Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Of Popcorn and Paragraphs

Right now, I'm a little over halfway through my super-fast summer film class. Personally, I would prefer a slower-paced class spread out over the 10-week summer session that met in person and used a textbook, but we work with what we have.

I am often asked, "Film class? You mean, like movies? And you can get (pause to sneer) college credit for that?" The snark is thick.

Sigh. It's hard to be civil sometimes.

Yes, college credit. Yes, you watch movies. And you also write about them, Jack! By that, I don't mean the fanboy screeds that occasionally drive actors off Twitter, nor am I satisfied with plot summaries from I expect - even in this turbo-paced class - students to pick up a few basics of actual criticism. In fact, it's closer to the truth to think of my Intro to Film class as a literature class, only using celluloid instead of paper. (OK, OK, everything's actually digitized these days, The point remains.)

Students learn how to write an actual compare/contrast essay - which is harder than many students think it is. All too often, on the first assignment (which isn't worth that many points for this very reason) students basically structure their essay as "This happened in Film A. This happened in Film B" and then end it, sincerely thinking that they've created a compare/contrast.

It both is and isn't their fault. Writing is hard to teach and harder still to grade and nigh impossible to grade fast, so it isn't a skill covered on most standardized tests and in this world of high-stakes testing that has about one-third of high schoolers on some form of anxiety, mood stabilizing, and/or depression medication, if it ain't tested, we don't have time to teach it. Let the colleges worry about that!

I don't blame the high schools, either. Everyone is trying to do the best they can, but the inmates are running the educational asylums right now.

I haven't tried this pairing yet, but one day . . . 
At any rate, I deal with a LOT of students who are quite bright, but don't trust their own thoughts and ideas. They've been taught for years how to take a standardized test, but essay writing befuddles them and asking them to stake out their own opinions and support them is practically a foreign language (something else we wait years too long to begin teaching, but I digress). Movies are a less intimidating "in" to formalized writing for many of these students and most of them pick up the knack very quickly once they begin to trust that their ideas aren't going to be shot down as "wrong."

They also are exposed to different genres of film that they may not have ever experienced. They learn about the Bechdel Test, they have a chance to prove to me that they can pass the Turing Test (see, these are the kinds of "tests" I prefer to standard "bubble sheet" thingamabobs), and they learn to search for criticism as opposed to quick reviews.

Yes, I think it's a valid class. You ought to take it one day.