Photo by Travis Hornung I am consistently amazed that so few of my students have experienced classic films such as The Wizard of Oz, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, and It’s A Wonderful Life. Movies like these are essential pieces of our culture that enrich students lives and connect them to a larger community. Here’s seven ways utilizing film benefits your gifted students.
1. Connect Students To Cultural Milestones
In America, It’s A Wonderful Life is part of our cultural heritage. Even if you don’t love Jimmy Stewart, even if you can’t stand black and white, and even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s impossible to avoid references to this film. Likewise, The Wizard Of Oz is referenced whenever you hear “there’s no place like home” or “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
Connecting students to the source of these references increases the richness of their intellectual life and gives them more to draw upon as creative people. Perhaps, as gifted educators, it is part of our job to provide this exposure. And expose is the key, of course. There’s no need to make it into a critical study with massive assessments and writing assignments.
Just as the Romans built upon the Greeks, our students will build upon their creative foundation. If their understanding of films is based solely on Alvin and the Chipmunks, we are not providing them with a strong foundation to build on.
So how do you pick what to expose students to? Simply pick those classics you love and are most knowledgeable about. Your passion for the subject will do far more than picking the “best” classic film.
2. Connect The Modern To The Classic
Think your students might struggle with fifty year old, black and white, subtitled Japanese films?
I bet they’ll be pretty intrigued when you tell them George Lucas used Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress as a blueprint for the first Star Wars film.
As my class watched 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, I asked students to look for commonalities with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Immediately my kids picked up on the parallel between Davey Jones and Captain Nemo – noting similarities that I had missed. It’s important for our students to understand the rich heritage that modern works draw upon. By comparing Nemo and Davey Jones, my students developed a greater understanding of both characters.
Read more about taking classics and remixing them into new ideas.
3. The Art of Critiquing
Afraid your students won’t like your favorite black and white classic? Worried they’ll rebel against your beloved film?
First, it probably won’t happen. But if it does, use this opportunity to teach students what it means to critique.
critique (n) – A serious examination and judgment of a work of art.
To critique a film, students must learn the language of film, they must learn to set criteria, and they must learn to evaluate based on that criteria. It’s far different from the typical playground evaluation of “that sucks.”
Set up opportunities for critique by asking “what makes a good film?”
- Exciting action?
- Strange settings?
- Interesting characters?
Similar to a teacher creating a rubric, students can then ‘grade’ films based on these criteria.
In teaching students about being critical evaluators, we provide a way to honor their opinions, but also rigorously demand that those opinions be backed up with specific, relevant evidence.
To learn more about critique (some of these are specific to ‘art’ but can easily be adapted to any medium), head here:
4. Become Fluent In The Language of Literary Devices
Teaching literary devices naturally requires literature. However, a quality film uses many of these same techniques, but does it in a way that, one, is fun and, two, is fast. Plus, it hits students with another modality, which is always a bonus.
- Want to explain climax? Show the giant action scene that ends your favorite movie.
- Need your kids to understand the different between the falling action and the dénouement? I go straight to a discussion of Pixar films (boy they do some great dénouements!).
- Clearly illustrate the hero’s journey using Star Wars, The Matrix, or The Wizard of Oz.
5. Understand creative role of directors and actors
As my class watched Marlon Brando in Julius Caesar, I constantly paused and noted how the director makes creative decisions when adapting Shakespeare’s plays to the screen. Where will the characters stand? How will they get into their correct positions? What will the stage look like at this moment? How will the actors convey the emotion behind their lines?
This kind of understanding moves students from knowledge into the evaluation realm of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Watching a film can be more than entertainment, it can be an experience in critical thinking. Now, take this understanding and apply it to literature by discussing an author’s motives.
6. Use Film To Support Above-Grade-Level Reading
Your reading curriculum is no doubt far below the reading level of your students. As you bring in some novels that truly challenge your kids, a film version can assist with understanding. As mentioned in my article on Reading Shakespeare With Gifted Students, incorporating a film version of Julius Caesar is a key element in helping my students understand Shakespeare’s play.
7. Bring Social Studies To Life
A film depicting the historical events of your social studies curriculum is a great way to engage students in content and also evaluate the historical accuracy of films. When we watched the 1956 film Alexander The Great, my students quickly recognized questionable history on the screen. Several even mentioned that they felt the film was biased against Alexander. You couldn’t ask for higher level thinking, could you?
Dealing With Restrictions
District rules regarding the rating and content of films should certainly be a consideration when picking what is appropriate to show your students. Naturally, you’ll have to work within these guidelines. An extra bonus with classic films is the lack of violence and vulgarity so common even in modern films.
How can you justify the time?
As a teacher of gifted students, you have an obligation to up-level your teaching. Exposing students to classic films provides a novel way of investigating symbolism, foreshadowing, and other literary devices (which are also naturally film techniques). Instructionally, the payoff is immediate and the understanding richer than through text alone. Plus, it’s easy to tie any quality film into your literary response standards.
Now, make a list of your favorite classics, fire up that DVD player, and add a new element to your teaching!