Energizing Class Film Watching

From Guest Blogger, Melinda Mueller, Science Teacher at Seattle Academy

I’ve discovered a way to take advantage of students’ facility for text-messaging, to improve the value of a class activity that is often, otherwise, very passive.  When I show a documentary or film, however well-suited to the course material, students tend to “zone out,” or they have questions and comments which (unless we interrupt the film to address them) are forgotten by the time the film ends.

What I do now is set up a “chat” when we watch a film (using Moodle, in my case, but other platforms would work, too).  All students, and I, can see everyone’s posts.  I instruct my students to ask questions, raise ideas, etc. during the film.  I respond as their chats appear, and they can also respond to each other.   I establish criteria in advance: The purpose is for them to engage their minds in the film’s content, and to develop their ideas.   I remind them that I will see all their posts.  I remind them that I will also see their lack of posts—if they don’t get into the text-discussion, I’ll know this.  If I consistently use this method with a given class, the students become more and more adept at these text discussions, and less likely to post off-topic or silly chat remarks.

I’ve now done this with classes ranging from 9th through 12th grade, and have been very pleased with the results.  Not only do students get into the habit of forming questions and ideas as they listen and watch (rather than lapsing into couch-potato mode), they also have more to say after the film ends.  A bonus for me is that this method solves my problem of repeated viewings of the same documentary: “I’ve seen this documentary 5 times, and I’m bored with it!”    And because I do our chats on Moodle, I have a permanent record of students’ questions and comments, from which I can pull ideas for future discussions of the same topics.

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