HM - November 2019 - Research

Research in the Classroom

Film in the Classroom

by Emmett Wilson

Mission Hills High School, San Marcos Unified School District, California

After reading the article “They’re not Just for Fridays Anymore: Media Literacy, Historical Inquiry, and Hollywood Films,” I chose to develop a lesson plan about the Hollywood or History? framework, as proposed by Elfer, Roberts, and Fahey (2017). I found that this is a useful tool that teachers can employ in various K-12 classrooms. The Hollywood or History? framework also compliments the work done by Hammond and Jackson (2015) concerning culturally responsive teaching. Film can be employed as a productive medium to reach a wide variety of different learners and as an instrument to discuss various topics in culturally diverse classrooms. This framework was recently employed in my California high school social studies classroom for the film The Great Gatsby (2013). 

My lesson plan that utilized the Hollywood or History? framework focused on income inequality and factors that led to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Students began the lesson with a formative assessment regarding prior knowledge of income inequality and the 1920s (often referred to as the “Roaring Twenties”). A whole class discussion followed this formative assessment; the discussion was designed to introduce to students how films can influence their perspectives on history (Elfer, Roberts, & Fahey, 2017). Students were then shown two film clips that depicted the exuberance and income inequality of the 1920s. The first film clip introduced students to an extravagant party at Gatsby’s home; the second film clip demonstrated the poor living conditions found in the valley of ashes. Students were able to easily contrast the two film clips.

The film clips were followed by student analysis of primary and secondary source documents. The secondary source document analyzed was a recent article written about the Great Depression; the primary source document had students investigate past Internal Revenue Service (IRS) documents that showcased income inequality in the 1920s. The documents directly reinforced the content from the two film clips shown in class. Once the documents and film clips had been analyzed and discussed in groups (with assistance from guiding question as scaffolds), students then moved into the final phase of the lesson.
The final phase of the lesson incorporated a “line of contention” exercise as discussed in Elfer, Roberts, and Fahey (2017). This exercise allowed students to actively express their opinions regarding the film clips’ depictions as either Hollywood, history, or perhaps a little of both. This exercise greatly assisted in cementing the Hollywood or History? framework as an applicable inquiry tool for social studies and history classrooms. Overall, the students were actively engaged throughout the lesson and enjoyed connecting the themes found in the film to other primary and secondary documents utilized in the classroom.

Elfer C., Roberts S. L., & Fahey B. (2017). They’re not just for Fridays anymore: Media literacy, historical inquiry, and Hollywood films. Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, 42(2), 83-96.

Hammond, Z., & Jackson, Y. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. 

Luhrmann. B. (Director). (2013). The Great Gatsby [Motion picture] United States: Warner Brothers.