Movie worksheets are unhelpful, distract from main focus

October 12, 2018 — by Christine Zhang

Reporter argues against movie viewing guides.

“Please fill out this worksheet while you watch the movie.”

Nearly every student has heard some variation of that statement. Teachers play movies on the projector screen, and students are expected to complete a worksheet with dozens of questions related to the movie, usually to be handed in right after the movie ends.

Although this practice may seem like an effective way to reinforce the ideas shown in the movie and ensure that students actually pay attention to it, the worksheet usually acts more as a obstacle than an enhancement to learning. Because of the worksheets, students shift their focus from processing and internalizing the movie’s contents to getting the right answers.

Movie worksheets and video guides do the exact opposite of helping students pay attention. When students look at the screen, they do not focus on the movie’s content itself; instead, they watch for the answer to the next question, and everything in between each answer becomes background noise.

Students pay attention to a fraction of the movie because the worksheets and guides demand that they concentrate on scribbling down the proper, often hyper-specific answers. A history student might not watch a documentary to fully understand why the Americans dumped tea into the Boston Harbor, but to write down how many crates were thrown overboard.

When the questions are too densely packed together, students can hardly afford to glance up from their worksheets, let alone pay attention to the movie’s main ideas. They become so busy jotting down answers that they miss crucial points of the plot. Instead of asking students to look at the bigger picture, the worksheets often hone in on more specific parts of the movie, testing whether or not a student is picking up on minute details rather than getting a good understanding of the movie in general.

All of this means it’s much harder for students to get a genuine, natural understanding of the movie. They constantly look away from the screen to write, and even if they are able to somehow pay attention, the questions disrupt the movie’s natural flow.

The worksheets also do little to prevent students from going on their phones during the movie. Determined students can still easily sneak their phones out, and they can quickly hide their phones when the teacher walks behind them. Even worse, students may use their phones to find the worksheet’s answers online, completely defeating the purpose of watching the movie altogether.

At the end of the movie, students who used their phones and weren’t paying attention often copy answers from their friends or other classmates.

What is sad about this situation is that the movie itself may have deep educational content, but the worksheets tend to strip the movie of importance and meaning.

Movie worksheets cause students to think of the movie as nothing more than a typical classwork assignment, and thus, there is no reason for teachers to waste entire class periods on the movie if they include the worksheet as part of the activity.

If teachers insist on using movie worksheets, they should hand the worksheets to their students after the movie ends. Additionally, instead of having hyper-specific questions, teachers should edit the worksheets to ask about more general plot ideas or themes of the movie.

If they are worried about their students not paying attention to the movie without the worksheet, teachers can give their students the option to take notes during the movie without making it a mandatory assignment. This would still aid the students who prefer to write down main ideas, and it wouldn’t hinder the ones who concentrate better without the written task.

Not only would this change require little work on the teachers’ part, but students would also be able to focus on the movie itself while they watch it. Furthermore, they would be able to write more detailed, comprehensive answers afterwards, demonstrating their true understanding of the movie rather than their ability to catch trivial facts — and they wouldn’t be copying from the answers of their classmates.

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