Every fall one of the first units I teach is on personal history. I camouflage it pretty well by introducing it with this film, _Antwone Fisher_. The film is based on the autobiography of Antwone Fisher, and portrays the struggles of a young man learning to deal with a painful past to prevent it from continuing to negatively impact his present and future. It’s also Denzel Washington’s directorial debut.
The story and the acting are solid—even if some of the subject matter is heavy and the language isn’t always very school-friendly. My view is that the value of the narrative and lessons to be learned far outweigh any offense a student or other viewer may take from the expletives in the dialogue. I use the film as a tool for students to get students thinking about a few things: 1) Everyone has had (or will have) painful life experiences; 2) Some people’s experiences (perhaps classmates’) has been really rough; 3) the past influences the present and the future; 4) our own past experiences can shape who we are, both negatively and positively; 5) our past can influence who we become individually and collectively; 6) history is not just on the pages of a textbook—it’s everywhere, including our own personal memories.
While watching the film students answer a series of comprehension, predictive, and analytical questions related to film. Many of the questions relate to or reinforce ELA standards, as well. We discuss the plot, characters and character development, the setting, and key events. Analyzing important events leads us to make a timeline of Antwone’s life, which is guided practice for the next assignment: a project in which students construct their own personal history timelines.
I’ve found that screening the film in class helps a lot of kids drop their barriers (against me, their classmates, and history class), understand where I’m coming as their teacher, and helps them start to open up a bit to me—which allows me to get to know them as people and continue the process of building rapport and developing classroom culture.
If you’re interested in my film questions or the personal history timeline assignment, shoot me an email.