PedagogyPop QuizSecondary Education

Pop Quiz: Today’s Lesson Will Begin After These Trailers

Yesterday was the last day of term here before our two-week April break. It was a dress-down day, the school was quieter than usual due to quite a few pupils opting to start their break a day early, and there was a pretty cheery atmosphere around the building. The preceding term is always by far the busiest and most stressful, for both staff and pupils alike. Of course, it being the last day of term meant that more than a few classrooms were in darkness, with the flickering of some DVD movie or other lighting up the gloom.

I’ve never been a big fan of using movies as pacifiers on the last day of term in a high school. I wish I could claim some holier-than-thou moral reason for this (well, maybe a bit), but what I tend to find is that if a teacher does try to do this with whatever totally-not-in-any-mood-to-work pupils they have in front of them on the last day, they can quite easily cause a fifteen minute long debate about who has or hasn’t seen this or that movie. Or they can lay down the law, bark “QUIET, WE’RE WATCHING THIS!” and inflict the same first half of the same old movie that the pupils have probably seen multiple times before. Also, our school administration has recently cracked down quite heavily on the use of movies in classes and they don’t view the last day of term as much of an exception, so showing a film can lead to awkward questions from above regarding “educational merit”.

However, I am a big fan of using carefully-selected movies once or twice a year to promote critical thinking with certain types of student. I’m an English teacher, which means that I often use novels and other texts with my classes. Many of these texts have film versions and these films can act as excellent backup resources. My job is to teach literature and language, but the movie version of the book we’ve just studied can be a nice reward for a class.

There are times where a movie by itself can be truly useful as a teaching tool. Some movies can provide an emotional impact that hits home even for pupils who are poor or reluctant readers. I’m not for one second arguing that movies should replace reading in the classroom, far from it, but I have seen many examples of well-chosen movies opening up serious and sophisticated debates with classes who might not yet have been ready to fully engage with reading something of a similar level.

Our history department uses an extremely powerful drama-documentary about the bombing of Hiroshima during the teaching of WW2. As I mentioned in a previous Pop Quiz, I’ve used the film of Of Mice and Men to open up a debate about the casual use of the word “retard” with a class who would not have been anywhere near as engaged with the novel itself. Our philosophy course (an elective open only to seniors) even uses parts of the Matrix trilogy to back up discussions about certain philosophers and their ideas.

What are your views regarding the use of movies in school classrooms, either during the year or at the end of a term?

Are there any specific movies that you think could help students to engage with a particular issue?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 3pm ET.

Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Alasdair

Alasdair

Alasdair is a high school English teacher in Scotland. He's a passionate skeptic and science fan, which is why he runs a discussion club for young skeptics in his school. He loves space and astronomy more than pretty much anything and is studying for a physics degree in his spare time in order to become qualified to teach science.

He lives with a cat made of distilled hatred and spikes.

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