movies in the classroomMy district this year is banning the use of movies in the classroom--not because of the entertainment factor but because of legal limitations. Some say that it is ok to use...

movies in the classroom

My district this year is banning the use of movies in the classroom--not because of the entertainment factor but because of legal limitations. Some say that it is ok to use movies in a public school setting as long as a teacher is present and it is used in a lesson plan. However, Disney has sued and won to prevent schools from using their films.

Has anyone experienced this problem? Has anyone else's district changed policies?

Expert Answers
tsjoseph eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't know anything about the legality of using films in classrooms, but when I taught high school, I taught a film class in our English department and used many films in my science fiction class at the same school.  I find that films are useful tools for teaching concepts like symbol, characterization, foreshadowing, theme, and so forth. Somehow the concepts seem less abstract to students in cinematic form.  For instance, we had wonderful discussions regarding "rosebud" in Citizen Kane. It's also a really useful place to think about authorship--we talked a lot about auteurs, for instance, and the kind of control they may or may not have had in their films.  We did units on Capra and Hitchcock and the students really got a sense of how themes were continually reworked. 

In science fiction, where literature is so often organized around a problem or theme, we had a wonderful time discussing how films and texts approached particular issues.  I taught a utopia/dystopia unit and I paired Blade Runner with Brave New World.  We also did a "monsters" unit and you can imagine the choices available for that!  (I actually used an X-files episode and the text of Frankenstein).  So, to the previous poster, I think that The Bad Seed would generate excellent discussion.  My students always seemed to "get" a theme better when it was presented in different ways.

When I taught at the University, I taught a summer class on Coen brothers films and that was great fun.  We explored a little film theory and also paired the films with some relevant literary titles--The Odyssey with O'Brother Where Art Thou?, Double Indemnity with The Man Who Wasn't There and so on.

I think film can be a very valuable teaching tool if we use it as such.  Some students think films are a "break" so I always tried to include intense discussions/assignments related to the films.  This was most successful in my sci-fi class where my students tended to be avid readers and fans of the genre.  Sometimes, students signed up for the film class thinking they wouldn't have to read and then were sorely surprised by the packets I handed out! 

jenny444 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I was shocked to see this post about movies being banned from schools. As others have mentioned here, as long as a learning objective is stated, using movies can be very helpful. Not only is it sensitive to the need of teachers to appeal to as many learning styles (13 at last count?) as possible in a classroom, but it also serves as yet another interpretation of the work being studied. 

For many students, TV and film has played a large part in their understanding of the world at large, as the set has often been their babysitter, storyteller, best friend, and all too often, a surrogate parent. To not use these visuals, we miss out on a natural way to achieve objectives for understanding, as well as illustration of point of view, and the five basic elements in all forms of literature: character, plot, setting, theme, conflict. 

I always had writing connected to everything we did in class. I talked about "active reading" (having students write while they read) in another post in this group, but I also used "active viewing" in class and had students write while they watched (I often provided prompts, all relating to the CPSTC).  I covered bases by getting parent permission for every movie, and I even got some parents involved in film selection!  For many of my students, the movie vs. book assignment was given the most effort. 

My favorites:  Star Wars versus The Odyssey (classic epic characteristics), Lord of the Flies, and Thelma and Louise vs. Ibsen's A Doll's House (grad school assignment).

timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Movies are particulary useful for teaching the concept of art as choice.  It's always interesting to try to get students to understand that the author is god to his/her work, and that it's important to understand (or at least guess at the reason for) the many choices the quthor makes. I spend a considerable amount of time on this because I enjoy watching the author at work; and many of these choices tell usa great deal about character/ setting/etc.

When you have a movie, you can see two "authors" working on the same "chunk of experience" (Van Doren) and see where they are similar and different.  The movie version of "1984" is a good example.  Students rarely see Winston's world as the dismal place that is portrayed in the movie.  And there is the whole problem of the "philosophical" content that is presented as "Goldstein" book in the novel.  I think inclusion of the Goldstein section is "clunky," but it does add to our understanding.  How does the movie attempt to deal with this?  When you attempt to answer these questions, you learn a great deal about the structure/understanding of art, knowledge which applies as much to the book as the movie.

Given the possibilites that this kind of comparison offers a teacher, I think it's sad that some schools are not allowing teachers to use them. 

(And what's up with Disney???)

jilllessa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe the use of film can be quite effective in both Literature and History classes.  Today's students are very visual and are very keyed in to media.  Using films is a great way to spark their interest in novels and help them visualize history.  The key is to have a very clear and measurable objective in your use of films or other videos.  Sometimes I use video of a novel or story to  help the student visualize the novel and to develop their skills of observation and analysis as they compare and contrast the film and the book.  In history I use films such as A Man For All Seasons, to give them a fuller picture of the age and to spark discussion on the moral implications of More's choice to die rather than to compromise his religious beliefs.  Believe it or not, I use an old Magyver episode to draw together the theme of honor from several works of medieval literature.  The students analyze the honor demonstrated in the show to the honor in Roland, Beowulf, and Malory. They then write their own code of honor. They love the assignment and work hard to analyze and synthesize the material.  I do not use video that often, but when I do I have well thought out objectives. 

Michael Foster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I use movies quite a bit as a text in themselves.  I avoid the whole "read the book, watch the movie" scenario as much as possible (though I've done it with some classes who were having trouble visualizing the plot). 

I've had some good success with establishing a theme, then having different texts (poetry, novel, short story, movie) that develop that theme.  For example, on the theme of revenge vs. justice, we've read "The Cask of Amontillado," the Biblical account of the rape of Dinah and her brothers' revenge, and the movie "The Count of Monte Cristo."  Using all texts, they had to develop and essay on the theme.  Another one I've used is a compare/contrast of "The Odyssey" and the movie "Trip to Bountiful."

As far as legality, my understanding is that it's okay for a single classroom (just as with making copies from books).  Recordings from TV fall into that category as well, and can be kept for one year.

ladyvols1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In using Science Fiction in class I have found that the Star Trek The Next Generation and Babylon 5 are excellent media for the classroom.  Both can be used from everything from problem solving and creative writing, to  math and science.  The ceberal nature of Jon Luc Picard and the variety of cultural differences are great.  There is no concern about language and what few episodes where sex is involved they can simply not be shown.  They are exactly 41 min long and can be used effectively in block scheduling.  If you aren't on block scheduling you can plan the lesson over two days and have plenty of time for a pre-viewing and post assessment of your objectives. I simply copy an episode that I think I will use.  They are on at least once or twice a week if you have dish or cable.  If you don't, you can rent them from netflix, or blockbuster.

engtchr5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My philosophy on using literary movies is just this: There are an awful lot of kids who will never willingly go to the library and check out certain great pieces of literature, but if they are exposed to them by way of film, at least then they are familiarized with the basic premise of certain stories. Underachievers may never voluntarily read "The Outsiders," for instance, but once seen in movie form, it has a certain addictive quality that kids (especially those with gang affiliations) find irresistable.

And while movies will never replace the experience of reading, they do serve an important supplementary function within the classroom. It's a shame that some districts have had this piece of technology ruined by a few lazy teachers who do nothing but show films.

kasecor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I also try to avoid the whole "read the book, then watch the movie" thing, although I agree that To Kill A Mockingbird is EXCELLENT.  With my 10th graders, when teaching different forms of writing, I taught movie reviews, and we watched Lord of the Flies and they had to write a movie review on it.  I like the idea of using a movie along the same theme as a novel that has been taught.  My first year teaching, I taught The Pearl, and I showed The Muppets' Christmas Carol to develop the theme of the effect of greed on a character.  The students really enjoyed the movie, and it allowed for some interesting comparisons between Kino and Scrooge. 

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm thinking about using movies in a different way. My 10th graders are reading "A Doll's House" right now. One of the issues in the play is Torvald's belief that the mother's character traits, especially the negative ones, get passed on to the children. Rather than trying to find a video of the play, I'm thinking of using the movie "The Bad Seed," which is about an evil little girl whose grandmother was an ax murderer and whose mother blames herself for even giving birth. I'm thinking that seeing the same theme expressed in a different story will be helpful for their comprehension. Any comments/suggestions?

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We can show films rated PG-13 and below to high school students but we must get signed parent permission slips to show "R" rated movies. I usually send out a list of "R" rated films I plan to show at the beginning of the year and have parents give permission for their children to watch those films. Parents can edit the film list if they want. Sometimes this is a hassle, but parents and students should have the right not to view something which they think may violate their values. Their values are often challenged simply by the literature we read.

sdchumley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In AP and Honors classes, I generally show movies after we have read the literature, and we look for differences between the written text and the visual text. In AP classes, I also talk about the visual rhetoric of film, so we look at how shots are filmed, where the actors stand in relation to others, colors and sound used, etc. My favorite movies for discussion and analysis are To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice & Men, Pride & Prejudice, and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead.

sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with #2 on the legality - my district is hard core about following the correct policies, and as long as it is in the classroom, they say we are ok.  I hate to hear that any district is banning the use of movies.  I use movies, tv shows, documentaries, etc., throughout the school year to provide variety in my instructional method and to better engage and communicate with the students.  We should have a chance to use all resources at hand.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I can't imagine teaching Hamlet without showing film adaptations of the text.  I think seeing a variety of interpretations of the ghost, as an example, adds something to the student's reading of that same scene.  Lawrence Olivier's ghost is typically scary and huge, but Mel Gilbson's version is fatherly and sad.  It makes for great discussion about the effectiveness of the movie and how language can be translated to a visual medium.

kwoo1213 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I teach at a college, and it is my understanding that movies are ok to use in individual classrooms, but if you have a school-wide showing that is open to the public, you must get approval from the company to do so.  All of the instructors in our English Dept. show movies fairly regularly to go along with our literature classes and we've never been told that we need permission to do so in our individual classes.  

parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When my daughter was in primary school, a new and inexperienced teacher showed a Disney film every Friday. This seemed to be an end of the week treat more for the teacher than for the students!

It's mathematical - what time was spent watching films was not spent elsewhere. She managed to teach them how to spell but never got on to syntax and other "biggies" in basic grammar notions.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I use lots of films in my classroom--BECKET to give students a feel for Anglo-Saxon literature, ELIZABETH to introduce the Elizabethan era, various films about the Holocaust.  The only stipulation is that rated R movies may not be shown to anyone under 18 without a permission slip signed by parents.

jwisecup eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We have to have permission slips for PG-13, and can't show anything rated R, which eliminates some very good films.

I teach Science Fiction, so I would have difficulty teaching with any depth without including film. Literature can carry you only so far in the genre. 

debbimj | Student

I show To Kill a Mockingbird each year and my students love it. Their favorite writing assignment is after the movie when they take a stand on remaking the movie. Their arguments are not only thoughtful, but overwhelmingly oppose any remake. What a shame it would be to miss this movie and Gregory Peck as Atticus.

  I also show To Kill a Mockingbird each year and I'm interested in your post-film assignment.  Would you be able to post it for me?

Many thanks!!


aletendre | Student
I think movies in the classroom are acceptable. I find the Bill Nye series especially effective in aiding in my teaching. I usually show my 2nd grade class a movie before I teach about the topic to serve as an overview of what's to come, or I show it after as a review on what we have learned. We reward our kids with movies very infrequently, because I know there are several parents that get upset with that. I also think most of the kids in the area that I teach own the videos anyway and they don't even get that excited about watching a movie. I have never been told that we couldn't though, it's just a decision my team and I make as educators.
loveistheonlyway | Student

In discussion-based classes, such as AP or advanced courses, I feel like showing a movie every other month (or attending a play) and discussing that (instead of the book of the week) is a great way to shake things up. Most movies can be dissected just as well as any book--and some, even better. My favorite movie discussions are To Kill a Mockingbird and Citizen Kane.

nbixler7 | Student

I teach English in Los Angeles at the middle school level, and my personal thoughts are that movies should be used minimally in English (and I was a film major!).  Our students don't read as much as we did at their age.  Many of them don't read at home for pleasure, so they need to study texts as much as possible at school.  I do usually show one film per year and have the students answer questions while watching it. I also add in a writing assignment afterward.  Last year, when studying theme, I showed The Princess Bride.  Theme is not easy, so the engagement of the film helped.  The kids had not seen it before and loved it! Not only were they engaged, but they were able to do a great job with character and theme analysis.

gp217 | Student

The district I formerly worked for allowed us to play movies, however they had to be movies provided by the library. The library had obtained the rights to play the movies to avoid a law suit. The only catch about playing the movie with the library feeding it to our classroom was that it could not be played in its entirety, but had to be played in 20 minute increments. This was to force discussion on what was being watched as well as to monitor what was being played in the classroom.

oregonteacher | Student

I show To Kill a Mockingbird each year and my students love it. Their favorite writing assignment is after the movie when they take a stand on remaking the movie. Their arguments are not only thoughtful, but overwhelmingly oppose any remake. What a shame it would be to miss this movie and Gregory Peck as Atticus.

kjohnson8 | Student

I think it is okay to play a movie/video in a classroom.  As long as you, the teacher, have a specific education purpose.  For example, I have played movies that are also novels.  We read the novel in class and have discussions about it.  As a reward for behavior and success with the novel, we watch the movie.  I use it as a compare and contrast method.  The students also pick up very quickly on the differences between the two.