What do you do with students who repeat your class? Granted, they haven’t passed your class, but what do you do when you have designed something that will hold your students’ attention the whole quarter? What am I talking about? I teach advanced ESL grammar. This can be a very boring subject if all you do is grammar exercises ad nauseam. By just doing grammar exercises, the students don’t learn how to use English grammar. They learn how to do grammar exercises. I find that if I can present a shared experience that the students can write about, they can immediately use the grammar being taught in class in a meaningful way. Showing movies offers the shared experience, but showing one movie over ten weeks also holds the students’ attention if the film is suspenseful enough. (Yes, I know that I might not choose the right film. That has happened. Or the students will go out and watch the entire film since they have no patience to wait ten weeks for the ending. I try to convince the students not to peek ahead, for that will destroy the experience for them, but I can only do so much. Most students claim to be patient enough to wait.)
So this is how it works: When I teach adjective clauses, for example, (The woman who is working with Phil is Rita.), I ask the students, after we have had sufficient practice, to write a summary of a segment of the film I am showing. In the summary, they have to embed six examples of adjective clauses. A summary is written for each segment shown until the entire film is seen, and each segment has a grammatical structure focus. What I find is that the students become interested in the film so much so that they look forward to seeing the next segment. At the same time, they have a context to use the newly learned grammar when they write a new summary.
When I use Groundhog Day, it always starts off the same way: all the students hate Bill Murray’s character and don’t want to watch more segments. I ask them to be patient, and slowly the students come around to what is going on and become interested in what will happen next. Every time I have shown this film, students have told me that they enjoyed the film and even got something out of writing the summaries. However, when students have to repeat the class, there is no point in my showing the same film again. If I were to do this, these students would be left by the wayside. (Should I let that change my plans?)
So, another film I attempt to show when this happens is What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? I based the choice of this film on one of the diagnostic paragraphs the students wrote at the beginning of the quarter. One topic they were to write about was the most important thing in their life. The great majority chose their family. If this is so, will they somehow accept the unusual American family in this film? And this is a risk. Because if the students don’t empathize with the members of this family, the watching of the film might very well be a long, drawn out, tortuous session, and there would be little interest in writing about it. I have only used this film twice, and both times the mood in the class went from disgust with the family, especially the over-weight mother, to affection, but there is never a guaranty. I also feel regret that I cannot show Groundhog Day in these new classes since it is a film that is not known to my ESL students, and many of them claim that they have learned life-lessons from the film. So I am stuck.