Wednesday, January 11, 2012

TOS Review: Z-Guide to Movies

One of my favorite ways to change up school is to use a movie to introduce, supplement or substitute for a literary work.  Here's why --
  • Well-made movies help students visualize the time period you are studying.
  • Movies that stay true to the text can offer a quick substitute - or just a great introduction - for a long piece of literature if your student is not a 'reader'.  Some literature teachers say using a movie to introduce literary concepts such as theme and metaphor is helpful for visual learners and/or weak readers (and I know this by experience).
  • Movies are a great way to engage the entire family in schoolwork.
  • Movies just make a nice break for a rainy afternoon! 
To make the most use of a movie in your school, a study guide is really helpful.  Not to mention that it takes a huge burden off the mom!    That is why I was so excited to be chosen to receive a Z-Guide to the Movies this year.

Zeezok Publishing produces an extensive line of study guides for movies that correlate to historical periods.   They truly do take the work out of incorporating movies into your school and the writers have been careful to include activities for a wide range of learning styles.

  • Each guide starts with topic overview for the historical period and a movie synopsis. This helps set the stage for the movie itself and also employs a great educational technique of framing questions before engaging in the learning activity itself.
  • The first learning activity is a fill-in-the-blank review guide.  The publisher suggests completing this guide as you view the movie (This is sometimes a hard sell for me, because the family just wants to watch the movie uninterrupted.  My suggestion keep control of the remote and say up front you are going to be practicing "active viewing".   I have resorted to watching the movie and then filling in the review guide as a family discussion afterward).
  • The second activity involves historical perspective and includes research and writing activities.
  • A hands-on learning guide follows to engage the active learners.
  • Next comes the World View activity which I have found the most useful part of Z-Guides.  The focus is on helping the student discern the world view of the movie's creator.  As far as I am concerned this is the most important skill we cover in using any media in our homeschool.
  • Closely related to World View, is the Film-maker's Art activity which helps the student notice and understand "filming techniques, music, lighting, humor, character development, irony, foreshadowing, and even character names are used by the director and producer to influence the viewer to get their agenda across,"  I love what the author's intention is with this activity:
We want the student to be able to discern not only the agenda of the movie, but also how they are being influenced by it. The goal is that when the student goes to the theatre and watches Harry Potter or Avatar or Happy Feet, he walks out not thinking it was an entertaining movie, but understanding the bigger message behind each film.

The suggested pace of using the Z-Guide is two activities per day.  This means that the movie guide makes a great one week 'mini-unit'.

Because we are currently in the Middle Ages history-wise, I chose the movie Luther for our review product.  There are more than one version of this movie, but the Z-Guide includes the details of the version for which the guide was  written directly on the cover.   This makes it easy to search for the right movie through your preferred provider  (we use Netflix but there are other options).

This is a guide developed for high school level students.  All Z-Guide to the Movies books give a suggested age group.   Parents know their own children and can choose within those suggestions to suit their own purposes.  However, with the Luther Z-Guide I feel the level is definitely at least advanced Junior High and average high school.

Can I just say that I think this particular Z-Guide is one of the best I have seen (I've reviewed one and looked at several others at a conference).  I've seen some variability between the guides I've looked at, although I think they all are good and valuable.  However the focus and depth of this particular guide totally suited my goals for studying this time period and topic: Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.  

I found that I could substitute a week's work of our Tapestry of Grace outline with this movie.   There was plenty of research based work for my student to do on related topics to cover everything TOG covered for those topics.   My student not only looked at the theological discord that led Luther into this confrontation with the Catholic Church, but it brought in other reformers in the Reformed Movement and the influence of the movement on art, science, politics and society.

It was so easy to print off the guide, hand it to my student and just keep track of their progress.  Each of the assignments my student was to complete had a grading scale and the teacher's guide included answers (in case I was wondering or didn't have time to do the research myself).  

The hand's on activities in our Z-Guide was a word search.  I don't love word searches but my daughter enjoyed it during a moment of boredom.  The other activities were artistic in nature -- drawing a cartoon like Luther's and creating a relic.  We were pushed for time and didn't do these before the review was due, but I think that was a mistake and wish I'd don't deleted them.  I think the inclusion of hands-on activities is important if your child is a visual or active learner (so just call me a bad mom!)

Who would be interested in this product?

Frankly, there is a Z-Guide to the Movies for every homeschool!  There are more guides for high school level topics, but I did notice that several of the movies had both a high school and a younger grade version.  Several elementary guides cover some of the popular children's movies:  i.e.  Kit Kitteredge,etc. 

Z-Guides seem especially suited to family study or co-ops, especially the discussion that is stimulated on various topics.    If you plan to use the Z-Guide with a co-op please note that a special licensing version is required.

Parents who are pushed for time or have a life-distraction going on will appreciate the independent nature of this unit study. I most often encourage watching the movie "after" reading the book -- but in some cases I think the movie makes a great substitution.

Here is a partial list of my personal recommendations for movies that have Z-Guides:
The Hiding Place (WWII)
Flyboys (WWI)
Sergeant York (WWI)
Boy in the Striped Pajamas  (WWII)
Father Goose (WWII) -- really)a fun movie that introduces some lesser explored topics of this war
Mr Smith Goes to Washington
To Kill A Mockingbird  - this is a classic movie which stays true to the classic book, highly recommend watching it after reading the book and compare how the author and director use their media to portray mood and tone in the story
My Side of the Mountain
Driving Miss Daisy (if you really want to understand racial tension in the south of the 20th century - heartwarming)

OK!! This is getting too long -- I'll save the (rest of the) list for a separate post.  However, I hope you can see the value of this product and will check out at least one movie for your homeschool study - or just for some learning fun. 

Z-Guides are sold for $12.99 through the author's website.  Group licensing is $49.99.  This is an electronic product in either download for CD form.  I have seen physical products from this publisher at a homeschool conference but they didn't appear on the website.   If you cannot rent or get the movie from your library, it is available for purchase from ZeeZok as well.

Be sure to look around the website at the other fine products ZeeZok is bringing to the homeschool community.

As always, "you don't have to take my word for it!"  Check out the Crew blog for a summary review and individual reviews by other moms - with different age children - on different movies.  

PO Box 1960 • Elyria, Ohio 44036-1960
Toll free (800)749-1681 •

As part of the TOS Review Crew I received an electronically downloaded copy of this movie guide in order to use it in my homeschool and write about our experience.  All of the opinions expressed here are my own and I did got receive any payment for this review from either TOS or the publisher.

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