop was a success, the work is far from complete. Our focus in DOCS ROCK has shifted to the implementation of teacher training and a concentration on resource development. Ramirez and I have begun a discussion of institutionalizing high school teacher training at a Los Angeles area university. This spring, Richard Burroughs of the LAUSD will convene a meeting of LA-area deans from institutions that teach media education. Ruch of the IDA has been exploring financial options to fund documentary filmmakers visiting DOCS ROCK classes and to develop a documentary library for these classes. Once funding is in place and teachers are trained, we hope that DOCS ROCK continues to be added to more high schools and sets a standard for media education throughout the country.

Thelma Vickroy is the founder of DOCS ROCK, a documentary filmmaker, an assistant professor at California State University Northridge and a visiting professor at UCLA.