John Golden has been teaching language arts for 23 years. He is a great teacher — funny, charismatic, insightful, focused on his students and their needs. And, he loves to teach with documentary films. He loves teaching docs so much, in fact, that he has written a book on the subject, Reading in the Reel World: Teaching Documentaries and Other Nonfiction Texts.
It followed his first book about using fiction film in class, Reading in the Dark: Using Film As a Tool in the English Classroom. We hope you check them out!
Since we at Blueshift share John’s love of both documentary media and great teaching, we are thrilled to be working with him on our new Doc Academy pilot project. Active in the U.K since 2012, this pilot will bring BritDoc’s proven platform to the U.S. - making excellent documentary films available to classrooms for free, using easily digestible clips and dynamic lesson plans written by teachers for teachers, in alignment with national standards.
Why are we so committed to bringing great docs into classrooms? In John’s words, “The importance of teaching film in the classroom - after the election and all the fake news - it’s never been more clear.” A recent study from Stanford University found that 82% of middle school students could not discriminate a news article from an advertisement online. Students need critical media analysis skills, and documentaries offer a great way to teach them. “Most documentary media is consumed passively. If students aren’t taught to deconstruct, decode, and analyze what they see then they aren’t able to consume in an active way.”
And there’s more, “Docs tend to show us things we can’t get to otherwise - far-flung locations, historical happenings, even parts of our own country we can’t get easily get to... if you live in the city, what is rural life like? Docs create the opportunity to understand others’ lives.”
He uses Fred Wiseman’s classic film High School to show students how film can reveal new aspects of what seems familiar. He challenges his students to take an artist’s eye to their own school to create short films. He says, “I remember one where kids filmed trash all around the building, in cafeteria, classrooms, it showed our building falling apart. Another one focused on the pep assembly, the contrast of cheerleaders out there, with cuts to students in the stand watching, clearly not peppy.”
The exercise taught them both how filmmakers use their own lens to tell a story, and how to look critically at the world around them. Documentaries create the opportunity to deeply understand and empathize with people and communities across the globe, offering insight into the most pressing issues of our time.
Keep checking back to hear how the Doc Academy pilot evolves with John and other talented teachers producing fabulous content for our classrooms.