Saturday, March 18, 2006

Video Is Not a Bad Word

I find it quite appalling that some elementary schools don’t allow videos to be shown to students. How can you teach certain historical content to nine to twelve year olds and not show a video? In my previous post, Use Videos to Advance Your Curriculum I discussed another use for videos.

I usually show one to two videos per unit. Keep in mind my units last three to four weeks. After students have learned about the Boston Tea Party and Lexington and Concord I show students Johnny Tremain. Yes, I know that the book would be much better. The book is also quite different from the movie, however, the book is on a higher reading level than most of my students could manage. As a read aloud it would take too long. I generally use several picture books during the unit instead of one long novel. Before I show the video we review historical fiction. We discuss that they will see fictional characters alongside historical characters. During our post video discussion we create a chart comparing fictional events and historical events.

Here’s why I show Johnny Tremain:

Videos help students review material-The first scenes of Johnny Tremain allow me to review the social hierarchy of colonial times. Johnny is an apprentice to Ephraim Lapham, a silversmith. Students are able to review what an artisan is as well as a merchant. A merchant in the story, Johnathan Lyte is a loyalist and trades in many goods including tea. Students can see how each group related to others and how they dressed.

Videos put a human face on historical characters-Many important participants in the events students have studied are portrayed in Johnny Tremain. Johnny consults with fellow silversmith, Paul Revere, concerning a particular handle design. After damaging his hand Johnny is unable to continue his apprenticeship. He finally obtains a job with the Boston Observer where he meets up with Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and James Otis. Through these contacts he ends up passing messages to the members of the Sons of Liberty and actually becomes a participant in the Boston Tea Party.

Videos show students how events unfolded-To simply tell students how patriots obtained information about British troop movements is one thing. To see the process in action is another. Through some interaction with certain British officers Johnny is able to engage them in what seems like innocent conversation. Unknowing the British give Johnny and his friend important information about how the British will move against Lexington and Concord. Johnny is put in the important position of passing the information to the sexton at Old North Church so he’ll know how many lanterns he needs to use to warn the militia. Students then view a scene of Revere and Dawes on their midnight ride and the minutemen grabbing their muskets, kissing their families and heading out. Some darlin’ always gets excited and blurts out, “Those are minutemen aren’t they?”

Videos provide students with visuals-The final scenes of the movie relate the events of Lexington and Concord. Naturally Johnny Tremain is in the thick of things. As the British line up and face the patriots students begin to ask questions. “Why are they in straight lines? Why are they all out in the open? Why do the British wear those red coats? Why do they keep banging the drum?” I ask students to continue watching. Later the scene shifts to the long walk back to Boston for the British. There isn’t much conversation during this scene so I begin to relate new information to students. I stand below the television and point out certain things I want them to notice. I tell them about the rules for warfare that existed in Europe during the 1700s. I tell them that the drum not only keeps the rhythm of marching, but it provides directions to the different groups of soldiers.

Finally students see the patriots hiding at different places along the road taking shots at the British. We discuss why this angers the British. The patriots are not engaging them properly. I remind students that the scene they are watching is the ‘shot heard around the world’ we had just discussed the day before.

I understand why some rules exist about showing videos. I’m sure some people out there would abuse the privilege. However, videos like Johnny Tremain provide students something to connect to as they learn concepts and ideas that are foreign to them. With some students it just doesn’t click until they see events portrayed in some type of dramatical form.

1 comment:

Jennie W said...

I think that while you show Johnny Tremain for good reasons, many teachers would show it because its an easy way to kill a period. Unfortunately, there are far too many teachers out there who would abuse the privegle of showing videos and not hold the students responsible for learning anything from it. I can think of alot of teachers from own public school career who did show videos so they could grade papers, talk to other students, etc. While I also am a teacher and believe that there is great value in some videos and other forms of visual presentations, there are many teachers, just like students, who don't know how to properly use these learning tools.