Schooltime TV

Scribbit, a mom-blogger in Alaska, wonders why her high school age daughter watches so much TV at school.  The daughter watched Enchanted in English class and Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Ice Age and Finding Nemo in German class.

“How many movies do you watch a week?”

She thought a bit, counting up on her fingers and trying to remember. “Oh — I don’t know — five or six, maybe more. We watch TV pretty much every day in at least one class and any time we have a sub they put in movies or something. We watch stuff like Mythbusters a lot and call it chemistry.”

In addition to time-wasting substitutes, the daughter also complained of a P.E. teacher who told students to nap in class  and an English teacher who assigned Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave, which is about Merlin, in a unit on the Renaissance.

“The projects we did had nothing to do with the Renaissance either — we do a lot of projects, especially group projects. I think it’s because the teacher doesn’t have to do anything to grade it like they would have to do if we actually wrote a paper or took a test. Some kid built a throne out of hockey pucks and hockey sticks and got an A.”

Core Knowledge wonders: Is this credible? Can it really be that bad?

On Kitchen Table Math, Casey T’s son, a freshman in the ultra-academic International Baccalaureate program, watches “3 movies or TV videos a week, max.”

I realize that I come from the filmstrip era, but that seems like an awful lot of screen-watching to me. I can envision watching a movie of Romeo and Juliet while reading the play in English class, but Finding Nemo isn’t a science movie.

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  1. There’s lots of video watching in our school, but I’d have to ask my kids to get an accurate estimate. I’ll guess they average about 2-3 per week per child.

    Here’s one. Spending 3-4 days watching Wall Street in Economics class. My 12th grader told me they stopped and discussed topics as they were watching.

    I would think there’s a more efficient way to teach economics, but they do what they do.

  2. Actually, I could see using “Finding Nemo” at the end of a unit on oceanic life. The Pixar folks exhaustively research every detail of the environs for everything they do. Students who have already learned about marine life would be able to identify the species and seascapes. This could be a fun little wrap-up, and a way for the kids to demonstrate how much they’ve learned. Only as a review, however.

    When I was in elementary and middle school, videos were used very sparingly. If we saw 2 or 3 a year, that was a lot. At the Jesuit high school I went to, I can recall only a few instances in which a video was used. On the last day before Christmas vacation, for example, our government teacher told us, rather sarcastically, “Ok, guys, the purpose of this exercise is to count how many laws the Griswolds break.”

    Used sparingly, they can be a good addition to a curriculum. Not, however, as primary or even tertiary method.

  3. It’s idiotic to spend class time on movies. Many kids will have seen some of these movies in their free time. Why waste valuable class time? Yes, they can reinforce inclass learning, buy why not just recommend they or their parents rent the video for a little extra credit?

  4. Well, I’m sure that Core Knowledge sees this as further evidence of a curriculum lacking in content. But, I think that the issue is, if teachers are not well selected from those who are knowledgeable in their areas, and supported in developing curricular interpretations and meaningful lessons (which means that they have structured time for both collaboration and reflection, with sound supervision from experienced and successful educators across a spectrum of approaches), it doesn’t matter what the curriculum or the methodology is–it will suck.

    I can certainly come up with supportive rationale for most of what is presented here. I can also report my own parental experience with too many “movie Fridays” used as a reward, projects that related very poorly to content and teachers who say things that sound pretty silly when taken out of context (like a PE teacher telling kids that if they are too tired to participate they should nap in class).

    Our commitment to individual academic freedom in the classroom–bereft of any accountability for outcomes–has garnered an incredibly mixed bag of teachers who know what they are doing and do it well, and folks who either lack experience and follow the form while losing the substance or who have given up and are just phoning it in.

    It doesn’t seem to me to help that from time to time we look in and professed to be shocked–and use that shock to support whatever bias we have in terms of what is good or bad. A school totally bereft of any of the things mentioned (group projects, presentations in a variety of media, connection of content to the familiar) but chock full of the appropriate reading lists and historical time periods–if taught by the same teachers–would likely be no better.

  5. As a former math teacher, I was “encouraged” to use videos/movies to “engage” my students. I was told by my superiors that we are in the “video/technology” age and need to communicate with students in the way that they feel most comfortable. By the way, I was teaching second year Algebra to Juniors/Seniors who were planning on attending college. Direct instruction was frowned on greatly.

  6. to be fair, watching familiar movies in a foreign language does help, (Nemo was for a German class) but I doubt that it would be as effective as other forms of learning in the class.

    It’s still a very passive form of instruction and as the daughter points out, extremely easy to tune out.

  7. My son is a sophomore at Gunn HS in Palo Alto, and the only in-class movie I can think of was Hotel Rwanda, watched in history class during the unit on Africa.

    I remember watching Night and Fog with German narration in German class. Excellent choice, because it is a 30 minute documentary on the holocaust and a true classic. I have it on my Netflix queue to show my son.

  8. Using a video can mean lots of things…was it 45 minutes long or a video clip. I can’t even think of a time when I’ve used a class period long video in my classroom. But I can cite multiple times I’ve used a 2 or 3 minute clip to illustrate an idea or make a point.

    I also think another post covered something that I think is super important….did the teacher stop the video at critical places and have students discuss or take notes or draw a diagram that is on the screen. If they did, then I’d argue this is more of an instructional activity than “showing a movie”.

    Clearly there are teachers who use movies and videos as babysitters. But I think they are a very small minority. There’s too much push in schools no matter the subject to do well on common assessment items or standardized tests…you just don’t have enough time to get through what you already have to do to waste those precious minutes on babysitting video.

  9. I often wonder the same thing. Instead of TV why not just do jumping jacks for an hour.

  10. Phillip Gonring says:

    Yep, the days when we called one of my teaching colleagues, “Cecil,” short for Cecil B. Demille, are long gone.

  11. I didn’t even go into some of the other stuff–teachers on the phone during class, texting or eating. She’s had quite the high school experience.

  12. I’m glad you flagged this up, as it’s something I’m concerned with too (it’s obviously UK based as well). My son started school in September and has already watched Ice Age – how educational is that? My daughter has watched some of Harry Potter at school and I’m not sure how ready she is for it, as she’s only seven…This is something that does upset parents. Think I will write on it too!

  13. I have a story very similiar to many that have been shared about TV being used in a poor manner in classes. My daugther enter kindergaten this year. She is reading already and meeting all the spring exit standards. I picked her up from school one day early in the year and asked what she did in school that day. She said, “Well, we had huddle time.” I asked, “What is huddle time?” She then replied, “We got to go into another room and watch Barney and It’s a Big, Big, World”. I was mortified. Those are shows that are not even age appropriate for 5-6 year olds. If they were going to spend an hour watching TV atleast pick educational programing that the kids will learn new information from or let her stay home with me and I can read with her.
    We, myself included, have to remember we are in an era of technology and multiple litercies. We need to use these technologies to motivate students because they use TV, movies, text messaging, and social sites such as Facebook in their real lives. I do however, think that teachers need to use these technologies to their advantage and smartly. If used in the correct way students motivation, attitudes toward school, and abilities will increase. I do not mind my daughter watching TV or looking at things on the web, just as long as there is real learning coming from it.

  14. The only videos I show are the 2-3 minute educational shorts on BrainPop through the SMARTBoard. I can’t imagine having the luxury of extra time where I didn’t need to teach something.

  15. Deirdre Mundy says:

    This isn’t a new trend–I think it happened when VCRS got cheap and available. We watched BEN HUR for a week in 6th Grade. And I still remember the countless hours of history class given over to Dances with Wolves. Don’t remember the movie though—I slept.

    In High School, my 9th grade English teacher showed a movie at the end of every book (for about 3-4 days of class time) and then took us on a field trip to see “Medicine Man” because “Sean Connery is hot.”

    She also did pause and rewind. During Romeo and Juliet. About 10 times. All so we could “Appreciate” Romeo’s butt.

    And these were HONORS classes. We watched FEWER movies than the other kids!

  16. Former PhysicsTeacher says:

    I think you can at least partly blame that foolishness known as block scheduling for all the videos.

    I found it very difficult to actually teach anyone anything for a full 90 minute block (sometimes more than that). During the first half most students would be reasonably attentive and they would be focused on the material. After that, their attention would begin to fade and the videos would come out.

    Of course, I could have found kindergarten…er…engaging “activities” that might last a full 90 minutes. Never know when coloring might come in handy.

  17. Alex Bensky says:

    I can well understand using a familiar movie like “The Incredibles” in a foreign language class. But how is it used? Are there vocabulary sheets, study questions, and perhaps essay questions in the language after the film, or are the students simply shown the movie?

    There may be “different forms of literacy” but the original one–being able to read, understand, and respond to detailed and lengthy written text–isn’t obsolete or likely to become so.

  18. I don’t mind videos in class, but I find it hard to simply sit there and not add to the video. I recently showed part of “Saving Pvt. Ryan” and “Band of Brothers” in an 11th grade U.S. History block class (90 min). I did not just let them watch it. I spoke during it, adding to various portions and all. This means that they were also talking during the movie: asking questions, adding comments, etc. The only thing I wish I had not done is show the “Band of Brothers” segment. I opened up the day’s lesson with a video of the Andrew Sisters singing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. They really enjoyed that. I used it as a way to introduce them to the music of the period.


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