What is Grade Appropriate?
Posted by: San Francisco Film Society
Categories: For FilmmakersHow do you determine whether your film is appropriate for an educational audience?
Young people are exposed to a variety of media in their lives, both inside and outside of the classroom. They will often be challenged and engaged by films that are created for general audiences rather than specifically for an educational setting. Elementary, middle, high school, and university students learn differently depending on their ages and accompanying developmental phases.
Elementary-aged learners are curious and imaginative. As they rapidly develop a worldview and a sense of understanding, they function as keen observers (think about the pesky younger sibling who is constantly asking “why?”). Young students often gravitate towards stories as a means of understanding, rather than facts or figures. They want to hear stories, and they want to tell stories. As a storytelling medium, filmmaking is well-suited art form, and film viewing can be used to help students learn both how stories are told and how to tell a story, either original or existing, in new and different ways.
Middle School students are, quite literally, in the middle of childhood and early adulthood. It’s during this time that unique points of view, personal tastes, judgments and critiques are beginning to solidify. Giving students a chance to watch challenging films that feel immediate and relevant allows them to engage their emerging points of view in powerful ways. Young people at this age also tend to look to their friends and peer group as a key factor in their definition of self—how do they fit in, or not? Films featuring young protagonists and young peoples' voices are of particular relevance to middle school students.
High School learners have a great deal of independence, which allows for deeper exploration and engagement with a film's subject. They are capable of analyzing the creative decision-making processes involved in making films, and they may have their own experiences with media-making. They are able to engage with more complex topics with a degree of controversy as they establish their own stances on real-world issues, and dark or controversial works may lead to enriching discussions. Though they are still minors, high school students are much closer to the adult realities of college, career, and civic engagement. Media analysis can take on meaning beyond the classroom, introducing students to critical social issues and the practice activism and dissent.
University students are young adults. They are eager to engage with social issues of relevance to their generation, but they may have limited experience and context to bring to a complex subject. Campus screenings are often presented as extracurricular activities by student advocacy groups. University audiences may benefit from supplemental materials that accompany a film and suggest points of entry into activism or additional learning surrounding the film's subjects, though these materials are usually more limited in scope than the curricula that are used in K-12 classrooms.
Below are a few additional considerations to keep in mind as you consider your film for the classroom:
• Length. Class periods are typically not long enough to screen an entire feature-length film, and younger students might have a hard time retaining 90 minutes to two hours' worth of information. Can you break your film into topic-oriented chapters or modules? Are there natural stopping points where a class could break and resume viewing? It may be appropriate to stop a longer piece at various points for a discussion and then resume. You can recommend these practices in your curricular materials.
• Context. The classroom is rarely the intended setting for viewing media. What tools can you provide for teachers to help them to provide students with proper context and background information (historic, social, technological) before a screening?
• Content. Even high school students are still minors. Especially with older students, dark or controversial works may lead to enriching discussions, but as a general rule, anything with a rating over PG should be pre-screened and discussed with all teaching staff. As you prepare your curricular materials, be sure to alert educators to any controversial elements in the film, including language, violence, nudity, or sexual content.
• Why? As you go through the process of crafting your educational outreach strategy, be sure to remind yourself why it is important that students watch this film. You might open your curricular materials with a statement that articulates the importance of this film in an educational context. If you are not able to articulate exactly why this piece is important to the classroom and provide specific examples that demonstrate this, educators and students will have difficulty doing the same.
If you are unsure of your film's appropriate grade level or its relevance in the classrom, try watching it with educators or young adults whom you know personally. You may also consult the San Francisco Film Society's viewing guides in the Lesson Exchange section of this site to see the appropriate age ranges for comparable films, or you may contact the Film Society's Education Department to schedule a consultation.