There's a fabulous scene in the 1986 film Ruthless People, where the character, Ken, is vehemently lecturing his wife, Sandy, about how, in order to pull off the scheme they've hatched, they've got to become different people--ruthless people. They need to be cold-blooded, heartless, and completely without mercy. The entire time he's delivering the diatribe, he is ever so gently scooping up a spider off of the kitchen floor onto a page of newspaper and safely depositing it outside on the back porch.
The scene is a brilliant example of dramatic irony (until a moment later in a comic payoff, when he reopens the back door and stomps the spider, but before that...). Irony is something I always struggled to explain to my secondary English students. They couldn't grasp it just by reading the definition. They needed to see it, and experience that moment of, "Ooooh, right. I see what they're doing there. Now I get it." Students need engaging and culturally relevant examples to which they can attach definitions, concepts, and ideas.
Academic research supports the implementation of popular media in the classroom and its positive impact on student engagement and learning, as it creates a common experience for students that can anchor key learning concepts (Frey, Mikasen, & Griep, 2012). Integrating humorous clips from TV and movies into the curriculum, for example, has been shown to improve retention and evoke curiosity in students (Banas, Dunbar, Rodriguez, & Liu, 2011). Pop culture is an effective hook. It's more than just edutainment. It offers an opportunity for educators to meet students where they are and to build bridges both relationally and academically.
Why Use Video Clips
Video is visual. Students learn best when they are able to take in information via multiple modalities, including reading, oral explanation and visual viewing of graphics and media. This is particularly important for English language learners. Education researcher Pauline Gibbons, told edutopia, "Rather than trying to simplify information, amplifying the curriculum means finding as many ways as possible to make key information comprehensible."
Video helps contextualize. It allows us to see characters and events in an historical and political context, creating a social and emotional understanding. This, in turn, provides relevance. "I use a clip as a jumping off point for a lesson or include it in my lesson summary to drive home important points in a visual way," says Wes, a middle school history teacher.
Video reinforces, deepens, and solidifies understanding. Watching short instructional videos helps to remind students of previous learning, gives them visual and auditory "cues" to aid memory, and layers on new concepts to previous learning. It gives students new or additional ways to think about the content. For example, this is my favorite video for teaching iambic pentameter. The rap always helps them remember unstressed and stressed syllables--peep and SHOUT.
A Helpful Tool for Using Video Clips
Choose carefully. If you've incorporated video into your instruction you know that finding just the right clip can take time--a lot of time. But it's important to be selective and align the clip to your learning objective. One tool teachers are finding helpful is ClassHook. Their team has curated thousands of clips which are easily searchable on their website by content area, grade level, standards, and genres. They are listed by keywords and concepts. (There is also a free version!)
Julie, a 5th grade math teacher, confirms, "ClassHook saves me time searching on my own for engaging hooks to get my kids involved. My class absolutely loved the Ma and Pa Kettle (division) and the Abbot and Costello (division)."
Preview and plan. The challenge with the Ruthless People clip is that it contains profanity. In order to use it I needed to sit right next to the DVD player and hit the mute just in time--a risky proposition and a very clunky work-around. Again, ClassHook alerts you to any objectionable content and allows you to edit it out, opening up a whole world of possibilities that would otherwise be off-limits. You can even upload your own favorites onto the platform if they aren't already there, and edit them as needed.
Identify purpose. This doesn't necessarily apply if you are using a video clip as an anticipatory set to introduce a topic or idea for the first time, but generally a quick "please look for/pay attention to..." will help students watch more attentively. Invite students to compare and contrast, analyze intent, explore vocabulary and word choice, or describe characters.
Invite conversation. Predictions, reflection, and discussion questions increase engagement and require synthesis and higher-level thinking. These can take the form of an oral discussion or be posed digitally and individually. Make sure to pause the video when asking for any kind of response, as we can't cognitively attend to two tasks at the same time--especially ELLs. This is yet another great feature of ClassHook. It allows you to insert pauses and questions automatically at set points in the clip. Teachers are able to see responses on a dashboard and even dialog digitally with individual students or the whole class.
Dominic, a High School Social Studies teacher, was looking for something to make video use more efficient in his classroom when he discovered ClassHook, and has found it to be a great way to connect with his students. "Video is what they are used to," he says. "It's what gets their attention."
With a tool that makes it so quick and easy to find targeted and relevant popular media clips, there is no reason not to benefit from this powerful method of enhancing instruction in your classroom, or Zoom room.