Envision with me, just for a moment, a much younger Kevin Kreusch from 25 years ago. I was young, plucky, and school was often priority number 28 on my agenda between watching PBS and staring at a wall. Now remember your own youth and the teacher in front of the class explaining that he or she would be showing an “exciting” film based on the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I can still remember how excited I became. No, not because I wanted to bare witness to John Hancock’s ostentatious signature. Instead, I knew, no matter what the film, this was little more than a class period off.
Please, stifle the gasp, dear reader. You probably did the same thing. And I am not that far removed to know and comprehend the pitfalls of showing an educational film or movie during class. In the beginning of my career, I would show them twice a month to my Geography class. As a beginning teacher, perhaps some use them to enhance their own educational teachings. But in many respects, they are a critical waste of precious educational time. And with the deity known as standardized testing, we are severely limited with time as it is. But what other pratfalls do these so-called movies of higher learning encompass?
1.) Incomplete assignments or silly answers based on the film
Oh, how I used to snicker at some of the responses I received from my Geography film assignments. Of course, since I was still wet behind the ears in the educational realm, my idea of an assignment was quite unoriginal: List ten facts you have learned based on the film regarding (name of country here). Some of my favorite responses (I remember some of them to this day), if I actually received a looseleaf sheet of paper: 1.) There are a lot of trees in Brazil. 2.) Puerto Rico has a lot of birds with feathers. 3.) One lady is very poor in Germany. The list like this, in many cases, goes on and on. Of course, in a middle school setting, one can assume that a students recording ability, pen to paper while listening and viewing a movie makes for a terrific challenge. Couple this fact with an admittedly drab and nondescript assignment and we have a recipe for disaster, if not silly answers.
2.) Sleepy-bye time
And now it is honesty time: I need to see a show of hands on how many people actually were totally entranced in awe and wonderment with certain educational videos from their childhood. I can almost hear the crickets already. The narrators droning and equally bored voice in many an educational film lent itself to many an ADD moment for me, as well as droopy eyelids. Repeated images of Thomas Jefferson, pallid pictures of George Washington, and Paul Revere with his horse all paint a bleak outlook for an educationally enlightened setting. To top it all off, educators will often create the “movie atmosphere” by dimming the lights or turning them off altogether. The only thing we are not handing out are nightcaps and pillows.
3.) If not sleepy-bye time, then…
Is it gym class yet? I wonder if Jessica really likes me or is she smiling at someone else? I hope Mom did not pack me another peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If students do keep their eyes open, you will often see them “wink out” in other ways. This “fish-eyed stare” can also be witnessed when a teacher-driven lesson becomes stale or never had much gusto to begin. But in this case, a wiley teacher will know that he or she can “change direction.” With an educational film viewing, cutting it short in the middle seems more treasonous than just letting the entire DVD play out. But this will also lead to the afore-mentioned item #1: incomplete assignments, etc…
4.) You showed what???
There exists laws that govern our lives in every way, shape, and form. And there also exists rules and laws that teachers need to abide. In most states, educators cannot show videos just for kicks and giggles. There needs to be some sort of educational value to what they invite students to see. Preferably, a video should be connected to a previously discussed and analyzed lesson. This rule gets overlooked quite a bit near vacations, but a stringent school or district could easily play Big Brother on an unsuspecting educator that bends these rules once too often. And disciplinary action just does not seem to be worth catching up on lesson planning while Aladdin plays in the background.
5.) Hurray! More Paperwork!
Preparing to show a movie that is rated PG in middle school? Would you like your students to watch Schindler’s List in High School? Good luck! Most school districts have permission slips that need to be provided to students and given to parents to sign before you press the play button on the Magnavox DVD. Plus, depending on each school, you may also need to fill out an in-depth form that explains the educational reasoning behind the movie playing. This will probably be handed in to an administrator. And Lastly, more time will be taken out of your schedule to create a worksheet or activity that parallels what your students are viewing. From a personal perspective, I need more paperwork the way I need more Spam E-mail.
Please do not get me wrong. I know many a teacher who can successfully infuse educational movies into their plans and provide inspired worksheets or follow-up activities that leave students breathless with anticipation. What I must emphasize is that there are many negative ramifications that need to be considered. Especially if both teacher and student yawn and snooze through the narrator’s baritone recitation.