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Series: Elements of Structure Part 4: Documentary Resources


Documentaries are non-fiction with bias. At least that’s how I define it…because documentaries are so much more than just presenting facts. Sheila Curran Bernard says it better:

“Documentaries bring viewers into new worlds and experiences through the presentation of factual information about real people, places, and events, generally — but not always — portrayed through the use of actual images and artifacts. But factuality alone does not define documentary films; it’s what the filmmaker does with those factual elements, weaving them into an overall narrative that strives to be as compelling as it is truthful and is often greater than the sum of its parts.”

–Sheila Curran Bernard, Author of Documentary Storytelling

If you’re interested in sharing documentaries with students, here are some good resources:

Films for Action

Top Documentary Films

Documentary Heaven

PBS 11 Documentary Sites

Added: Frontline

Documentaries must not stay in the domain of history or social studies but extend far into all content areas. Moreover, students creating their own documentaries may be the most powerful voice and tool of all. If you’re heavily embedded in fiction and literature studies, consider documentaries that discuss the lives of the authors, or take on a meta-fictional approach. 

And what a grand opportunity for students to explore and analyze sources:

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I would love to know what documentaries you’ve shown, and if you’ve tried having students create their own. How did it go, and what went well?

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Series: Elements of Structure Part 3: Plodding Plots


This upcoming January-February I’ll return to the Journey of the Hero unit. It’s been tossed, denigrated, punched, and still, it comes up standing, ready for more. Joseph Campbell never fails me. The ginormous binder tome that contains its massive and timeless information, and look forward to those ah-ha moments when students recognize nearly every single story, movie or tale is indeed, a monomyth.

The CCSS which specifically address Journey of the Hero or monomyth are not under the heading of Craft and Structure, but these:

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

Analyze the extent to which a filmed or live production of a story or drama stays faithful to or departs from the text or script, evaluating the choices made by the director or actors.
Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new.
But I can’t help but think the good people at the CCSS got it a little wrong–patterns are structure.
There is nothing new under the sun. When considering structure, scholars propose that there are no new stories, not really, and we can find stories fitting into a minimum amount of plots:
But this analysis or categorization creates inherent boredom in our content area, so I caution all of us not to get into the systemic drilling of parts, and forget to put back together the whole.
Maybe that is really the theme of Shelley’s Frankenstein: the man could not make better what the gods created, and putting it back together makes it awkward and angry. When analyzing plot and the various types of plot, make sure to step back and look at the whole map, and allow students moments of many personal connections. A story is only as good as we hear it.