Educational Television, Untapped Potential?
Images are powerful. They tell us stories which have the ability to appeal directly to our emotions. In 1921, Frederick R. Barnard retold a Chinese proverb, "One look is worth a thousand words" in Printer's Ink. This so accurately described the power of visual imagery that all the English speaking countries of the world know the altered form of this saying: "A picture is worth a thousand words." Due to the power and prevalence of television, we are bombared with millions of images per day. Television shows, advertisements and news broadcasts flood our minds with images as we passively and in many ways unconsciously observe and store them. Some of these images stand out. Due to their emotional impact, they seem to linger. Natural disasters, wars, human suffering along with our greatest triumphs and failures as a nation are delivered into our living rooms daily. We are united through the visual medium of television.

Part of the power of these images is in the fact that they bypass the critically thinking "left brain" and are processed immediately and emotionally in the "right brain." Still, is it possible to tap some of this potential for bringing the daily experiences of the entire world into our classrooms and homeschools without succumbing to the difficulties I outlined previously? My main objections to the educational use of television is that it effectively turns off the ability for critical thinking. I strive to teach my children to reason critically and this does not seem to mesh well with what research shows happens to the brain during television viewing. But there at least seems to be a great potential, as well. Here are some instructional strategies I have used when incorporating videos when I taught. I have not yet used videos for instructional purposes in my homeschool.
1) Give the assignment before viewing. Expect students to look for particular events, images, details, etc. and record them while watching. Teach them to take notes as they would during a lecture or while reading a book for research purposes.

2) Do not turn off the lights.

3) Remain next to the television.

4) Interact with the video. Direct the students' attention to particular parts of the screen and give information, pose questions and encourage students to reflect.

5) When appropriate, watch only a brief segment of a video as an introduction to a lesson. If you are studying hurricanes, for example, you might begin with several minutes of a video showing a hurricane's landfall. Stop the video and have students write down what they saw, thought and felt. Ask what they think will happen next. Go on with your lesson. You might choose to come back to other parts later as your study progresses. You do not have to watch an entire video, and you do not have to watch segments in order. This is much more effective than doing a lesson and then watching a video for review.

6) A few minutes of a video can also be an excellent writing prompt in that it does appeal immediately to the emotions. The child can then write the story and never needs to see the rest of the video.

7) With longer selections, pause the video frequently. Keep the students minds engaged by stopping the video, asking questions, rewinding to look at a certain aspect and answering student questions.

8) Watch a selection (even advertisements work for this exercise) without comment. When it is done, have students reflect and write about the emotional impact of what they saw. Encourage them to identify what made them feel the way they did and why the directors chose certain elements. Watch it again and help draw out the emotional elements...expressions, music, lighting, etc. Analyze it as a piece of artwork and engage students in reasoning how these elements work together to present a powerful image left in our mind.

9) Try this with the sound turned off. This was a very powerful lesson on the holocaust for me in junior high. I still remember the impact of the images and the sense of disgust, horror and physical illness that accompanied 30 minutes of video without words.

10) Let the students know they are going to watch a news broadcast. Let them know they will be expected to come up with five (varied according to age and length of broadcast) questions for the newscasters regarding the story. Teach them to watch the news critically.
The intent of these strategies is threefold. First, these help to prevent students from completely passive viewing through frequent interruptions and questioning to stimulate reasoning. Second, children will be exposed to television and it is important to teach them to view critically. Third, some of these activities actually take advantage of televisions inherent tendency to appeal directly to the emotions in order to use this for an educational advantage. Students should still be taught to process these emotional responses by reasoing through them.

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