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Vamp TV: curating multimodal literacies for remote northern territory schools.

Vamp TV is an innovative educational program run by the Northern Territory (NT) School of Music. Vamp TV produce television programs every two weeks during the school term that are then shared with schools across the NT. I met with Rodney Balaam who works on Vamp TV to hear about the program, which curates school content sharing different activities taking place in remote NT classrooms and schools. Balaam noted, 'It is not very prescriptive. We showcase Indigenous artists and school programs.' Vamp TV is intended to 'provide curriculum material as well as show off school programs to inspire the teachers.'

I first heard about Vamp TV because I had seen a music video written and produced by the students of Baniyala Garrangali School called Dolphin vs. Shark

According to Leonard Freeman, principal of the school at the time, that song was written because the school community were implementing the Tribes program whereby a safe and caring learning community was created. The music video provided a context for the students to discuss the meaning of the program in English and in their first language, Yolngu Matha. In this video, students sing in Yolngu Matha and English about how the dolphin is a good friend, is helpful and plays well with others, whereas the shark is aggressive, and swims alone. The key chorus (and moral) 'So Yolngu be a dolphin not a shark.'

Academically, this music video also linked in with the school's Learning on Country program where students worked with their local ranger group and a research scientist learning how to identify (and making identification cards for) different types of dolphins. At the time, students were going out on boats and monitoring sea life for an annual dolphin survey.

Freeman noted, 'a lot of the focus of schooling is on literacy, and with activities like this we were able to embed learning languages, literacies, song writing, and film making within a meaningful and engaging curricular context.' He continued by saying, 'this is true place-based learning, about the environment, the community and culture, as the rangers (their family members) are the teachers who led the learning.'

Vamp TV is a way that schools are able to distribute projects, such as Dolphin vs. Shark, and find an authentic audience. Students reportedly look forward to the release of each episode, and it provides a way for students to see what's going on in other communities. Freeman suggests, 'the program builds commonalities, it also normalises going to school, having fun, trying hard, being engaged and learning' as students see the work and projects of other children from remote Indigenous communities.

Nowadays, technology is often in the hands of the students. Freeman recalls, 'so they are able to make this stuff themselves. One student came to school with the GarageBand app on his iPad. He had created his own song by recording his voice and layering in drums and other instruments. The students get these skills by engaging with musicians in their communities, outside musicians and the Vamp TV programs.'

The process of making music videos or other digital content requires students to engage with language and literacy in multiple ways. For example, a music video usually requires scaffolded storyboarding, and discussions about the use of text, voice and images. Teachers have to pose questions to students such as 'what is our purpose?' 'who is our audience?' and 'what does the audience need to know?' These are the same questions students must ask themselves of any piece of writing.

When the script has been developed, students are then called on to find appropriate images, make the props or costumes, act the script out or role play. Finally, engagement with the technology including collaborating text/image/voice, and editing, is required. Further, there is lots of technology specific vocabulary children learn and are required to use, and all these skills are highly valuable in terms of future employability. What results is a deeply meaningful piece of work, where students present their learning and community through their own perspectives, interests, strengths and stories.

Vamp TV provides just under 30 minutes of program. The program goes out to all the schools but is also available publicly (though not publicised). Initially the program was limited to schools to try and encourage attendance, 'we wanted it to be special' so you had to be at school to see the program, however, opening it up allowed for viewing by non-Government schools.

Vamp TV do not actually do much in school programming, schools send the content they would like to be aired. Though Balaam noted, 'through the program we have challenges and competitions.' They encourage participation and show teachers different ways of participating (e.g. simply sending in photos of work they are doing), but it is ultimately up to the individual school.

English is the main language for Vamp TV programs but a lot of material is in Aboriginal language, because it has to be meaningful, relevant, and many of these students do not speak English in their home communities. 'We have hosts here that introduce the items in English but we are conscious that it is an oral listening exercise and we have strong support from visual images.' TV programming is a mode of communication not dependent on text comprehension. It is a marriage between the language and pictures, that in itself, is quite powerful.

Balaam noted, that one of the best things about Vamp TV is that 'there are some really exceptional kids' and that is the underlying message of Vamp TV, that 'you guys are fantastic, look at what you have got, you have this humour and skills and ability. I asked Balaam, 'What opportunities does the program afford that these students would not get otherwise?' He responded, 'To see what other people are doing, to see what is possible.' Video is a really strong mode of communication, a powerful medium. 'It is quite empowering to have the skills to be able to communicate that way.'

Vamp TV is available at: http://web.ntschools.net/ w/ntms/SitePages/vamptv.aspx

Bea Staley is a lecturer at Charles Darwin University. She loves books and has long resisted a move towards the merging of literacies and technologies. Until one day she went to a digital storytelling workshop and knew life would never be the same. Now Bea is a huge proponent of digital literacies in the classroom (but she still reads paperbacks). bea.staley@cdu.edu.au
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Author:Staley, Bea
Publication:Practical Literacy
Geographic Code:8AUNT
Date:Oct 1, 2017
Words:1076
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