Peggy Gregory is sharing this innovative teaching strategy from Robert Waller, a yearbook adviser in her school district, Dysart Unified School District in Surprise, Ariz. Thanks to Robert Waller for giving us permission to share his teaching strategy and some of the award-winning photos (selected from a slideshow of all the winning photos). To provide clarification on the Homecoming/Stormcoming name, the school’s mascot is Monsoon.

by Robert Waller
Graphic Communication Teacher, Yearbook Adviser
Valley Vista High School
Surprise, Ariz.

Problem #1: Yearbook students were taking way too many snapshots that lacked emotion, did not capture action, and that viewed the world strictly from eye-level.

Problem #2: “Stormcoming” (Homecoming) Week was upon us, and the “Stormcoming” spread was not going to be assigned until the second deadline (which begins the second week of October!). Without students specifically assigned to cover Stormcoming events throughout the week, our coverage would be spotty, at best.

Solution: The “First Ever Valley Vista High School Yearbook Photo Contest”

Here’s what we did:

We devoted two entire class periods (extremely valuable “production” periods, frankly, given the time of year!) to re-reviewing the basics of effective photographic composition, focusing principally on “Action,” “Emotion,” and “Angle.” We also used the yearbook company’s photography curriculum.

The Yearbook students were given the parameters for the “First Ever Valley Vista High School Yearbook Photo Contest:”

  • The photos had to be taken during “Stormcoming” week, which encompassed an abundance of activity: Dress up days, lunchtime contests and activities including DJs, National Guard-sponsored climbing tower, etc,; Spirit Assembly, “Stormcoming” royalty nominations and elections, Car Bash, Powderpuff Football game, Frosh, JV, and Varsity Football games against very tough competitors, “Stormcoming” dance, “Pinwheels for Peace,” and a blood drive. Whew!
  • Yearbook students had to submit one — and only one! — photograph for each the three reviewed photographic compositional elements: “Action,” “Emotion,” and “Angle.”
  • Each of the three photographs had to be from three different events during “Stormcoming” week.
  • The following week, students would review their and their classmates’ work and choose winners in each of the three categories.
  • The first-, second-, and third-place winners in each category would receive a “sweet treat” in honor of their accomplishment.
  • In addition to being a contest opportunity, students would receive an academic grade for participating and submitting photographs in each of the three areas.

Yearbook students took about a gazillion photographs of the event-filled week.

Cost: $10 in candy bars and cookies

Upsides: Fantastic coverage of “Stormcoming” Week. Students are applying the reviewed photographic techniques to their current spreads. Friendly Yearbook Staff competition and team building.

Downsides: We had a lot of students (too many at times) covering various “Stormcoming” Week events. Focus was somewhat drawn away from current spreads, which would have probably happened anyway, given the energy and excitement of “Stormcoming” Week.

The Yearbook students really took to the photo contest, and delivered some fantastic photographs and provided excellent coverage of a very important week in Valley’s year.

I’m interested in sharing great teaching strategies for newspaper and yearbook advisers. You can send tips to share on the blog to 2jdodd (at) gmail (dot) com