Teachers have long used the media--and particularly film--to accomplish various instructional objectives such as building background for particular topics or motivating student reaction and analysis. The appeal of visual media continues to make film, video, and television educational tools with high potential impact; and they are now considerably more accessible and less cumbersome to use.
The use of film in the classroom has become more popular since the arrival of the videocassette recorder (VCR) with its relative economy and ease of operation. The opinion of one teacher probably echoes the opinion of many others: "The VCR gave us flexibility. We could watch the first exciting twenty minutes, stop the tape and discuss elements of introduction, mood, suspense, and characterization--and view it again....The VCR is simple to operate, portable, and less expensive." (Farmer, 1987) Another educator who has considered the potential of the VCR believes that "one of the pedagogical tasks of the next decade may well be discovering the most efficacious ways of employing this omnipresent piece of technology." (Gallagher, 1987) Another teacher pinpoints a reason for the potential: "Because students live in a media-oriented world, they consider sight and sound as 'user friendly.'" (Post, 1987)
Post (1987) argues that videotapes of literary classics can become powerful allies of the teacher in the English classroom if used effectively. She adds that films allow the teaching of longer works that might otherwise be omitted or of controversial works that might be excluded from the curriculum. The example she gives is of Tennessee Williams's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Although it is definitely an adult film, its screenplay contains none of the potentially objectionable material or language that appears in the original play.
In Krukones's course, four novels and their analogous films correspond to particular political spheres: "The Last Hurrah" (local), "All the King's Men" (state), "Advise and Consent" (national), and "Fail-Safe" (international). Following an overview of a novel or film, specific scenes and passages are discussed and are related to real-world politics. Classes meet for 2 1/2 hours once a week, so that more than one discipline can be dealt with and sufficient time for movie viewing is available.
Dyer's course encompasses nearly all the mass media forms. It begins with readings of several classic short stories with rural settings by Willa Cather and John Steinbeck. It proceeds by examining articles from the newspaper about farm issues and incidents, and then it has the students view the recent movies, "Country" and "The River," both of which portray contemporary life on a farm. Next the students view a 27-minute television documentary about three women farmers in Minnesota; and then the course continues with the study of the recent best-selling novels, "The Beans of Egypt" and "In Country." It concludes by having the students listen to several segments of the radio program "Lake Wobegon Days."
Rebhorn (1987) also uses Hollywood movies to enliven and enrich history classes, with the conviction that film brings an immediacy and interest to historical events that students often consider dull because they occurred long ago and faraway. Some of the films which she uses are "Inherit the Wind," "The Grapes of Wrath," "All the President's Men," and "Reds."
Another example of more focused use of film and television in the classroom is found in a course on the Holocaust (Michalczyk, 1982). A review of Holocaust films yielded material in various popular genres--newsreels (both German and Allied), documentaries, fiction films, and TV docudramas; the value of the particular type of media in teaching about the recent past was considered along with the content of each piece. Michalczyk had Holocaust survivors and educators evaluate the diverse films and their potential for teaching the Holocaust as an historical event with profound implications for humanity; and their reactions and experiences were incorporated into the course material.
Another approach to teaching college composition classes (Masiello, 1985) organizes brainstorming sessions around themes from popular movies--for example, talking about family relationships as portrayed in "Breaking Away," "The Deer Hunter," "The Godfather," "Saturday Night Fever," and "Terms of Endearment." He finds that the film viewing helps students learn to observe carefully and often results in sharper writing skills.
Moss (1987) uses the lowly, elemental daytime soap opera as a vehicle for teaching remedial writing in the SEEK program in New York City colleges. Using a VCR so that everyone can watch the episode at the same time (and filling in gaps in plot lines by reading "Soap Opera Digest"), he begins by asking the students to write on the most elementary level. The assignment is intended to tap into their passionate devotion to "the soaps"--which characters do they like the best, the least, and why? Then the class members discuss the acting and begin to impose certain critical criteria on the material. A short lesson on genres establishes appropriate aesthetic categories, and the students can begin to dissect the narrative in a composition.
Jeremiah (1987) outlines an instructional model for using television news and documentaries for writing instruction in the secondary and postsecondary classroom. He believes that the structure and content of news presentations mirrors the practice of essay writing, and thus can serve as a writing project that effectively serves instruction.
A step-by-step examination of a selected TV program can be undertaken in a single class period, using the following strategies: 1) as a warm-up mechanism, the teacher introduces the writing skill (for example, to provide information or to persuade); 2) students are allowed time for questions and comments; 3) the news segment or documentary is shown; 4) students produce an outline for the news report they will write in response to the stimulus; and 5) the outlines are assessed for organization. The outlines are collected at the end of the class period to minimize any external influences; and the students produce a full-length essay during the next class period, after their outlines have been returned.
The instruction using this model and the evaluation of the products that result should stress that the news treatment of a topic should include an introduction and adequate supporting detail and explanation. If the aim is to persuade, the writing should include adequate argumentation. Both formal and informal mechanisms should be used for evaluation, and the students should be given opportunity to revise.
A novel approach in the use of film in generating enthusiasm for writing in the elementary grades is advocated by a librarian who sponsored a writing contest in which 1,100 students participated (Simpson, 1982). She began by showing the classic short French film without dialogue, "The Red Balloon." Students viewed the film and were allowed two weeks to complete entries that included poems, short stories, or essays expressing any themes or experiences connected with the movie. Entries were judged on the qualities of appeal and originality, and all the participants received certificates on Honors Day. The winners additionally received ribbons on their certificates.
The mass media are an integral part of the environment in which today's students learn to read, write, listen, speak, and make meaning of their lives. Thus a properly designed course of instruction can use media to channel a student's enthusiasm and route it to an academically useful goal. The documents cited here are but a small sample of those in the ERIC database illustrating how teachers can do that.
Boyd, Veleda, and Robitaille, Marilyn. "Composition and popular culture: From mindless consumers to critical writers," English Journal, 76 (1), January 1987, pp. 51-53.
Dyer, Joyce. "Rural America in film and literature," English Journal, 76 (1), January 1987, pp. 54-57.
Farmer, David L. "The VCR: 'Raiders' as a teaching tool," English Journal, 76 (1), January 1987, p. 31.
Gallagher, Brian. "Film study in the English language arts." In Report by the NCTE Committee on Film Study in the English Language Arts, 1987. 23 pp. [ED 287 165]
Jeremiah, Milford A. "Using television news and documentaries for writing instruction." Paper presented at the 38th Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, 1987. 13 pp. [ED 280 031]
Krukones, Michael G., et al. "Politics in fiction and film: An introduction and appreciation. A team-taught course," 1986. 30 pp. [ED 280 086]
Lovell, Jonathan H. "Where we stand." In Report on Film Study in American Schools. Report by the NCTE Committee on Film Study in the English Language Arts, 1987. 23 pp. [ED 287 165]
Masiello, Frank. "The lessons of popcorn." In Spielberger, Jeffrey (Ed.), Images and Words: Using Film to Teach Writing, 1985, pp. 56-59. 93 pp. [ED 260 393]
Michalczyk, John J. "Teaching the Holocaust through film." Paper presented at the Modern Language Association Meeting, 1982. 20 pp. [ED 240 011]
Moss, Robert F. "The next episode: Soap operas as a bridge to improved verbal skills," English Journal, 76 (1), January 1987, pp. 35-41.
Post, Linda Williams. "Frankly, my dear," English Journal, 76 (1), January 1987, pp. 28-30.
Rebhorn, Marlette. "Hollywood films as a teaching tool," 1987. 6 pp. [ED 286 815]
Simpson, Jeanette. "A writing contest? Why bother," Exercise Exchange, 26 (2), Spring 1982, pp. 47-48. White, Kathy. "Teaching about women and violence," 1985. 14 pp. [ED 268 528]