For our Holocaust unit in my tenth-grade ELA classroom, beyond various informational texts, excerpts from the graphic novel Maus, and the memoir Night in its entirety, we watch three movies about the Holocaust: The Book Thief, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and Life is Beautiful. From there, I present my kids with a number of tasks to get them to think critically about the information they are consuming. Here I will share our critical lens essays that we write.
The essay is a practice opportunity for the students to demonstrate their abilities to critically view a film. As they watch the film, I ask they view it through the lenses of historical accuracy, point-of-view, and audience impact. The essay puts into play the latter two. But before we get to the product, we have to go through the process.
Here is the process we follow for viewing movies.
I introduce the after-viewing guides to give the students during-viewing direction in the form of the three lenses.
We watch the movie in roughly 30-minute segments.
During the segment, each student takes notes for the three lenses.
After the segment, students work in teams to complete the lens-driven viewing guides.
We repeat the process until the completion of the movie.
I try to find a balance between viewing for the experience of the story and viewing for the critique of the film. To that end, the provided 15 - 20 minute team time at the end is essential. It not only gives the kids time to immediately capture their thinking at the end of the segment, but it also puts a little less pressure on them during, allowing them to watch the movie not only for the purpose of the critique but also the story. The opportunity for collective team-time thinking is a must. With the process complete, we then move to the product.
Young writers need models. And while that "need" certainly varies from writer to writer, providing models for our students is one way to help them grow as writers. Some will use them more than others. Some will rely heavily upon them. Others will not use them at all. Regardless, with the only cost being time, I find them effective means to help my developing writers.
So, I provide models for my kids. I take the time--the cost--to write annotated models for my kids. My annotation first takes the form of a color-coded key at the top of the page which points to the necessary, required elements in the essay. For this model essay, I target TAGS (yellow), Thesis (violet), Topic Sentence (red), Summary (purple), Analysis (green), and Evidence (blue). I then change the text color in the essay accordingly, creating a colorful guide to the must-include elements in the essay. Beyond the color codes, I also offer explanatory annotations through the comment tool in Google Docs. With the use of Google Classroom I can push the annotated model to my kids, providing them with a resource as they work through their own essays. Of course, this can still be done without Google Docs or Classroom; one will just have to be resourceful. I am lucky to have the Google option. Lucky may be a relative term though when one considers the sheer amount of writing that I am about to take in. Here is what I do.
Feedback. One film = 90 essays. 3 films = 270 essays. That = insanity. 270 practice essays. Practice is the paramount word. Here is the method in the madness.
I will not read the entire essay.
I will not "score" the essay. These are formative only. It may be worth noting, too, that I use a standards-based approach to grading in my classroom.
I will look to provide feedback for each kid in one or more of the following strands.
Purpose/Focus, Organization, Evidence/Elaboration (SBA rubric adaptation).
My feedback will be "this-is-what-I-see-you-need-at-this-moment" suggestions for each writer. I may give John feedback on Organization. I may give Sara feedback on Purpose/Focus and Evidence/Elaboration. Regardless, It will be personalized to each kid. I will point out at least one "doing well" and one "needs work" within the strands.
I will also keep track of trends in each class. And I will use that information to guide my whole-class interventions. For example, I may discover that most kids need support with Organization, and so I will take the time to address that with the entire class. In some cases, the intervention will occur in the form of an invite, my asking kids who received "needs-work" feedback in a specific strand to join me in a small group intervention.
Now that the kids have feedback, they will get a timely opportunity with the next movie and essay to apply their learning. This is important for growth. Kids have to have the opportunity to circle back--often more than once.
By the time we have completed the full process, the kids will have had three similar opportunities to grow from practice and feedback, stretching their skills with analysis in a very familiar, engaging medium.
Movies can and should be used in the ELA classroom. Used in concert with other quality texts and meaningful tasks, they can be efficient, effective learning tools. It has helped me get through more content in the crazily-crowded curriculum of my ELA classroom.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.