We held our annual high school student led conferences right before we began spring break. At the end of each conference, I stepped in to help my sophomores navigate the junior course options, mostly explaining AP and college in the high school. As an elective option, many students chose Creative Writing/Film Studies—each is a semester long and I teach both. At-a-glance, particularly a parent’s glance, this does not look like a class that will help students on their career path, but there are many reasons to encourage students to take classes like this.
1. Students learn to discuss ideas.
Much of films studies is based on discussion, which our students need to practice, a lot. Once a film is complete we discuss the context, representation, cinematography, and other aspects. We don’t all agree on the films we like and dislike. Why not? Why do some students enjoy the Wizard of Oz while others do not? Through student led discussion, students can debate a relatively safe topic, learning how to express and defend their ideas. Many students find their confidence and voice in these discussions.
2. Students are exposed to other cultures.
Often film studies courses have movies on the syllabus that represent cultural perspectives different than the make-up of the student population. In my course we watch several films that broaden their understanding of race. The African Doctor—a French film with subtitles—shows the struggles of a doctor as he sets up practice in a small French town. While it is considered “light-weight” in its portrayal of race relationships, it challenges stereotypes. Selma, one of the students’ favorites, shows the class the real life struggles they briefly read about in history books.
3. Students study art as a representation of society.
For the first part of the course we focus on how films connect people and how they represent the life and times of an era. In many ways, this course approaches film the same way AP English courses approach reading texts. How does Wonder Woman approach ideas of WWI as well as that of 2017? How does Casablanca show the ideas of WWII and address the question of refugees? What does The Founder tell us about corporate America and its portrayal in 2018?
4. Students learn to critique media.
Students must learn to be critical of the messages they receive every day from many different forms of media. Whether it is a movie or a commercial, what is the message and how is the message being presented? What was the point of that close up? Why does the music work, or not, in this film? Learning to critique and analyze different forms of media changes how students receive messages as citizens and consumers.
5. It is fun!
Since I dropped Citizen Kane from the list this year, students would mostly say they enjoy the course. Students watch movies, but learn to be critical. Students have to talk a lot, but learn to appreciate the complexities of media. Sometimes students need a class like Film Studies to balance out the other challenging courses of the rest of the day.
Does your school offer Film Studies? What films would you want to add to the list to help promote understanding culture or historical perspective?
I enjoy working with teachers to pool our collective ideas and talents.To fill my teaching bucket in this way, I participate in the ESD 101 ELA Fellows, lead a community of practice for Bridge to College and enjoy working with the CorelaborateWa teachers.
I am in my twelfth year teaching; two doors down the hall, my husband is in his second year as an AgEd teacher and FFA adviser . Our two young daughters, 8 and 5, keep us crazy-- I mean busy--as we juggle 4-H, dance, basketball, t-ball and more.
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