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The Why & How of studying through a MASSIVE movie marathon

I wrote this blog entry to my students

with the hope to better connect with those younger souls

After two years of teaching, I found the followings needed to change among colleage students in Vietnam.

  1. Students are afraid of workloads.

  2. To students, good grade is the ultimate goals of learning.

  3. Reading (something other than Facebook Status) and thinking critically remained extraterrestrials to students.

I want to do something different this semester so I decided to watch movies on teachers to seek some light. I want you, my students to construct your minds with truths through education. Just like what I am striving. And just like what Tara Westover wrote:

Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. (Educated by Tara Westover)

In the next semester, I will ask you to watch the following movies to "break the ice" and understand my teaching philosophy. Before your watching them all, I would like to share some thoughts.

1. Starting with Why

History boys (2006) was the British version of Dead Poets Society (1989). The two depicted an ideological battle within every classroom. One force (both headmasters in two movies) measures learning through achievement. School students should learn to get good grade, pass exams, and get into good universities. Poetry, music, and art are superfluous. Teachers who neglected such aims are regarded as incapable ones.

The other force (Keating in Dead Poets Society and Hector in the History Boys) assures the purpose of teaching is being happy. Keating and Hector ignited the reckless fire in their students. To speak their minds. To rip off inappropriate textbook pages. To look at life at different perspectives. To celebrate individualism. To support unconformity.

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” - Hector in History Boys


"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for" - Keating in the Dead Poets Society

Watch the two movies side by side. Let me know what you think. As for me, I believe grade is not enough. I don't argue that grade is an inadequate measurement of learning ability. Grade is something but not EVERYTHING. One prove oneself through grade first, then what set him/her extraordinary is the flare: art, music, and poetry. When you study, learn how to study effectively but don't turn yourself into machine with calculated strategies in cram-schools. As a teacher, I aim at extraordinary.

"They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? - - Carpe - - hear it? - - Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary" - Keating

2. Continue with How

If you follow my blog long enough, you may know Make it stick, a simple book can help you learn and remember anything through spaced repetition and active recall. During this semester, you are expected to have at least 4 mini tests. I will make the process enduring enough for you to remember things better.

You can also write a journal on learning (economics). This is your independent study. You can share with me if you want. Sometimes I feel it hard to understand you, my students. We are a decade apart. Let alone, I was born in different settings. I want us to understand each other. I can be like Erin in Freedom Writer (2007) or Louanne from Dangerous Minds (1995) playing rap music to you. In fact, I'm big fan of Rap Viet so it would be easy. I, however, believe there is something deeper beneath the water. So let us understand each other through writings.

In 2020, I attended PEN (Pioneer Teaching Network) and learnt the new concept of "deep learning". My teaching activities are designed in DoK (Depth of knowledge) framework.

Source: Edmentum

In my Microeconomics class, activities in different DoK levels can be:

  1. Level 1 - to recall your lectures and textbooks (i.e. True/False, Define). For example, test question on recalling the definition of market economy?

  2. Level 2 - to solve textbook problems. For example, exam exercise requires you to calculate the quantity that maximize Firm X's profit?

  3. Level 3 - to apply what you have learnt in realities. For example, case study ask you to explain why the elderlies pay higher insurance premium?

  4. Level 4 - to present your own research and experiment.

This highest level of knowledge requires you to think on your feet. In class, it can be something very hypothetical like "What will Adam Smith tweet on Trump's last day of presidency?".

For assignment, I will require you to lead your own project/ experiment / or research on economics and present it in front of our class. It will be hard to you, especially first year student. But hey, nothing good in life comes easy.

I also want to remind you the importance of good attitudes. To be a winer, act like winer. Sit in frontlines. Raise your hands. Challenge your teachers (in this case, me!). Be punctual. I won't be like Coach Carter (2005) asking to do push-ups once you are late. You will lose my respect and part of my lectures. To me, it was enough of a punishment.

Finally, success, like everything good in this world, requires time and effort. Remember Gladwell's rule: To get good at any field, "you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good". Don't expect an A just 2 weeks of cramming or 2 days at cram-schools. Learning is a progress. It is a journey that one should travel with sweat and perseverance.

3. Pass it on

“Pass the parcel. That's sometimes all you can do. Take it, feel it and pass it on. Not for me, not for you, but for someone, somewhere, one day. Pass it on, boys. That's the game I want you to learn. Pass it on.” - Hector in History Boys
Knowledge is contagious. So pass it on! Your knowledge, your passion, and the attitudes of learning. Today, 100 students in this class. Tomorrow, millions people have their lives changed because you met them. Just like Admiral William H. McRaven once said:
That great paragon of analytical rigor, Ask.Com, says that the average American will meet 10,000 people in their lifetime. That’s a lot of folks. But, if every one of you changed the lives of just 10 people — and each one of those folks changed the lives of another 10 people — just 10 — then in five generations — 125 years — the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people (Admiral William H. McRaven)

So learn and pass it on!

Movies mentioned (and highly recommended)

  • Coach Carter (2005)

  • History Boys (2006)

  • Freedom Writers (2007)

  • Dangerous Minds (1995)

  • Dead Poets Society (1989)

Honourable Mentions

  • The Great Debaters (2007)

  • Thao's Library (2015)

  • Whiplash (2014)

  • Thầy cô chúng ta đã thay đổi (2017)

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