Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Challenging Students

I know I've spoken about engaging students as a key element in improving education a lot lately. Empowering students to pursue some of their own interests, drawing from their experiences and involving family and community to create writing and products that have relevancy is certainly an important part of this, but sometimes I feel as though I've sold academic rigor short. I don't want to do that. One of the most important roles of a teacher is to challenge students to look at things from a different viewpoint or present them with material that makes them re-examine conventional wisdom. Beyond using what's in the curriculum, I'm always looking for new ways to present interesting topics and prompts for writing and discussion.

This summer I saw two films that certainly challenged me and got me thinking.
One was called Baraka which I found out is one of a growing genre of movies that began Koyaanisqatsi with in 1982. They have no dialogue or narration, but instead use vivid visuals, music, and editing to make statements and raise questions. Many of them examine the value of progress and technology by contrasting our everyday lives with the natural world or effects on Third World countries. This might work well with the book Into the Wild which examines the life of Chris McCandless who was a bright upper middle class college graduate who threw away all material things to travel the country and spending a great deal of time alone in the wilderness. Many students fail to see any value in his journey and find it difficult to really examine the lifestyle we all live from day to day. Perhaps some short clips from Baraka and other films of this genre would lead to valuable writing and discussion.

The other film was What the Bleep Do we Know!? which although certainly thought provoking might not have any English classroom application. It probably crosses too much into the spiritual realm to be used, but I certainly enjoyed the way they used storytelling, animation, and interview to explain complex topics. In a way it is an expansion on what New Journalism strives to do, except it employs ficticious characters to put a face on the story.

Has anyone had success using unconventional videos such as these to prompt writing and discussion?