First Person: Movie Time!
April 18, 2023
April 18, 2023
By Bruce Ingram
The best professional development activity I’ve ever attended, by far, was in 2004. Trevor Ruble, then an educator for Botetourt County Public Schools and now with Roanoke County, presented the workshop and said these profound words: “We teachers often teach kids in the way we learn best, but not necessarily the way many or even most kids learn best.”
Trevor went on to explain that research has shown that the best approach is to present lessons in a wide variety of ways for young people who learn best visually, orally, kinesthetically, linguistically, logical-mathematically, and other ways. Stunned, I realized that I was not doing all I could to reach my high school English students at Lord Botetourt High School.
After talking individually with Trevor, one of the changes I immediately made was to show more films. Teachers who present movies often receive scorn from administrators, parents, and even other teachers—and deservedly so if these cinematic productions have no connection with the curriculum. But I have found that flicks are excellent ways to reach young people, especially those who learn visually, orally, and interpersonally.
For example, one of my English 10 A.S. students’ favorite units is the one on the 1950s. We read and discuss the Cold War classic Lord of the Flies, do PowerPoints on the 1950s (music, cars, fashion, sports, the Korean War, other historical events, and, of course the Cold War), and view and discuss Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window from 1954. Indeed, Hitchcock’s masterpiece is one of the ways I prepare my students for their Analytical Paper SOL.
For this SOL, tenth graders have to compose a five-paragraph paper where they put forth their thesis statement and supporting sentences in the first paragraph, prove their thesis statement in the next two paragraphs, present the counter argument and prove it wrong in paragraph four, and, finally, in paragraph five restate their thesis statement and the main information from the supporting paragraphs.
Before we begin Rear Window, I announce that viewing/discussing this film will help prepare students for the SOL and that the question they will be writing about for their paper is the following: “Does Hitchcock’s Rear Window deserve its place as one of the top 100 movies of all time, according to the American Film Institute?”
I also explain that students will have to research what movie critics have written about the motion picture and incorporate that information into their three supporting paragraphs and, of course, have an MLA-style Works Cited Page. I further add that Hitchcock’s flicks often feature these characteristics: cold, icy blondes have pivotal roles, bad things happen on trains, going up or down stairs is dangerous, there’s never a wasted scene, important clues are often understated, and average people, through no fault of their own, can have bad things happen to them. And that this movie contains all these motifs to one degree or another.
After this introduction, the students are charged with excitement and ready to proverbially pick the classic apart. At LBHS, we are on the 90-minute block schedule and when I show movies, we view them for the last half hour of the class. Theoretically, then, we should finish a motion picture like this one in four days, but students are so enthusiastic about this flick that sometimes we only watch it for 10 minutes and spend the rest of the allotted time debating the meanings of the following: Jimmy Stewart’s and Grace Kelly’s relationship, the statement that opposites attract, the symbolism of foghorns and sirens heard in the background, the importance of the little dog, and what really happened to Mrs. Thorwald.
After we finish viewing, discussing, debating, and as the culminating activity, writing analytically about Rear Window, it is gratifying to me that overwhelmingly, my Generation Z young people believe that Rear Window is deserving of its place in the motion picture pantheon. It is also very satisfying that through this movie and the 1950s’ unit as a whole, I hope I’ve reached every student and their individual learning style. But the whole experience is even more satisfying when I peruse their scores from the Analytical SOL they take the following week.
Watching a movie doesn’t have to be the centerpiece of a “free day” or the activity done on the last day of school before Christmas or other holidays. Done correctly, Movie Time in our classrooms can be a valuable learning experience.
Bruce Ingram (firstname.lastname@example.org), a member of the Botetourt Education Association, teaches English and Creative Writing at Lord Botetourt High School.