Saturday, August 08, 2009

I Learned it at the Movies

I learned it at the movies
When the psychologists tested all the students a week later, the verdict for classroom movies was one thumb up, one thumb down. Watching the films did clearly help the students learn more—but only when the information was the same in both text and film. Apparently the vividness of the film—and simply having a second version of the same facts—did help the students create stronger memories of the material. But when the information in the film and the reading were contradictory—that is, when the film was inaccurate—the students were more likely to recall the film’s distorted version. What’s more, they were very confident in their memories, even though they were wrong. This happened even when the students were warned that filmmakers often play fast and loose with the facts.

So should films be banned from the classroom? Not necessarily, and here’s why. As the psychologists report on-line in the journal Psychological Science, a good teacher can trump a movie's shortcomings. They found that when teachers gave the very detailed warnings about inaccuracies in the film version, the students got it. But those warnings had to be very precise, something like: Pay attention when you watch the film and you’ll see that the filmmaker has changed the nationality of the hero from French to American, which is not the way it was. With such warnings, the students apparently “tagged” the information as false in the minds—and remembered the accurate version when quizzed later on.

In this sense, the movie’s distorted version of history can be used as a teachable moment.* Students learn the truth by identifying the mistakes and labeling them, so their take-away learning is: the film says this, but in fact it’s that. Not a bad way to learn, assuming the classroom teacher knows enough to point out what’s this and that.

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