Relevance – the 4th ‘R’

Welcome to the Labragirl Film Project’s weekly film literacy discussion. Every Monday morning Labragirl provides a resource, activity, or methodological discussion to help incorporate film analysis into your classroom.

Last week we combined beginning film production skills with beginning film literacy skills.

This week we are grateful to have media literacy professional Greg Williams as a guest blogger.

Greg is graduating from Brigham Young University this month with a BA in Media Arts Studies (film) and a minor in English. Post graduation plans include going to Tulsa, OK to work in a k-12 school with Teach For America, blogging and writing about media literacy, and learning how to be a good father. He is leading a team of innovators on a project to create a website where teachers and educators can share and find popular culture clips to use in their lesson plans. Greg loves creating and critiquing films, reading, hiking in Utah’s stunning national parks, and spending time with family.”

Greg’s blog, The Relevant Classroom can be found here

You can also follow Greg on:  and !

Please comment below or discuss with us on 


Relevance – the 4th ‘R’

Gregg Williams - A media literacy professional and author of the Relevant Classroom.

Gregg Williams – A media literacy professional and author of the Relevant Classroom.

Relevance has and will continue to be an important quality to understand and promote in learning centers around the world. “Think of it as the fourth R”, encourages Daniel Pink in his bestseller Drive, “Reading, writing, arithmetic and . . . relevance.” We need to focus on the idea that students obtain more knowledge and retain further information when they actively participate in the learning process and when they can relate to what is being taught (Akey, 2006).  Amongst all the hype and contention over issues such as high-stakes testing or teacher evaluations the necessity of relevance and the student experience itself is often left out.

Relevance Blog Image

Image by Andrew Langendorfer – Click on image for source info.

Indeed one reason students fail or are disinterested is because they don’t see the connection between today’s lesson and what they really want to do someday. The more we can close that gap – to illustrate classroom relevance to their world – the better we can engage students and keep their interest (Masters, 2009). Many different methods and pedagogies have developed from this need for relevance in education, including project and problem-based learning. Using movie clips and other aspects of media literacy, however, has largely gone untapped as an important paradigm that can greatly strengthen students’ yearning for relevance and meaning in the classroom.

Why Film?

Using film in the classroom effectively can increase relevance and student motivation in at least two ways. First, film and forms of pop culture can be connected to just about every subject there currently taught, and second, using media clips empowers students outside of formal learning environments.

1) Film can be used for a variety of subjects even when it gets it wrong.

Perhaps you are thinking that showing a clip from a film in your class will be a waste of time or will distract students from your lesson objectives. While this can be true in some circumstances, it really depends on you as the teacher. I still remember a lesson from my freshman year in high school where we learned about balancing equations in Pre-Algebra. Why do I remember it? My teacher showed us a clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and then led a constructive conversation about balance and its application to math. It became more relevant to me! Though I remember little about the rest of the curriculum for that year, the connection and motivation from that one clip is still with me.

In middle school we watched Pocahontas and my teacher helped us understand the historical inaccuracies and why the filmmakers may have presented the film in the way they did. The media doesn’t have to be correct for you to show it (indeed it rarely will be), but it is important for you to discuss with your students what they are seeing and where the connections are. Writer and former educator Mark Phillips explained, “Film can be used as a culminating experience to summarize a unit or lesson. It can be studied as an art form. Short films designed to teach a concept or skill, especially in a subject like physical education, can be very useful. Developing students’ critical consciousness of visual media should be a major part of every school’s curriculum.”

2) Using film and other popular culture resources in your classroom empowers students to learn outside of class.

I agree with teacher and researcher Renee Hobbes when she stated,

Teachers who have used popular works in the classroom know that such works can generate some remarkable, vigorous, and sophisticated reasoning, rich conversations, and dynamic writing from young people . . . It’s a transformative experience for a young person to discover that the same skills used to discuss The Tempest can be applied to an episode of “The Wonder Years.” Students who discover this in a powerful way chant a mantra that many teachers who employ media literacy have heard frequently: ‘I’ll never watch TV the same way again!” (Hobbes, 1998).

As you show and discuss clips, students will begin to see that the world around them – the very same world that they turn to for entertainment and “non-school stuff” –in a new light. As a nation do we really think we can nurture a new generation of STEM students by feeding them tests and banal worksheets? Not to mention other fields such as the humanities and business.

The Bottom Line

With education being at the center of many debates, there are multitudes of issues in the air. Though we may be unsure of vouchers or the role of public school, technology integration and classroom sizes, one thing everyone ought to understand and rally around is the idea that students need to understand the relevance of learning in their own lives. As we move toward using film and other multimedia effectively in the classroom we can increase student motivation in all subjects, and empower young people to learn outside of formal education.



Akey, T. M. (2006, January). School context, student attitudes and behavior, and academic achievement: An exploratory analysis. New York: MDRC. Retrieved April 6, 2012, from

Hobbs, Renée. “The Simpsons Meet Mark Twain: Analyzing Popular Media Texts in the Classroom.” The English Journal, 87.1 (1998), pp. 49-51.

Masters, Andy. “4 Ways to Engage Today’s Generation of Students.” Techniques (AECT) 84.3 (2009): 8-9. Print.

We’d love to hear from you. Please comment below or discuss with us on .

*Disclaimer: All movie & television clips are suggestions for class use, only. All instructors should screen clips to determine if they are appropriate to use in their classrooms. 


UP NEXT 4/29: A Film literacy resource suggestion

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Previous Blog Entries

Making Film I

Talking Film I

Downton Abbey in Your Class #1 – Roll Sound!

Reading Film

Fictional Projections of History

Think Globally Using Film

Our Relationship with Movies

Moving Past Historical Accuracy

Images Telling Stories

Film Shaping History

Think Film Images


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