watching a video -vs-reading textWith the new "common core curriculum" and the new "evaluation process" the term primary source has become a new 'buzz word' used by administration.  My school...

watching a video -vs-reading text

With the new "common core curriculum" and the new "evaluation process" the term primary source has become a new 'buzz word' used by administration.  My school system has deemed that a video is not a primary source and, therefore, not to be shown during instruction time.

Has any one else run into this issue? If yes, would you share how you are circumventing this issue.

Expert Answers
carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

From having taught for over 40 years, I remember what it was like to have no video support for your literature.  Boy, when I remember how excited I was that in the late 60's Romeo and Juliet was being made into a movie, I could not wait to take my freshmen class to see it after we read the play.  It was great to get back to the classroom and listen to them discuss the differences between the two media and how much they loved hearing the dialogue. How thrilling for a teacher to have that experience! After reading To Kill a Mockingbird, the students enjoyed seeing Boo and all the other characters in the story particularly since Harper Lee does the narration for the movie. I have seen the value of video reinforcement.

Today, unfortunately, many teachers do not have the students read the literature; they just stick them in front of a screen.  It is not and never will be a substitute for the real thing.  Personally, I have never seen a movie based on literature that even came close to the reading of the literature.  We have allowed too many aspects of education to go away simply because there is an easier way.  Sometimes, the easy way is the  best way.  Of course, I never want to return to running off copies of material and being covered with ink; however, it did make you appreciate being able to share copies of  something with your students. 

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For historians and history teachers, "primary sources" are not a buzzword, but essential to historical practice, including teaching history. Some films are primary sources that can be used in a history classrooms. The important thing is that they are treated as such, and are subjected to the same rigorous analysis as texts. For example, if you want to understand the power and prevalence of the Lost Cause myth in perpetuating Jim Crow, there is no better example than Birth of a Nation. Similarly, if you want to understand the power of propaganda in the rise of Nazism, watch Triumph of the Will. Watching WWII-era propaganda cartoons is a great way to demonstrate the ideological component of the mobilization effort in the USA. Even period films can be used to capture the zeitgeist of the times.

In short, films emphatically can, and should be, used as primary sources, as long as they are not taken at face value. The larger issue, though, is that it sounds as if the powers that be in this case are depriving teachers of a valuable resource, as documentaries have their place in a historical classroom,as I would even suggest that there is value in encouraging teachers to critique movies with historical subjects. Again, the important thing is that films, like all texts, are subjected to rigorous analysis and criticism.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps, along with the great arguments/suggestions of the previous teachers, you can use the strategy that in the effort to "leave no child behind," we must afford those who have learning disabilities and difficulty with textual material the opportunity to visualize both characters and action.  Obviously, plays are intended for watching, anyway, so a video is, indeed, a primary source if it follows the origninal text.  And, as the history teachers know, some films are documentation, and, thus primary sources.  Furthermore, as proof of the benefits of historical films, it was at the Saturday matinees that many a Baby Boomer will confirm that he/she learned WWII history with all those newsreels shown before the feature. 

Also, there are often modernized versions of Shakespeare's plays to which the students more easily relate.  For example, after the students read A Midsummer Night's Dream. I was absent, so I had the substitute show a DVD which had a modernized version of the play. When the students were tested on the play, I was amazed as one of whom I presumed to be the "slower learners" made a 98% on the exam. After I congratulated her, she said, "Oh, all I did was really watch the video. Then, I understood all that other stuff read aloud in class." 

Has some vaccine obliterated common sense?


scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with others who have suggested showing clips. I rarely ever show a film in its entirety because as others have noted, students often do not pay attention.

In regards to the Common Core Standards, administrators need to be aware of the standards heavy focus on argumentation. When teaching argument--especially to younger students--teachers should use film documentaries to help their students grasp the concepts of fallacies, claims, warrants, concessions, etc. In fact, with my AP English Language students and my college prep juniors, documentaries such as Food, Inc. andCatfishcombined with historical films such asThe Great Debatersare essential in helping them comprehend argument basics. Similarly, the Common Core Standards emphasize the ability of connecting texts to other texts, real-world events, history, personal experiences, etc. While video versions of novels and short stories are not primary sources, I see no reason why someone could not address the Common Core Standards while showing a DVD (for example--The Book of Eli) while teaching a closely related work (such asFahrenheit 451).

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I guess one option would be to show video "clips", or short segments of the desired video.  You would be able to show a certain scene or get across a point as part of a lesson without showing the whole video.  If you ever got called out on it, you could say "I showed a clip or a scene to emphasize a certain point in the lesson, but I didn't show the whole video."  This worked wonderfully for me when my district went through a similar no video phase.  Ironically, now You-Tube videos are considered an integral part of the curriculum in my district because the students connect to them.  Ah... the joys of the nebulous world of education.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another option I thought of while thinking on this question a little more would be to divide the room into maybe three learning groups.  One group could be working on a background activity, one could be doing a discussion, and one could be watching the movie in segments.  If you watched the movie in 20 minutes segments it would take about a week, but a lot of other learning would be going on as well.

I really think it just boils down to administrators not wanting "digital babysitters", and if you are using the video in an active way and not just a time killer I think its educational value will be respected.

tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My favorite movie to show is "Dead Poets Society." There's no book to go along with it, and I have to edit the swearing, etc., but I show it on the last week of school. Other than that, I show only clips as necessary, even if the clips do last over an hour (e.g. Romeo and Juliet) :) But video is part of the digital generation that we are teaching. Video clips help to break up the lesson and keep the students (and myself) on my toes. I'm learning that with teaching, nod your head and agree with everything, and when their back is turned, do whatever the bleep you want. :)

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the idea of showing selected clips along with reading, along with direct instruction, along with practice.  I have found that if I show more than 20 minutes of any educational film, I have lost them to daydreaming or sleep.  Breaking up the presentation of material and the methods used to achieve it seems to work best, Common Core or not.  I know teachers who simply plug in the video and head to their desk for the period, but as long as you are intentional with the clips you show, I would bet an administration would support it.  Good luck.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Post #3 has a good suggestion about using "video clips" rather than an entire film. I always assign a writing assignment to go along with the viewing--usually some sort of comparison or contrast between the filmed and written word--and have had positive responses from students when doing so. I have had complaints from various administrators about the "waste of classroom time" when watching films, and it's hard to convince many of them about the positive aspects, such as a better understanding of the material when viewed on-screen.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have never run into this personally since I teach history and social studies and in those areas a film really is not a primary source in almost any circumstance.  Colleagues of mine in areas like literature who have wanted to show performances of Shakespeare's plays have been able to petition to have that deemed acceptable.  They have generally succeeded.  Is there an appeal process for specific works at your school?

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Part of the new core does allow for different aspects of media to be considered. Under this, one could justify the showing of a filmatic adaptation of a literary text. For example, when teaching "A Streetcar Named Desire," my students read the play, watch the play, and an episode of "The Simpsons" (A Streetcar Named Marge). Given that these are all different medias, they are supported by the new core.

Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If there is a text and a film based on the text, the film is not a primary source, to be sure.  However, if there is a film based on an original screenplay, that is a primary "text."  Is this a distinction that you could discuss with your administration? 

peelch | Student

I teach English in Ontario, Canada.  Our English curriculum includes 5 strands: reading, writing, speaking, literature studies, and yes, media studies.  That means that 20% of my curriculum is media.  We regularly show movie versions of our novels.  I've never had the problem of students not paying attention to a movie, and by promising them that we will do a book to movie comparison near the end of the unit, I keep students from going out and renting the movie themselves and not reading the book at all.  We always look at how and why changes were made as a part of the lesson.

I know geography teachers who use "The Day After Tomorrow" to talk about climate change and even Exercise Science teachers who show the movie "Hoosiers" to illustrate coaching effectiveness.  And history teachers?  Come on, can't you use the difference between "known, factual events" and supposition as a teachable moment?  You can't take them back in time to witness the actual events, you can't just talk about stuff all the time, and frankly, some kids just don't read well.

As educators, we need to be able to speak the language that our students speak.  Not using movies as a resource simply because it is a movie, seems snobbish to me.  Or unprogressive.  Or something.  It's like those older teachers who can't or won't use computers, or parents who refuse to get cell phones.  We've got to progress with our students or children if we want to stay relevant.

gailmederos | Student

Thank you for your thoughts and experiences. Let me get specific. I am an Earth and Environmental Science teacher. speamerfam provided a great description of a 'primary source' vs video usages. The film I show is, "Avatar". Yes, the one with the blue people, as my students say. I have found this movie brings the obscure idea of mining minerals of other planets for our consumption and environmental responsibility. So, it may be safe to say, since there is no original text from which Avatar is reproducing, that Avatar will be a primary source.  

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