As I am watching Harry Potter with my kids and find my wife actually sitting through it, I had a couple of thoughts. One I don't know why everyone spends so much time reading the books when you could just watch the movies. I immediately stopped in my tracks and realized how stupid I sounded. I thought about books I had read that were made into movies like "Along Came a Spider" that didn't come close to incorporating the complexities of the book on the big screen. I haven't read the Harry Potter series, but I hear often from those that avid fans that the movies just don't measure up.
I realized that I love movies because they are easier for me to digest. It is like Shakespeare, reading it in class was an almost unbearable chore. Thank you Cliff Notes! But watching it either on stage or in a movie made his ideas come to life. I still struggled with the vocabulary, but I could extrapolate the meaning of his exposition (yes I am trying to use big words).
As a history teacher I loved movies. I was a visual learner, and knew I couldn't always do justice to the stories of history. I know students for the most part enjoyed videos. Well that is to say they enjoyed the Hollywood versions of history, the educational ones not so much. Now I don't really blame them about the educational videos, many were very drawn out or boring. To the defense of the educational videos, there are lots of really good information to help students understand the events of history. On the other hand, while they loved the Hollywood versions, most lacked the educational content that I would have liked.
Educational videos and Hollywood movies both have their benefits and drawbacks. The question is how to use videos effectively?
Have a Purpose
Show what you need!
This is an area that I feel many teachers, myself included fall into. We find a video and say YES! This is amazing! This is just want I needed. And then proceed in showing the entire Roots Miniseries. While I haven't shown Roots, I have shown much more of a video than was necessary to make the intended point or cover the important concept or content.
When you look at the video material you are going to show, think about what you need to show and what doesn't get to your point. Preview the video and cut the parts that don't add to the story, OR that just don't make sense. I say this thinking about movies like Brave Heart and Pearl Harbor. Yes they are cinematic master pieces, well they are cool movies. However why do they have to add the long drawn out subplot of the main character falling in love. This doesn't enhance the drama of either film. It doesn't help sell the story of the historic events. So if you show the video in its entirety you are subjecting your students to the fictitious events Hollywood interjects. So be mindful of what you are showing and choose wisely.
Stop and Talk
I sometimes found that showing a video was a great sub plan. It was way easier than detailing all the things that you would do in a day and hoping a sub would execute it in the way you designed. This isn't to slight substitute teachers, but they aren't you, they don't have relationships with your class, and they don't know the things that are in your mind that don't make it on the page for your lesson plan.
So you send in the video, but the sub may have no background in the content and doesn't know your purpose for showing it. I didn't think about how much learning potential could be lost when we just show a video. I had a conversation with a colleague that stated that his students informed him that when a sub shows a video, it isn't the same as when he does it. When he inquired why, because he thought you push play and away you go, but they said that he stops and talks about the video. He takes time explaining what is happening, how it connects to the content.
Stop and talk to your students about what is happening. Be patient and realize that it isn't about the destination but the journey. Take the time to make sure the learning is taking place. Students need help extracting meaning from our lessons. They don't always see the learning targets that are obvious to us because what is obvious to us isn't obvious to everyone. Also consider that this may be your hundredth time seeing a video, teaching a lesson, etc. but it is your student's first time!
Use these experiences as a springboard to student creation.
My final thought is about the lessons we learn from videos. Students watching Hollywood films or documentaries are learning about history. Many students of history like myself really like history because of the stories that are told. They love the personal experiences of history. I am not a war historian, or know many details about historical events. I find myself being looking at the big picture a lot, but with help of the personal stories. I enjoy hearing about events through the eyes of the individuals. These are stories that textbooks don't showcase, yet they help us make connections to the events because those who made history are just people like the rest of us who made choices to do extraordinary things.
From Hollywood to your classroom! Consider taking time to have your students become documentary historians, or filmographers chronicling the lives of members of their community. This could start small by interviewing parents, or larger by looking at documenting the history of groups of people. In our local community we have some First Nations group or Native Americans who have stories that have never reached the pages of the history textbooks. We have a curriculum requirement to teach about First Nations, but I don't think it has been implemented wide spread or in meaningful ways. So what if your class began connecting with a nearby First Nations group and began learning about their culture and history? What if you build relationships of trust to begin chronicling those histories?
If First Nations doesn't work for your location or curriculum, what about veterans? Chronicle the lives of those who served. Or maybe your location is more connected to the civil rights movement, or the terrorist attacks of 9/11? Find topics, events or people and have students begin to discover the oral histories of those in your community.
These are just a few ideas, but think about how you can create opportunities for your students to be historians in your classroom. The process includes developing questions, analyzing information, drawing conclusions, and if creating a video or written project, they have to synthesize information into a product that tells a story.
Let your students experience what has drawn so many of us to history- The Stories!
Lauren Brown left a comment below, and after reading her blog post, I wanted to share it not only in the comment section, but also here for others to see. She makes some really good points about showing film in your classroom, and she taught in Wisconsin for awhile so she has to be super cool!