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 Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?

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Dick Stodghill
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PostSubject: Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?   Sat Dec 27, 2008 6:21 pm

A Stodghill Says So blog:

Muncie Central High School in Indiana has played a significant role in my life. Jackie is a graduate of the school. So were my mother, three aunts, an uncle and two cousins. I attended the school for a couple of months myself just before entering the Army in 1943.
Muncie Central has won eight basketball state championships, more than any other school in Indiana. One of those cousins was named Mr. Basketball, the highest honor for any Hoosier player.
The school has had a number of distinguished graduates, but today its test scores are abysmal. Gene Williams, executive editor of the Star Press, successor to the Evening Press, my paper for 20 years, wrote a column on the subject recently. The column centered on the showing of movies in class.
Since the current semester began four months ago, one English class has been shown four movies. While the movies were good ones, exactly what does watching Forrest Gump or any similar production have to do with teaching or learning English?
This smacks of a lazy teacher. It's far easier to show a movie than it is to prepare a lesson plan and then work with the students to see that they understand and will remember what they have been taught.
It would be interesting to know if any action was taken after Williams' column ran in the paper. Were the school administrators upset? Were any parents angry? Did the general public give a damn?
Would paying teachers more money produce better results? Not unless it attracted a better class of teachers. Anyone who has a job but performs only according to how much they are paid isn't worthy of anything more than being fired.
Some people feel that new buildings are the answer. In Akron they replaced a dozen or more fine structures with brand new ones, but the results have not improved one iota.
One thing is certain: Kids in the United States are falling way behind those in many other countries. So what is the answer? I don't know, but have serious doubts that it is watching movies in class.
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alj
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PostSubject: Re: Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?   Sat Dec 27, 2008 9:41 pm

Dick,

I understand your concerns, and have been aware of several incidents in the district where I taught that showing movies was used in what I, as a teacher, considered to be the wrong way. I remember that a team of teachers at a middle school there came up with the idea of making every Friday a movie day so that they could catch up on grading and paperwork and keep their weekends free. That one led to a ruling by the district that no teacher could show a film without getting permission from the principal, and that permission had to include a written justification.

Until I began teaching at the district's night school, an experimental program designed to lower the drop-out rate and find a way to help the young people who had fallen through the cracks in the system, I would show movies once or twice a year. I would nearly always end my study of To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance, with the Gregory Peck film. And once, during a time when the district was pushing English teachers to include fine arts and media presentations, I wrote a justification, and had it approved, to show a video of a current Masterpiece Theater production (legal when it was used within a specified amount of time) of a segment called "Baryshnikov by Tharpe," an hour of Mikhail Baryshnikov dancing to numbers all choreographed by Twyla Tharpe of the American Ballet Company. (I had to promise that Mr. B would not be wearing tights in any of the numbers, but the video was otherwise approved.)

Things changed, though, at the night school. I don't know if any of you remember a movie from the mid- 90's called Dangerous Minds. It was based on a book called My Posse Don't Do Homework, which might give you a better clue to the plot. This was not a film I showed in my classroom, but one that the night school principal took her entire staff - it was a small school; there were about 25 of us - to see as part of our teacher training. If you do remember it, you have a clear picture of our student body.

I transferred to the school primarily because my mother was living with me, and her health was such that I needed to be at home with her during the day. And partly because I had been teaching in another experimental school which had been a total delight until the district decided it was too successful, and ruined it - another thread to explain that one. I was surprised to find that, for the first year, I was in culture shock, even though my teaching experience had dealt almost exclusively with what are called "at risk" students. In the first school, we had focused on high expectations in small classrooms, with much success. I have to fall back on another film about teaching to explain it better: Stand and Deliver, starring Edward James Olmos as Jaime Escalante, an actual teacher in a barrio school in Los Angeles. Most of our students went on to college, often with credit from taking AP classes at our school.

But the student body at the night school was different. To shorten an already long and digressing story, nearly all of them were in gangs, more than half of the girls had children - note children, not child - and very few of them had ever ventured outside of an area of central north Houston of about 25 square miles. It became pretty obvious to me and all the staff during that first year, that if we were going to teach these young people, that we were going to have to come up with something drastically different. In literature classes, that meant introducing literary works with movies and videos with similar themes. I recall one instance when the reading selection I needed to teach, a non-fiction essay, focused on life behind the iron curtain. The students' world was so narrow, and their reading comprehension levels so low, that they could not begin to grasp the settings or the lifestyle depicted in that essay until I showed them the movie, White Nights. And yes, I was a hopeless Baryshnikov fan. Movies became a primary teaching tool, because they could understand and connect with action and visuals when they could not with the written word. One suggestion had been that we find books and articles written at elementary levels, limited to topics that would interest them: gang life and single teen parenting. I pushed to keep the traditional works of the curriculum, using films, among other approaches, to create a mindset where they were willing to work at reading real literary works, including Shakespeare. I asked for permission to substitute Hamlet for Julius Caesar with my sophomores because they could relate to it better, and began by presenting a scenario that basically related the plot in a gangland setting. The girls in the class quickly picked up on Ophelia's plight, and the guys, by the time we started in earnest, were enraged at Claudius' treatment of Hamlet. One of the other reasons I chose that play was that Kenneth Brannagh had recently released his 4-hour version using the complete text, so that they could read the play as they watched. When I taught the mythology unit, I interspersed the stories of Perseus, Oedipus, and KIng Arthur with the Star Wars films. But always, the movies were a springboard to the stories written by the great writers. It worked. Our first year, only 20% of our students passed the state exams. by the time I retired, eight years later, we were up to 85%.

I don't know the circumstances of the movies being shown in your Muncie classrooms. As I said at the beginning of this long diatribe (sorry) there is definitely a wrong way to use movies in the classrooms. Sometimes, IMVHO, they are justified.

Ann Very Happy
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Dick Stodghill
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PostSubject: Re: Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?   Sat Dec 27, 2008 9:59 pm

I'd say your's was a special case, Ann, and you had carefully thought out exactly what you were doing. In the case in Muncie, the school has some students from a disadvantaged area but the majority come from prosperous, even wealthy, neighborhoods. The one who brought the situation to the attention of the editor was a student who felt he was being cheated by the teacher.
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alj
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PostSubject: Re: Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?   Sat Dec 27, 2008 11:13 pm

Probably more like the middle school teachers in our district who used movies to give them free time. Yes, it happens too often.

Ann
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Betty Fasig
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PostSubject: Re: Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?   Sun Dec 28, 2008 12:08 am

Dear Ann,
Your beauty as a teacher cannot be surpassed, IMHO. I hope I wrote that to mean in my humble opinion. I wish that I had you as a teacher, even now, these many years after the dismal diatribes that the old Mrs. Daughrty of 70 years wacked my hands at five years old and considered that I was White Trash not worthy of attention and scared me so much that I peed my pants.

You are a wonder, kind and gentle with a spirit that shines forth.

Love,
Betty
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alj
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PostSubject: Re: Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?   Sun Dec 28, 2008 1:14 am

You're far too kind, Betty.

Dick really does have a point. The Mrs. Daughrty's are still around, and often they are the ones showing movies so they won't have to teach. It's so much easier to brand some students as unteachable than it is to find a way to reach them.

But I'm really not kind and gentle. I get my dander up when somebody tells me I can't do something, or that there's only one right way to do it, like the district consultant who divided the students into categories and laid out a plan for teaching each group, well, except for the lowest group. She said they were the counselor's problem, and we shouldn't take up class time trying to reach them. She showed us the statistics for that group and we told her she was talking about 80% of our students and asked her if we were going to get more counselors. She told our principal that we were not being cooperative.




Dick, until recently, I would have agreed with you completely about Forrest Gump, but I'm reading a book right now called Healing the Fisher King, by Shelley Durrell. She says Forrest is Percival, the fool who stumbles upon the Grail and ends up saving the community.
jocolor
I would have to rewatch it to be sure; I've forgotten most of it, but if I were still teaching mythology in the classroom, I might be tempted.


Ann
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Tory Lynn
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PostSubject: Re: Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?   Sun Dec 28, 2008 1:40 am

When I worked as an aide in a place where troubled teens were sent to
live and go to school, I was astounded at the turn over of teachers we
had. Very few stayed. The ones that did stay really cared about the
kids and were there for a long period of time, some are still there.
The yahoos that thought they were there to get a paycheck just tried to
show movies. One teacher had a plan of showing the old sci-fi movies,
to teach science. Being the aide he thought I would go along with it.
He was not that lucky. I hated it when they thought they could just
write off our teens as people who would were screw ups and weren't
worth the time. Thankfully those teachers did not last long.

Betty, my nightmare teacher was Mrs. Reese. I wonder if they were related.

Ann, I would have loved having you as a teacher.

Dick great subject.

Vickie
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Phil Whitley
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PostSubject: Re: Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?   Sun Dec 28, 2008 3:22 am

I am surprided that no one has mentioned Blackboard Jungle.Now THAT would be a fine teaching lesson!

To the best of my recollection I was never shown a movie in grammar or
high school. If I was, it would have been one of those
government-sponsored propaganda flicks like Sammy the Sperm or Killer Weed.

I must have been fortunate growing up in a small rural community
where the teachers knew our parents, were neighbors and members of the
church. There were a few who taught because that was all they could do
to make a living, but for the most part they taught bacause they loved
teaching. Lord knows it wasn't for the money. But even among these
there were a few who stand out in my memory. They were the ones who
lived for that "AHA" moment in a child's eyes that meant they finally
"got it". They would have never given up class time by showing a
movie as long as they thought there was a chance that today may be the day I get through that thick skull.
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Dick Stodghill
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PostSubject: Re: Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?   Sun Dec 28, 2008 1:17 pm

In my opinion the most worthless movies ever inflicted upon captive aufiences were the seven or so in the "Why We Fight" series shown to World War II servicemen. They could just as well been titled "Why We Sleep" except for the sergeants who roamed around hitting men on the head if they dozed off. As I was with infantrymen headed for battle, a couple in the series could have been called "How Did I Ever Get Into This Mess?"

I can think of only one teacher who really inspired me to do more than show up for class. Miss Woodard, who taught sixth grade in a school of deprived children in a rough neighborhood, made everything interesting for even the ruffians determined to disrupt every situation. Her class was the one bright spot in my ten years of formal schooling. She made even the most worthless among us feel worthwhile, including me.
Then came Mrs. Canfield in seventh grade and Miss Morrow in eighth and we all reverted back to our natural state of rebelliousness. Too bad it was that way. The raw material was good but in great need of refining and guidance.
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Tory Lynn
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PostSubject: Re: Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?   Sun Dec 28, 2008 1:36 pm

I was one of those kids that would have slipped through the cracks, but Mrs. Shay Thoelke was like an angel. She entered my life in the llth grade and was there till I graduated high school. I will never forget her.

The only movies I remember seeing in school, were 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and 'The Big Red Balloon'. I remember seeing a movie in health class in the sixth grade, but can't remember the title. It has something to do with relationships when they started with sex ed.

Vickie
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alj
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PostSubject: Re: Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?   Sun Dec 28, 2008 2:20 pm

I just wrote the most magnificent and erudite message of my writing career, only, when I tried to enter it, it disappeared. I'll try to recreate it, but it won't be nearly as well written.


Dick, many of my students were used to thinking of movie days as free days, and expected to be able to nap through them. I soon started handing out a list of questions and terms at the beginning of the videos, and let them know that they would not only be graded, but that the films all contained test material. (Most asked question of students to teachers in education today: "Is this going to be on the test?")

Evil or Very Mad

An example of the way the movie material might be, "Show how the events in Luke Skywalker's life fulfilled the elements of the mythological hero's life pattern.

Check out my webpage below to see that pattern:
http://www.annjoiner.com/theherosjourney.htm

In defense of teachers, I have to note that the problem isn't confined to what or how the teachers are teaching. We also need to look at how our students are learning, how and what yhey learn, and how willing they are to do the work of learning. Many of them spend their time watching TV and playing video games. Getting them interested in reading, whether textbooks or novels, is much harder than it was a few decades ago.
Ann
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Carol Troestler
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PostSubject: Re: Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?   Sun Dec 28, 2008 2:39 pm

Many, many years ago, when I was in college, I took a course regarding methods for teaching biology. I majored in biology and psychology, and to justify my getting a liberal arts education in the late 1950s, I decided I needed to take some courses that could procure a job, so I took some education courses and this biology course and then I could get certified as a biology teacher.

During the semester, we each had to do a presentation. I decided to use the classroom skeleton and explain the bones and joints. Somehow the big toe bone got stuck in the knee bone and I could not get it unstuck during the presentation. So several students and the professor got the toe bone unconnected from the knee bone. I was very embarrassed. Afterwards one student said, "This just makes me wonder what is going to happen when she talks to her class about reproduction."

I said, "No problem. I'll just show a movie."

I never was a biology teacher, but did teach English for a semester and did work at a school for five years where all those education credits got me a job as a school social worker. We had a movie that I must have shown at least 25 times. I got to know all the lines and what everyone in the movie was wearing. There was discussion afterwards.

Carol
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Rhymer
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PostSubject: Re: Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?   Sun Dec 28, 2008 2:50 pm

Teachers and movies. Like another post I do not remember ever being shown a movie except as a driving aid. Unfortunately most of the teachers I came in contact with had their personal paddles hung on the wall like a trophy. They loved to drill holes in the board so blisters could be raised. Was on the wrong end of those beatings to many times. I believe it was their way of dealing with Attention Deficit Hyper-Active children.
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dtpollard
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PostSubject: Re: Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?   Sun Dec 28, 2008 3:01 pm

Showing movies is just another bleed in of pop culture into schools. Movies are useless unless they are actual footage of events.
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Carol Troestler
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PostSubject: Re: Are Movies a Legitimate Teaching Aid?   Sun Dec 28, 2008 3:58 pm

I remember a beautiful movie I saw in college done by Life Magazine regarding evolution versus creationism. The movie spoke of the fact that God's time was different than ours, and seven days could have been much longer and the Bible also says something to that effect. To me it showed that one didn't need to decide between the two, but that they were really one. It was a gorgeous movie with great music that I have remembered all these decades.

I remember when the Audio Visual staff had to bring in the projector for movies. I went to an excellent school system and liked the movies we saw which were very educational. I also remember when one would go to the movies in the theater that the news reels showed us what was going on in the world, giving us a little education with the entertainment.

Carol
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