I will not shock fellow English teachers when I write that most of my students watch television more often than they read. I’m not complaining. I actually think the current generation of teenagers reads more often than the previous one…thank you, Ms. Rowling.
I have, however, been thinking about how I can use my students’ love of T.V. to make them more critical, artistic writers. If I can help them become more empathetic human beings in the process, then maybe I will finally get into Gryffindor.
In recent years I have asked my students to write about ABC’s show Secret Millionaire. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, a millionaire goes undercover for the week, posing as a regular person who happens to be making a documentary about volunteerism. The millionaire visits an impoverished neighborhood and volunteers at charitable organizations within the community. At the end of the week, the millionaire returns to the organizations, reveals his or her identity, and leaves a fat check.
As a way to help students develop skills of persuasion, organization, and communication, I assign this essay. They write to their fellow students, and I ask the most successful writers to submit their pieces to our school newspaper and other online sources like teenink.com.
At first I worried I was dumbing down the curriculum by replacing the analysis of a book with the analysis of a T.V. show. Yet, I soon discovered prompts like these helped me have a better understanding of what exactly was holding certain students back.
As you might imagine, a majority of my students excel when writing this paper. When they do, I understand their struggles with literary analysis papers have less to do with their writing skills and more to do with their reading skills.
My endgame is the development of critical reading and writing skills in all my students. I teach every class in a “pre-AP” or “pre-IB” mode. It turns out, such prompts fit perfectly with my approach. I have been pleasantly surprised at just how rich and thoughtful and passionate and stylish my students’ writing becomes when analyzing media they naturally and voraciously consume.
I am not really sure why it has taken me so long to assign T.V. as text, and I will certainly find other ways to incorporate movies and T.V. into future assignments.