I’ve always heard mixed reviews over the years about the value, or lack thereof, in showing videos in class. Teachers (and parents even!) have said it’s a cop-out, it’s the teacher being lazy, or even that it’s a sign of the teacher not knowing enough about the topic to teach it themselves. You know what, sometimes one of those can apply, sometimes none of them apply.
There was one day a few years ago I was just so sick (but naturally not willing to call out sick) that I showed an episode of America the Story of Us. It wasn’t the end of the world and I made sure my students discussed it and wrote a reflection paragraph afterwards, including connecting it to what we had already learned of the topic.
When I teach the Revolutionary War, I show clips from the HBO series John Adams. It frequently seems like the trial of the British soldiers following the Boston Massacre is just a blip in many curricula and I feel like that particular episode of John Adams does an excellent job of showing both sides (especially the emotions which can at times be difficult for teachers to express in their own words) to students. I have followed that up with a reflection writing too so it’s more than “just a video day” in class.
Don’t even get me started on showing select scenes from Band of Brothers! I have watched it once or twice in its entirety EVERY year since it aired on HBO, including all the extras, and if there’s a marathon of it on tv, well, there goes my night. It’s one thing for me to describe to students being in the Ardennes and having trees explode around you and not knowing if your best friend is alive or even being frozen in place and hesitating when you hear the call for medic, it’s another thing for kids to watch and hear it unfold.
There have been times when students have asked me questions that I don’t have the answers to on the spot. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I have no problem saying most teachers don’t know everything about everything. One semester I had a student ask me every president’s middle name when we got to that president…really? Fine, I raise my white flag, I didn’t know all of them. Plus, my academic specialty is WW2/the Holocaust so when we get to 1800s Britain or when I’m teaching something for the first time like Europe in the 1200s, I might not know every little detail off the top of my head. I make sure I teach myself as much as possible, but I can’t always predict each question a student will ask. When a teacher not immediately knowing the answer becomes a problem is if that teacher doesn’t make an effort to find an answer for that student.
My go-to tactics when I don’t have an immediate answer are:
1. ask if anyone else in the class might know the answer (there have been times where they in fact HAVE had the answers)
2. tell the student that I will research it that night and give them the answer tomorrow
3. I let the students research it themselves overnight and we discuss our various findings the next day (typically I give each student who tried to find the answer an extra credit point, and if they found the correct answer 2 extra credit points).
Sometimes I use videos to answer questions for students which brings me back to the point of this post.
Occasionally I do use videos to address a topic with students that I don’t think I can do justice, regardless of how well I understand it myself. Sometimes it’s better for students to hear an explanation from another source, especially if it’s accompanied by proper visuals. In fact, just today I used videos as an explanation in class. Last week a question was raised about the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States and the UK and its internal set-up. As I explained it to the kids (5th-10th grade) as best I could, I could see that most of them were still pretty confused. Sometimes you can know something and understand it but explaining it is kind of hard–well that’s the position I found myself in.
I started class with those videos and not only were my kids much more engaged than during my admittedly less than clear attempt at an explanation, they seemed to grasp it afterwards (certainly the older ones did). During the videos, their eyes never left the screen, honestly, they barely even blinked. When my “know-it-all” student muttered to himself, “that actually made sense,” I knew I had made the right choice in starting class with videos today.
Lastly and honestly, sometimes the videos are just more interesting for the kids and if they’re interested chances are better that information will be retained. I remember much more about my Government class from School House Rock videos than I do from my teacher’s lectures (no offense to said teacher intended).
Are there videos (or times for videos) you find value in for your students? If so share them in the comments below 🙂