Words can be art. They are a construct, not innate, organic or given. They are synthetic, created. Therefore, there is no reason to see the use of words as anything less than creativity, especially when that use has been singled out as culturally valuable. Yet often students in a high school English class see things differently. They tend to see words as obligations, as if they were math problems or history facts; something they must contend with or get through - an ordeal. Apart from students who are passionate about any of the aforementioned (which is, to be fair, not necessarily rare), many students perceive the beautiful, often life-defining art in our words and language as little more than homework.
They do, however, really
Who doesn’t? Films are a wonderful medium through which we experience art. It
like art to even the layperson. It is easy to digest. It is akin to our dreams, brief and episodic and impactful, leaving us with feelings similar to dreams - disturbed or enlightened, contented or shaken, oftentimes inspired. Through the camera’s eye, which is existentially and often visually similar to the view through our own, we experience the imitation of life simultaneously in the most subtle and meaningful way. If, as Mark Twain said, “work consists of whatever a body is
to do, and play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do,”
then seeing a movie can be as relaxing as play.
Students engage with this. I’ve rarely taught a book about which the students do not ask, “is there a movie for this?” Unfortunately, the other side of seeing movies as “play” presupposes that reading books is “work.”
Film adaptations of the books we read in English class are advantageous mainly in two ways. The first is obvious: it allows students to synthesize the material in a different format, thereby clarifying themes through visual adaptation of certain things that happened in the book, or throwing this into contrast if the director
something that happened in the book, arguably allowing students to synthesize or absorb meaning even better. The other reason has to do with why I am so encouraged when they ask if a film was made for any given book, and why I am disappointed if I have to tell them no. It is a clear indication that they enjoyed (or at least paid close enough attention to) the story that they
to continue experiencing it in its film form. It is extraordinarily powerful for a high school student to want to do something in class, and while I admit we in the field of English get our fair share of that with the opportunity to teach entertaining texts, it is still wonderful to see a student engaged enough that they’d like to continue to study or scrutinize. Through this, without even realizing it, the possibility exists for them to “see how a story’s greatness is a function of its powerful expression in its original medium.”
I see an opportunity to use the same philosophy to help combat a problem I’ve noticed. I can keep track of how much a student actually reads a book assigned for classwork
that classwork, and through assignments and homework and quizzes. However, I cannot keep close track of how much of the assigned independent reading is actually done. My current independent reading project is merely adequate. It requires the standard “book report” routine – summarization, thematic analysis, thoughts on character development – but I know through student testimony that even this can be gotten around (i.e., students can complete it successfully without reading the whole book). I believe that through the study (and ultimately) practice of adaptation, students will be able to better synthesize original texts, and have the opportunity for a new type of independent reading project that would not only see an increase in
reading, but do so by furthering student enjoyment of it.
In this unit, we will focus on stories for which the answer is a resounding “yes!” These stories have been made into
films. In this case,
Monty Python and the Holy Grail