“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.”
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:
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?
Note: Here is the challenge: take one hour on a Saturday or Sunday and curate your own list of three things you could make into a mini-unit, writing prompt, etc.
“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’
I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. There goes the shawl again!” – Lewis Carroll
How many times in a school year do students hear the word ‘authentic’ but have no idea of what that means? My sense is that I’ve said it myself in a somewhat precious tone, and I catch myself because it sounds a tad pretentious. In fact, I could probably erase that word from my pedagogical discourse and we’d all be better for it, at least until we get our sea-legs with writing. Maybe it’s the Glenda the Witch approach: you had the power all along, my dears, and you’re writers! But I tell them they are writers from the get-go, and attempt to give context to authenticity.
So just what is authenticity?
It’s important to remember writing and reading are not in competition in a zero-sum game. Authenticity grows from every source: lies, truth, and the devil in the details in between. Our continuum of existence demands a story. How our parents met, and what legacies we leave after we’re gone. Our ancestry, and our ‘wishful thinking’ as we explore our singular and collective identities.
Authenticity lives at the highest source of Blooms: Creativity. We hear something, see something, use our senses and ideas, and then it is our job as teachers and parents to guide our children towards creating something new out of the world’s gifts. We provide the guiding thoughts so students can find their own. It can be a phrase or an idea that we hear, and then we ask the powerful question, “What if?”
This morning a McSweeney’s article had me laughing, the concept of “What if” Lovecraft was a substitute teacher at a junior high school? I know of Lovecraft’s writing, but have never read his work. (I should, maybe I will, but….the cultural references and allusions feel like ‘enough.’ Just like not actually reading Shelley’s Frankenstein feels shallow but ‘enough.’) So if I were to use a writer unknown to students, a little background knowledge would be in order. But that’s doable, and certainly not impossible.
I take this idea, and then think about how I could apply it to writing prompts for students. What am I actually asking? I’m asking them to think about things a different way, with my core value belief that everyone can be creative, if you just show them how.
Another example is I was listening to this podcast this morning, and a dozen ideas popped in my mind –ways I could use this grand information for discussions about argumentative writing, reading, memes, digital citizenship, and human history/sociology. And ultimately, is everything or nothing a lie?
My next is this:
In San Lorenzo, California, on May 5, 1942. The last laundry drying in the sun before the mass removal of Japanese Americans during World War II. Famed Dust Bowl photographer Dorothea Lange documented the process of internment for the federal government.