Showing movies in the classroom can be a controversial issue. There are some teachers who believe it takes away from better learning opportunities. Others who just don’t feel they have the time to spend (or waste) on movies.
But, movies in the high school classroom can have great benefits for our students. Please hear me out (and not just because I created two semesters worth of the hugely popular Movies vs. Books course for my reluctant alternative high school students who “hate” English class. I made these kids slog through Frankenstein… and they did so happily! )
Movies in the classroom must have purpose to be beneficial to the students. With purpose, movies can add active learning and higher level thinking. Plus, it helps to get students interested and engaged. Movies do not have to be treated as a treat or a waste, but rather as an alternate medium for learning. Reactions to a video can be a part of active learning, as students enjoy the process and can apply what they have learned. (Some times a snippet will suffice. Sometimes a longer section or whole movies is better– the ending of a story can change everything).
And the movie doesn’t have to be accurate. Some of the most engaging discussions in my aforementioned Movies vs. Books was when the movie version was so far from the book, that the students are appalled (the 1931 Boris Karloff version of Frankenstein, for example). And without any prompting from me they would being to discuss the differences, the characterization, mood, and more.
These discussions– active learning and student directed– are only one of the ways a movie can foster higher-level thinking. In my classes, I honed my Movie vs. Book comparison activity for students to evaluate which version is better– any why? Some of my students really struggled with supporting their preference at first (resulting in many revisions to this activity to guide and push them to do so anyway). But they rarely complained about the work that went into making the comparison or taking a position– which is in contrast to the complaints about all the other work in the class. (And yet, they would regularly sign up for a second term!)
It’s not just the ELA classroom where movies can be useful to begin discussions, get students interested, and provide a medium to apply what they have learned. One of my science colleagues would show The Day After Tomorrow and have students explain all that was wrong with the weather, for example. There are plenty of horrible inaccurate history movies to chose from as well.
Plus, shhh… movies are great for those highly distractable times, like before Winter or Spring break.
Clair Dickson, high school English teacher, likes free eTexts and Project Based Learning to stretch her meager budget. Visit her store High School English on a Shoestring Budget to stretch your budget.