Thursday, May 22, 2014

Reeling in Student Readers with Movies

     As winter gave way to spring this year, copies of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars started popping up in classrooms like bluebonnets along Texas highways.  Touted by Entertainment Weekly as "the greatest romance story of this decade," this YA blockbuster was published in January 2012.  So why now, after two full years, has TFIOS become the "it" book for self-selected reading?  Haven't you heard?  It's coming soon to theaters near you -- June 6, to be exact -- and, for once, the instant gratification aspect of modern society is working in teachers' favor!  Kids just can't wait to laugh and cry with Hazel and Augustus, the troubled teens in this riveting novel.

     What a joy when an upcoming movie inspires our children to read!  But choosing a book after having seen the movie is a cause for concern in parents and teachers alike:  That won't help children's reading skills, will it?

     The surprising answer to that question is "yes" if the reader's faulty comprehension results from a failure to visualize while reading.  If a student does not create mental images to correspond with the words he reads, he's simply running his eyes over lines and lines of letters on a page.  Imagine doing that for 30 minutes of Sustained Silent Reading.  No wonder some kids are bored by what they think of as "reading."  

     Consider this.  Watching a movie first often inspires students to revisit the story in print.  When they pick up the novel, images supplied beforehand then support their comprehension as they tackle the written word.  In other words, the movie serves as mental "training wheels" for struggling readers, helping sustain them through text that's somewhat above their comprehension level.  Remember:  The more one reads, the better one reads.  Is the question of "before or after the movie" really more important than the fact that the book gets read?

     How then do teachers eliminate the possibility of "book reports" based on a movie?  It's easy:  Save the written summaries for those stories you read in class.  For SSR assignments, create activities like this which require text-based responses:

    Which adjectives best describe the main character in your story?  Support your adjective choices with direct quotes from the novel:  something your character said, something your character thought, something your character did -- and so on.

     Not only does the assignment require that students read the text, it also affords them practice in a number of Language Arts skills:

  • visualize a character based on descriptive details in the text,
  • make inferences about characters based on details in the text,
  • apply "personality trait" vocabulary accumulated throughout the school year, 
  • use quotation marks when directly quoting from the text.
In addition, artistically-inclined students always appreciate an opportunity to showcase their talent -- plus, the final products make for a colorful display!

Question:  Should kids read the book before or after they see the movie?
Answer:    Yes.  (Just as long as the book gets read.)

Don't miss our newest posting:  Starting the Student Book Buzz!