Saturday, January 9, 2010

Turning Film into Film Study

Imagine my excitement when, as an incoming first year teaching, I looked at my curriculum guide and saw Braveheart listed as the film supplement to the junior year English course's heroic image unit. What an outstanding film! It will be so much better than those movies that went to the somnambulant school of film-making that I got to watch when I was in high school.

Now fast forward four years. I have "taught" Braveheart in my class each of the last four years. Each year I have tried to do something at least a little bit different. Each year, I have not been satisfied with the results. It turns out that teaching film, especially for those of us with little background in it, is extremely difficult. Because the films can be distracting for some students, as well (they think they don't have to do any "real" work on film days), you do not even have the crutch of a novel to use during these lessons. Something radical had to be done. This summer, I wrote that I would be transforming Braveheart into a true film study. I have done it and I'm quite proud of my accomplishments.

To make my Braveheart study more complete, exciting and valuable, I decided to enlist some help. One of my colleagues had written a comprehensive film study for The Shawshank Redemption, so I spent some time perusing her materials to get a feel for what I thought I wanted to do. Then, I asked a colleague of mine who is both media specialist and TV Production teacher if she would offer her opinions and commentary on the film. Wonderfully, she said yes. We spent about four afternoons sitting and watching Braveheart and making comments throughout the film about everything. She commented largely on camera angles and effects. I talked about themes and parallel structures. I wrote everything down. At the end of this process, I ended up with a massive list of points we had made about the film. I just had to do something positive with it.

I then broke the film down into each day's viewing. This gave me manageable chunks with which to work. I only had to look at a small portion of the notes I had amassed, instead of the entire gigantic document. I examined patterns in the notes and transformed those into expository questions about the film's themes. Best of all, I isolated scenes from the film that clearly presented answers to the questions I wanted to ask my students. Those would be the scenes that we would review (if necessary) to answer each day's viewing guide questions.

The end result of this process was overwhelmingly positive. My students were more involved in the film. They enjoyed it more. We had fascinating discussions about several elements of it. Finally, Braveheart became the film equivalent of teaching a novel in class.

Below, you can see all of my handouts for the new and improved Braveheart film study.


enentrup said...

Doug...I tripped across your website today and am BLOWN AWAY by the thinking presented here. LOVE IT. I'm a TTT student, moving away from a career in multimedia production towards licensure to teach secondary English. I'd very much like to connect with you outside of your blog...can you contact me? eric[at]ericnentrup[dot]com.


Anonymous said...

Hi Doug, I am a high-school English teacher in South Africa and have to teach Braveheart for the first time EVER and I really appreciate what you have posted. Don't suppose you have a memo? I am really lost with this one.