Friday, 21 October 2011

Movies in the Classroom - Another View

Recently, a delegation of parents at our School Board meeting voiced concerns about the use of movies in classrooms. Their questions centered around the content of some films and around what rights they had as parents to be informed about what their children might view. Some also asked about how often and how long videos were used in the classrooms and whether Hollywood movies were replacing instruction.

Using media to support instruction is a time honored practice. Used appropriately, motion pictures can hi-light ideas, inspire debate, energize and engage students. Used excessively, or inappropriately media can bore students to death, or expose them to controversial, even dangerous images. No one is suggesting that movies should never  be shown in schools. The challenge is to determine what materials are suitable, how they should be used and to what degree parents should be informed.

How appropriate a film may be for classroom use is determined by a combination of factors. There are legal considerations, such as copyright, to consider. Does the film have relevance to what is being taught? What rating did the film receive? Is it age appropriate? How much of the film should be used? What is the purpose of showing the film? How might parents react to their child seeing the film? All of these questions should be considered before a teacher puts a picture before a class.

There are lots of good websites on this topic. Alberta Education has a 48 page guide about using film in the classroom (education.alberta.ca/media/8836825/5_film.pdf).  Another good site is 50 Best Movies for Middle School  and yet another can be found at http://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-lists. All these sites contain basic common sense recommendations about previewing the material to be shown, knowing the ins and outs of relevant legal and copyright issues, and being aware of the sensibilities and feelings of target audiences and their parents. They also give tips on how to best utilize media as a resource. Good media use needs to  scaffold and support good teaching; not be a substitute for it.

 

Keeping parents informed about what, why and when their children will be viewing is also important, especially if the materials being considered are in any way controversial. Keeping parents, and principals, in the know, can prevent misunderstandings and difficult post viewing conversations. Whether by means of email, notices home or the collection of pre-viewing permission slips, telling parents about what’s going to be showing is good practice. It provides teachers with the means to pre-empt parental concerns and demonstrate that lessons are organized with a greater purpose than how to kill an hour or two. It also allows parent to be heard and have their legitimate concerns dealt with before they grow into bigger issues.

 

Ultimately, better communication is the answer. Teachers and parents need to know why a film is to be used. Effective use of media can be an exciting way to support learning. It should not be used thoughtlessly or as electronic babysitting. Parents need to know that teachers care, and can appropriately excite and engage students. Used well, film can help a teacher get their point across. Used otherwise, films in the classroom are pointless, possibly dangerous and likely a waste of time.


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