Using movies as an educational tool

Laura writes about why she likes the idea of using film as a teaching device — and how much teachers have improved in their film selection since she was a student.

By Laura Grande
Using movies as an educational tool

Photo by track5/

The whole idea of showing a movie to a classroom full of students sometimes carries negative connotations — and that's somewhat understandable. When I was a student and a teacher would show us the occasional movie in class it often had little to do with the subject we were being taught — it was simply filler. My teacher usually had something that needed to be marked and needed quiet time to concentrate on that. I'll never forget the time we had to randomly watch Stargate (an odd sci-fi film with a super-young James Spader and Kurt Russell) in history class. History class!

Granted, my teachers would usually try to at least pick an older film that was based on a novel (we once watched the 1968 musical Oliver! in an English class; however, Charles Dickens didn't appear once on our course syllabus that year), but I remember that a few of my friend's parents were a little disappointed when they found out that there hadn't been an actual lesson that day. Even my own parents would sometimes ask incredulously, "what do you mean, you watched a movie at school?"

However, every so often a teacher would pick the perfect film that fit into the class curriculum and managed to hold our attention at the same time. One that comes to mind for me was a screening of Cinema Paradiso in my Italian language class when I was in the eighth grade. My teacher challenged us by showing the film without subtitles and I remember everyone having a really lively conversation afterward about what we were able to understand.

Therefore, I found this Teach with Movies website really interesting. Our managing editor Nadine Silverthorne brought it to my attention last week and I've been scanning some of movie lists that teachers are using when building class content around specific films. It even has suggestions for every single subject you could possibly think of.

Now, more than ever, using film in the classroom would seem to be a natural teaching tool for the coming generations who are more visual and tech-savvy than when you or I were younger. And I've always liked the idea of incorporating film into school curriculum — so long as it's relevant to the material being taught and generates indepth discussion afterward.

Showing a movie in class isn't a new idea by any means, but I do believe that, if the right film is chosen, visual stimulation can add a lot to a child's learning experience. It can also help kids flex their own creativity. This can be especially true for subjects a lot of kids might deem to be a little dry — like mathematics, languages or even trying to learn Shakespeare.

I started scouring the Internet to get an idea of what films teachers enjoy showing in the classroom. The most popular choice for high school students appears to be the classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. Some other interesting choices I came across: Dead Poet's Society (for poetry), Life is Beautiful (for history), Anne of Green Gables (for a coming-of-age tale and Canadian literature focus) and, for younger audiences, Holes (for teaching teamwork).

How do you feel about teachers occasionally screening films in class? What movies have your kids seen in school and what kind of reactions did they have to certain flicks?

This article was originally published on Apr 09, 2012

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