Way to engage kids in school and learning? Let them watch and make movies

At the start of eighth grade, my son came home excited about his moviemaking class. He liked the teacher, the prospect of learning to make films and the homework: watching movies.

It’s been a good year for my son at middle school. I’m sure it’s been a combination of several things, including teachers and classes he really enjoys.

Movie making has been one of those classes. I can understand why. When my husband and I went to back-to-school night, the teacher, Eric Davis gave us an overview of the course and talked about why he loves teaching the class. Davis also teaches history but he shared his view that academics shouldn’t be a student’s sole focus.  He praised the amazing creative potential of his students and described how an elective class like his engages otherwise disengaged students in school. He also mentioned how some of his students were now studying film in college or off in Italy making documentaries.

I said there thinking, “I wish I could take his class.” I’ve always loved movies and  wish I learned how to make them, too. It’s definitely a different way of telling stories, both fiction and non-fiction.

And the movie-watching assignment? I know some parents might think the teacher was letting them the kids off easy. Yeah, if they’re going to do homework for a film class they should at least be watching Ingmar Bergman. Sure, why not? But I also like the idea of watching something they like or a genre with which they feel comfortable they like and then having them answer questions about it.

Such as: how did the movie develop a character or use set design to convey a mood?

Asking these kinds of questions: Isn’t that a form of critical analysis? Schools are supposed to be teaching kids to be critical thinkers.

Typically, the schools have them read Shakespeare or other literary works and ask them try to pick apart the plot or try to find the foreshadowing and the symbols. It’s great to introduce kids to important literary works. But reading Shakespeare is not easy-going. Most kids — and adults — have a hard enough time trying to follow what’s happening in the story.

Why not give them a “text” that, on the face of it, seems pretty approachable, then have them dig.  A mass media class I took in high school asked us to pick apart the underlying meaning in TV ads, how they used language and images to persuade viewers into buying a product.

Maybe I’m going all post-modern and deconstructionist here, but anything is culture is a “text” waiting for some critical thinker to study it, dissect it and expose its ideological underpinnings, frame of reference and assumptions. Each of 2011’s blockbuster movies — including Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2 and the latest installment of the Twilight series — were filled with ideological underpinnings and assumptions.

Meanwhile, in making the films for the movie production class, the students worked in teams, with someone taking on the role of director and someone else writing the script or doing the camera work. The class definitely taught team work. And, the students had to create a story and then figure out how to tell it within the medium of film. Writing dialogue is a fine art. And, then there is so much a filmmaker can do with camera angles, lighting and editing to create mood, establish character dynamics and move a story along.

The kids got the chance to play with all these possibilities, and they all had to act on film.

Last week, my husband and I had the thrill of walking the red carpet for the class’ film festival. Yes, there was a red carpet, laid out to the entrance of the Walnut Creek Intermediate School multi-use room. Everyone dressed up for the event — girls in shiny dresses and boys in dress shirts. Mr. Davis praised the kids for all their hard work, then had members of each of the five film teams get up on stage and introduce their work.

The kids were excited and proud. It was a great night for my son and all his classmates.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s