The last week has been full of posters and videos. It’s rather amused me; I like a good laugh and to see some people getting so hugely frustrated and annoyed is frankly  sometimes quite hilarious. I read the original  @tombennett71  article. He clearly didn’t say that all posters and film watching were bad, but rather he simply suggested that sometimes they are used as fillers. I tend to agree. Sorry, but I do. And what surprised me is that seemingly intelligent, rational people, seemed to become utterly incensed by what they felt was a slight to their teaching practice, but if you are a truly intelligent person, surely you’d see that just whacking on a film isn’t necessarily going to teach them a lot. Likewise, unless a poster has a particular learning purpose behind it, it is often something that is just done because there isn’t enough time to plan a lesson, or it’s used as cover. We’ve all done it.

I’m going to stick up a bit for Tom Bennett too. I have a hugely difficult year 11 class, they are constantly excluded or in seclusion and demotivated with life in general. I needed them to complete a piece of coursework where they responded to a text, so I needed something that would really rile them. Having seen the ‘children under 16 shouldn’t have smartphones’ debate on Twitter, I picked an article where Tom’s views on why they should be banned were expressed. Great, I thought, these kids have their phones glued to them at all times, they’ll hate this, we’ll get great letters expressing vitriol at Mr Bennett and his horrific opinions.

I read the article to the class. When I’d finished, I looked up expectant, ‘so what do we think?’

‘Totally agree with him Miss’ WHAT!!! ‘We shouldn’t have phones, school should ban them. We’re all addicted and we can’t concentrate. He’s right. And you can see loads of sick and disgusting stuff on your phone.’

All but 2 of these behaviourally difficult students agreed. Perhaps we should never expect that something might be controversial until we actually ask the people that matter – the kids. I’m going to ask them about films and posters. I think it might be quite interesting.

We have long holidays in teaching. It might not feel it, but we do. Lots of other hard working people in this country, only get 4 weeks a year, so anyone moaning about working in the holidays just doesn’t get it. Where am I going with this? As well as being a teacher, I am a mum to two late teens. They’ve been through their compulsive schooling, but the thing that most frustrated me when they were at school? The last week of every term. They would come home and say that all they had done all day was watch films. In the lessons that they only had one lesson a week in, they had spent the last 2 weeks watching films. At Christmas, they would watch the same half of Elf in 4 or 5 different lessons and they would get really, really bored. It also meant that as well as the holidays, they would at least an extra week on top, not being educated at all. It’s a long time in a young mind’s life.

I tend to not like doing it as a teacher, although admit that I’ll do it in the last week of the school year, when we need to spend time sorting things out, tidying up etc. I much prefer to do a quiz on that term’s learning with a few ‘fun’ rounds thrown in and prizes to be had. But I’ve heard teachers actually factor in ‘dvd week’ into their planning. As an English teacher, who has 3 hours a week with KS3 classes and 4 hours with KS4 classes, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to teach kids who don’t want to do anything, because ‘no one else is making us work at the end of term.’ But hey, I have a lot of time to fill in those last lessons of term and most of the time, I damn well want to use that time.

So to that extent, I totally and utterly believe that there should be a blanket ban on end of term dvds within a school, so that students are actually taught and that precious time used wisely. However, there’s a whole other argument and for me that is a different story. The wonderful @fod3 posted this today and I totally agree with her – although I do on most things; she’s normally right.

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And this is why.

As an English teacher, I am increasingly faced with children with no contextual knowledge of the texts they are reading. I teach in a school which is over 50% EAL, with students in years 10 and 11 with little or no English – they bring their own needs within my classroom. And so yes, I do sometimes use dvds with classes, I sometimes use clips to support learning.

When I started to teach year 10 their 19th century fiction text The Sign of Four, this year, it became increasingly evident that they are little or no knowledge of the Victorian era and really struggled to understand how some of the themes and character’s actions fit into what society was like at the time. For example, the savagery of how the character of Tonga is described as a foreigner, was completely alien to them as classes of children from many different countries and walks of life. Of course we did the old research, we looked at books, we looked on the internet, we talked about it. Sometimes I just had to give them the knowledge, but there’s a whole other argument. Of course we read the book, text, to my mind should always come first, but after that we put everything together, and yes, we watched the film. They needed to see the story in context. They needed to see Holmes in a hansom cab, they needed to see what was meant by steam launch, they needed to see how the Victorians would have seen Tonga, they needed to see what was meant by opulence in a Victorian home. And guess what? All the students who were really struggling, suddenly got it. I am quite strict with my film watching though, it is never just a sit back and eat popcorn lesson and always provide something that they should be doing whilst watching. In this case it was this:


At other times, I have used a film version, instead of the whole text. For example, when teaching year 9 a unit on 19th century fiction extracts, I thought that I would quite like them to know the whole story of Great Expectations and then afterwards look at descriptions of Havisham at the beginning and the end of the novel, which they would then use to write a comparative essay. So I spent 3 lessons (yes 3!) showing them the BBC Gillian Anderson/Ray Winstone version of Great Expectations. They absolutely adored it. They loved the story and had constant debates about the characters. A Polish student who missed a lesson through exclusion, came to find me to ask if he could borrow the dvd as he really wanted to know how it ended. Again, they had questions to think about whilst they were watching:


They went on to look at extracts from the novel and wrote an essay looking at how Dickens used langauage to show how Havisham’s character had changed. They were the best essays they had written all year, by far and every single student made a massive leap in levels. They had been inspired. Of course this was mostly down to the story, but we didn’t have time to read the whole thing. What also struck me as well, is that they were watching something that they wouldn’t normal choose to watch. These were a fairly bright class and yet not one of them had ever watched a period drama. But they enjoyed it and every one of my little United Nations of a class, had been introduced to a Dickens story, analysed some difficult language, had an opinion on it and had blinking well enjoyed it. Is it not also a positive thing to immerse students in good quality drama and television too? I’d have liked to have gone further and looked at the different endings and thought about why it had been changed for television. Maybe I will next time.

I’m a Sherlock fan. I’ve always loved the books and the Cumberbatch and Freeman duo are possibly my most favourite thing ever. My year 8s last year, used to laugh at me and say I was a geek. ‘Ever watched an episode?’ I said. ‘No way’ they replied. Ah ha, I thought. They needed stretching, so I decided to read the first Holmes story with them.They struggled with the language, but ended up enjoying the story. They wrote an essay looking at how Holmes and Watson’s relationship evolved. They were rather good. Mission achieved.

Then came the good bit. I showed them the episode of Sherlock, A Study in Pink, which is essentially the same story but masterfully updated to a modern setting, as well as being some of the best written television around. Again, you guessed it, they were given questions to answer:


You could have heard a pin drop. They were mesmerised. After they had watched the episode, they were given a piece of the script which they transformed into a piece of prose writing. Again they wrote some really brilliant pieces.

But my absolute favourite thing to come out of this story, was that they went home and trawled Netflix for other episodes, they bought dvds. We had kids with Sherlock pens and badges. This January one of those students, a streetwise Pakistani Heritage young man, whose behaviour is a constant issue, stuck his head round my classroom door, a year after those lessons and said, ‘Miss, did you watch Sherlock in the holidays, it was f*****g brilliant.’ Choice words, but isn’t it a little bit cool that he had been introduced to and enjoyed something with it’s roots in Victorian literature and that was good quality television.

So I guess I’m arguing that Film and TV does have a place in the classroom, but much as I think Tom Bennett was actually arguing, it shouldn’t be used as a filler. It should have a purpose, a use. Shakespeare didn’t write his plays to be read, he wrote them to be seen, and yes we need to analyse the beautiful language, but when possible we need to see it, ideally in a theatre and I am a real advocate that kids need to be out there seeing these things; being immersed in the culture of theatre. Of course this isn’t always possible and sometimes a good quality film version is ok, although perhaps it is not a good idea to introduce Romeo and Juliet with guns and petrol stations until after they have actually read and understood the text.

People will disagree with me and hey, who am I but a bog standard English teacher, but I want to teach kids, I want to inspire them and if that is using dvds sometimes to give them a well-rounded, culturally diverse internal knowledge, then that is what I’m going to do.

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