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Monday, February 20, 2012

Live Blogging the Wizard of Oz

Movies are wonderful resources in education, but they are usually associated with passive learning. To keep students (grades 9-12) active and engaged during movies, we have used a free live-blogging software program called G-snap.

G-snap is a free website that allows anyone to set up a live blogging event; access to the event can be posted by a link or directly embedded on a webpage. There is no registration required, comments can be saved, and the event can run for several days. During the event, questions can be posted and most importantly, participant responses can be moderated before they are shared publicly.
The most recent success was with MGM’s classic The Wizard of Oz which was used as an introduction to a 9th grade unit centered on the universal elements of stories. The students at Wamogo High School in Northwest Connecticut are fortunate enough to have the use of net books in class or they may bring their own digital device in order to access the materials used in class. Students were engaged in the film from the opening soundtrack; several students joined Dorothy in singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  When Almeria Gulch appeared to take Toto away in her bicycle basket, and despite my best efforts to keep everyone quiet, the comments began:
“I was so scared of her on her bike!”
“I can’t watch her change into the witch…I just can’t watch!”
The tornado scene that followed kept them speechless. When the house landed, there was an audible “oh!” from Dorothy. Students flinched as well; they had arrived in OZ.
The lesson’s objective was to have students identify a character’s weaknesses or strengths. We wanted students to recognize the qualities that a character thinks he or she lacks is exactly the unrecognized quality the character possesses. Of course, Frank Baum’s story is all about motivation and character qualities.



Using the G-snap software, I posed a series of questions at critical moments in the film
What motivates Glinda to place the ruby slippers on Dorothy’s feet? Is this in Dorothy’s best interest?
What happens when one strays off the path of The Yellow Brick Road?
What qualities does the Scarecrow exhibit? How is this connected to his motivation?
I also wanted them also to reflect on the motivations of the Wicked Witch of the West and the intensity of her dialogue.  For example: “those slippers will never come off . . . as long as you're alive!” or “The last to go will see the first three go before her.”
I posted:  Is this film appropriate for children? Is the film too scary?
Their responses were mixed.  Many felt the film was fine for children, but some students  considered that the dialogue was really much more frightening then they had remembered:
"I think I was about 5 years old and I remember hiding under a blanket when the flying monkeys came on TV."
“There are many violent movies that children shouldn’t see but this movie is classic."
"I saw this film when I was a little kid, and I was frightened for days, I had nightmares about this horrible witch, so I think it might be a little extreme for little kids."
"I saw it when was like 4 and no its not that bad, they will get over it. It’s not like a death threat, well it kinda is but never mind. I don't think it’s that bad."
The use of live blogging allowed students to stay focused character motivation in the film.  Their responses included:
“The Tinman does have a heart. He is the most ‘emo’ character of them all!”
“Scarecrow has a brain and when Dorothy says she will miss him the most she means being smart is what people should look for in friends.”
“The companions represent different things: Lion-Courage, Tin Man-Heart/Love. So it shows that even though you don't think you have it you still do because the Lion still stood up for himself. And Tin Man loved his friends, so they just thought they did not have them when they really did."
The power of live blogging with G-snap made watching the The Wizard of Oz an active and engaging lesson, and character motivation is only one of the lessons that can be learned. We have since used the software to live blog the film Gallipoli as comparison to the message in All Quiet on the Western Front, and I have posted questions about dramatic irony during the film Othello. At every grade level, students enjoyed live-blogging and reading each other’s comments.
G-snap removes the stigma of passive learning from movies and allows students the opportunity to “talk” during the movie without hearing a teacher “shhhhh!”



About the Guest Blogger
Colette Marie Bennett is the English and Social Studies Department Chair at Wamogo High School, a combined college prep and vocational agriculture school (Regional School District #6) in the Northwest corner of Connecticut.  Bennett has 20 years of experience teaching in parochial and public school systems from grades 6-12. She has presented how technology is incorporated in her English classroom at the Connecticut Educators Computer Association Conference (2010), the National Council of Teachers Annual Conference (2010), and the Advanced Placement Annual Conference (2011). She blogs about how she has increased her classroom libraries and what she does with these used books at http://usedbookclassroom.wordpress.com/  She tweets at Twitter@Teachcmb56