Editor’s Note: I covered the topic of effective ways to use video in the classroom at my Education Week Teacher Classroom Q & A blog last year: Response: The Best Ways to Use Video in Class.

However, this response somehow got lost in the shuffle, and Steven Goodman has agreed to let me publish it here.


Steven Goodman is the founding director of the Educational Video Center in New York City. For over 35 years, he has offered award-winning social justice documentary workshops for students from under-served communities and professional development for teachers. Goodman writes extensively on youth media, critical literacy, and education reform for numerous publications and is the author of the new book It’s Not About Grit: Trauma, Inequity and the Power of Transformative Teaching (Teachers College Press: 2018).

The challenge for teachers using videos in the classroom is to teach our students to become critical “readers” and creative producers of media. Much like developing students’ print literacy, we need to develop their critical media literacy. That means teaching them to: 1) understand the content and narrative of the stories they are watching, 2) analyze the language of media, how it represents people and conveys ideas and values, and 3) use the tools of media to creatively tell their own stories.

To effectively teach our students to critically analyze media we need to engage them in active viewing activities before, during and after we screen a video in the classroom. These may include giving them guided prompts, asking them to note their observations and questions while watching, pausing the video when necessary to discuss particular shots, interviews, scenes, or editing techniques and facilitating student post-viewing reflections.

In this time of “fake news”, while analyzing the content of documentaries and other non-fiction media it’s more important than ever for students to learn to distinguish fact from opinion, to search for evidence that supports claims, and find diverse reliable sources of information. Analyzing the language of media and the underlying values and messages it communicates, our students can notice, for example, how a low camera angle makes a person look more powerful, how different images or music over narration change the meaning that is conveyed, how a person interviewed in front of a bookcase gives them the aura of being knowledgeable, or placing a flag behind them can convey the look of a patriotic person of authority.

Teaching them to be critical viewers also means learning to analyze how people are represented in the media — whether fiction or non-fiction, live action or animation. Students can note the roles particular actors play, the stereotypes that may be evident, who speaks and gets to tell their story and who is silent. Then they can consider how that movie, documentary, news report, etc. might be different if the director, narrator, main character, person interviewed, etc. were a woman, African American, teenager, immigrant, disabled person, etc.

Graphic organizers and various charts are helpful tools for active viewing activities. For example, students can jot the opinions they hear in one column and the claims that support them in another, images they see in one column and the meanings they convey in another, or count the number of times men speak to each other and when a woman speaks to another woman in a film. At first, we may need to help our students get used to having the video paused, or taking notes while watching video, but it will lead to a richer and more rigorous learning experience. It’s also important to validate our students’ experiences, opinions and perspectives in class discussion and not dismiss alternative interpretations.

Finally, teaching our students to be creative media producers is a powerful way for them to apply their understanding of media language and representation and how to use sound and images to make an evidence-based argument. They can brainstorm and select a critical issue they want to explore in their school and community in a documentary or short video inquiry project. As creative media makers, our students will develop a sense of empowerment and pleasure in learning to create new knowledge, tell their own stories, and ensure that under-represented voices are heard on critical issues in their lives. Publicly screening their videos in the classroom and other school and community venues helps build a student-centered and media-literate school culture that honors students’ ideas, questions, perspectives, culture and community.