You teach your children some fashion sense
And they fashion some of their own
- Gordon Downie

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lessons in Film

I am up front about my weaknesses. For example, I love fishing. I can't help myself. I particularly love fly fishing. I would go fly fishing every day, all day if I could. Another weakness? My kids and being a dad. I love my kids beyond belief. If there is a song or music video that has anything to do with a dad and his children, I weep openly and without shame. A final weakness is that I love film. I get very unhappy when my students ask if they can watch a "movie". At one point, I summed it up as "Films are movies that are actually worth watching." I'm not trying to be snooty - I'm just saying that there is a big difference between "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Paul Blart: Mall Cop".

Before I taught grade four, I found a way to work all or part of the film "A River Runs Through It' into every class I taught, be it Social Studies, English, Health or my fourth year Language Arts curriculum class. True, the fishing aspect of the story is beautiful to watch. What is most compelling to me, though, is the family dynamic. The story's author, Norman Maclean, tells the story of his father, a Presbyterian minister, and his younger daredevil brother, Paul. The family settled in Missoula, Montana in the early 1900s - as the film states, "it was a world with dew still on it." There are so many ideas and thoughts in this wonderful film about families, education and human nature. I had a watershed moment last summer when I watched this film with my two sons (who are remarkably similar to Norman and Paul in terms of age differential and personality.) We finished watching the film (in tears - imagine that) and had such a meaningful conversation about always being there for your family, no matter what. Even better, we went fishing the next day and my older son caught his first two trout on a dry fly.

Another film I love to use when doing presentations for teachers is "Stand and Deliver'. This film is the true story of Jaime Escalante, a Puerto Rican immigrant who taught mathematics in difficult neighborhoods in Los Angeles. More than anything, I deeply admire the determination of Escalante's character in the film. Real or dramatized, the lesson in the film is to never quit, regardless of the barriers you face. This video is my favorite scene and sums up what Escalante stood for

There are many other "teacher" films I enjoy like "Dead Poet's Society", "To Sir with Love", "The Karate Kid", "Coach Carter" and yes, even "School of Rock". Often, we don't have to watch the entire film in order to select the key ideas and messages. To me, this is the power of YouTube and iTunes. It is amazing to have these resources at your fingertips and I really believe that they enrich your classroom when you use them properly.

I've only scratched the surface of this topic. In the end, my big message is that there are SO many lessons that can be learned from good films. If you are a teacher, do me a favour and don't just show a movie for the sake of showing a movie. Show a film. Have a purpose and communicate that purpose to your students. One of my favourite experiences as a teacher was showing my Grade 8 students "Life is Beautiful". My kids were initially reluctant about watching a subtitled film - every time I used it, I was asked "Why do we have to read and watch a movie?" By the end of the film, though, the power of Roberto Benigni's story pulled all of my kids in to the touching story of a father who makes the ultimate sacrifice.

There are amazing lessons to be found in film. I would love to hear more from you about the films that affect you.

1 comment:

  1. Add viewing to your labels. As a teacher I struggled with this aspect of language arts. When I started blogging , pictures were my weakness. Now I'm starting to think picture and then what do I want to say. It's still rough but I'm trying.
    Keep up the good work and enjoy blogging.