IU IST P540 - Final Paper - Movie Review

 

P540 – Spring 2006

Jennifer Maddrell

Submitted: April 24, 2006

Indiana University / Instructor: Bonk

 

The movies reviewed for this project are To Sir, with Love (TSWL) and Good Will Hunting (GWH). On the surface, these movies appear to be very different. The time period (1960’s versus 1990’s), setting (high school versus therapist’s office) and relationship between the central characters (student / teacher versus therapist / patient) are all different. However, the movies share many common themes.

At the beginning of both movies, the central characters are struggling with their development into adulthood. Both the high school students (in TSWL) and Will (in GWH) are rebellious, they lack motivation, and they are not interested in participating in the learning and growth process that will help them to achieve their full potential. However, in both films, the characters experience significant development and personal growth. In the process, they learn about themselves and the world around them. “Learning” within both of these movies includes the personal growth that is achieved by the central characters at the end of each movie.

This growth is facilitated by caring adults, including a wonderful teacher (Mr. Thackeray in TSWL) and a caring therapist (Sean in GWH). Both Mr. Thackeray and Sean work closely with the young people to address the factors that are impeding their growth. Mr. Thackeray attacks the learning setting within the high school classroom. He makes changes in both his teaching style and within the classroom that foster increased motivation in the students. In contrast, Sean attacks the impact of a long history of abuse in Will’s past. Through the process, both the students and Will develop confidence in their abilities. By the end of each film, the students and Will head into their lives with the capacity to take on new challenges.

The following sections compare important aspects of both films with learning theories and principles from Marcy Driscoll’s Psychology of Learning for Instruction (Third Edition). Aspects of motivation, the impact of punishment (taken to abuse) and the role of a coach / instructor / mentor within the learning process are assessed.

To Sir, with Love: As noted, the students initially lack motivation in TSWL. Many internal and external factors affect the students’ motivation. These factors are compared within the framework of (a) Bandura’s Self-efficacy Beliefs and (b) Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivational Design

(a) Bandura – Self-Efficacy Beliefs: As cited in Driscoll (p. 316), Bandura proposes that a person’s beliefs about the task at hand, as well as the person’s beliefs about his / her ability to succeed in the task, greatly impact motivation and ultimately the likelihood of success or failure at the task. As we see in the beginning of TSWL, the students had poor self-efficacy beliefs which likely contributed to their poor motivation and lack of success in school. However, by the end of the film, there is a shift to more positive self-efficacy beliefs => increased motivation => greater likelihood of success. The following compares aspects of the film with what Bandura considers the four principal sources that affect a person’s self-efficacy beliefs:

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Enactive Mastery Experiences: Self-efficacy beliefs are enhanced when a learner has experienced past success. The students were unable to envision their own success, as they had never seen themselves succeed at anything in school. As one teacher stated in the beginning of the film, “Most students are rejects from other schools.” However, as the students tried new experiences they found they could succeed. In turn, their confidence grew and they were soon open to new experiences.

·

Vicarious Experiences: A turning point in TSWL came as students realized that they could have the same success as their teacher. As he explained his background and what steps he took to succeed in life, they began to see him as a role model. In one scene, a student notes, “You’re like us . . but, not.” This demonstrates that through him, they saw their potential and the ability to rise from their current situation.

·

Verbal Persuasion: Verbal persuasion (hearing that others know you can do it) has a powerful influence on self-efficacy beliefs as seen in several scenes the movies. For example, Mr. Thackeray instilled in the students that they had the power to change the world. While other teachers had talked down to them and considered them“morons”, this teacher convinced them that they possessed the ability to better their position in life. He told the students, “The whole world is waiting for you . . . you are a smash hit.” His positive words encouraged the students to strive to be their best.

·

Physiological States: An example of a poor physiological state hampering self-efficacy beliefs (and ultimately failure in a task) is the gym scene when the boy is prodded to attempt the vault. Throughout the term, the gym teacher labeled the boy the “fat kid” and berated him for being unable to perform well in class. By the time it was his turn to try the vault, he had become convinced of his inability to perform. He was visibly shaken and too scared to try. He was sure he could not clear the vault and ultimately failed in his attempt. The conditions that led to his poor physiological state are an example of what Bandura refers to as “social labeling coordinated with experienced events” (Driscoll, p. 322).

 

(b) Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivational Design: As noted, a turning point in TSWL occurs when Mr. Thackeray makes fundamental changes to both his teaching style and the learning environment. These changes created far more motivated students. His approaches can be compared to the motivational conditions within Keller’s ARCS Model. Keller proposes that the following conditions must be met in order to have a “motivated learner” (Driscoll, p.332). Examples of the changes Mr. Thackeray made to the learning setting are presented within the framework of Keller’s four conditions:

·

A – attention: A pivotal moment in the movie occurred when Mr. Thackeray gained the students’ attention and piqued their curiosity by discarding the text in the trash can. It symbolized “out with the old / in with the new” and signaled that a complete change was coming. In addition, he sustained the students’ attention by continuously engaging the students in whole class debate.

·

R – relevance: At the beginning of the film, the students could not see how the subject matter had any relevance in their lives, hence their complete lack of interest in Mr. Thackeray’s lectures. Mr. Thackeray increased the relevance to the students by opening up the class lectures to debate by asking them what they wanted to talk about, “Whatever you want. Talk about life, survival, death, sex, rebellion, change . . . anything you want.”

·

C – confidence: Mr. Thackeray realized he could increase the students’ confidence by both showing them respect and demanding the same of them. He began to build their confidence by instilling in them his high expectations for their behavior and demeanor. He told them, “You must present yourself well … and treat each person with respect”. As the students saw that they could not only meet his expectations, but also set and live up to their own expectations, their confidence grew and they became far more engaged in school.

·

S – satisfaction: Tied to above, the students experienced tremendous satisfaction in experiencing (for the first time) success in the eyes of their teacher. He challenged them to try their new skills and praised them when they achieved success. As their sense of satisfaction increased, so did their motivation to come to class and participate.

 

Good Will Hunting: In GWH, nature and nurture collide. Will has clearly been blessed by nature with incredible math and science ability. However, after being orphaned, he experienced extreme physical and mental abuse within foster care. When he is discovered by Dr. Lambeau as the “mystery mathematician” who can solve problems, Will must address the adverse affects of the abuse he endured in order to utilize the incredible gifts he possesses. Using several principles within Driscoll, the following examines the effects of the abuse on Will’s behavior, how his sessions with Sean helped him overcome these effects, and why his apprentice relationship with Dr. Lambeau was not successful:

 

(a) Adverse Effects of Punishment: Will exhibited numerous physical and psychological side effects as a result of the punishment and abuse he endured. As Driscoll notes (p. 40), if punishment involves pain, “it can lead to undesirable emotional responses being conditioned” including several of the side effects Will experienced, such as:

·

Aggression and anger: Will’s police record included significant violent acts, including his latest offense, striking an officer, which resulted in jail time. In addition, Will became easily angered when prompted to discuss his past, as he did in scenes with both Skylar and Sean.

·

Avoidance or Escape behavior: Other than his small circle of friends, Will was unable to connect and build meaningful relationships with others. During one therapy session, Sean asked why he had not called Skylar after their initial meeting and Will responded “Why? So, I can find she is boring?” Sean sarcastically retorts, “Super philosophy, Will! You can go through life without knowing anyone.” Through these statements it is clear that Will avoided relationships and pushed people away before they could leave (and hurt) him.

·

Learned helplessness: Driscoll notes that when the punishment cannot be avoided or escaped (as in the case of the constant abuse Will endured at the hand of his foster parent) “passive acceptance” can occur. We see, during one of the final scenes of the movie, that the passive acceptance of his abuse (and identification of it as “his fault”) is a primary source of Will’s inability to build relationships and to seek a challenging career. Will’s breakdown after Sean repeatedly tells him, “It was not your fault” indicates that the years of abuse had the effect of making Will feel he could not open himself up to happiness (and the risk of loss), even though the abuse had ended years earlier.

 

(b) Relationship with Sean vs. Dr. Lambeau: Sean and Dr. Lambeau both strive to have relationships with Will, but Will ultimately rejects Dr. Lambeau’s attempts and opens up to Sean during his therapy sessions. Why is this? Both state that they want to help Will succeed, but Sean’s relationship as a “coach” during Will’s therapy sessions is clearly more successful than Dr. Lambeau’s attempt to be Will’s mentor. The following compares both relationships within in the context of several principles addressed in Driscoll.

·

Sessions with Sean: As cited in Driscoll (p. 255), Vygotsky considered the zone of proximal development to be “those functions that have not yet matured, but are in the process of maturation” which can be compared to the abilities Will is struggling to achieve (such as the ability to build complex relationships and to manage his anger). In addition, the coaching provided by Sean during therapy can be compared to the notion of scaffolding in which Sean acts as a support for Will as he works through his problems. Scaffolding, as presented within Driscoll (p. 257), refers to the support provided to learners as they construct knowledge within the zone of proximal development. Driscoll asserts that, “For instruction to precede development implies that certain types of interaction will be more effective than others in the zone of proximal development.” She highlights several characteristics of successful scaffolding during instruction, which were exhibited by Sean in the movie as he worked with Will. Based on Driscoll’s list, a successful instructor (or coach):

  • Provides guidance required to bridge the gap between their current levels and the desired level, but does not provide information in a one-sided way: While Sean likely understood early on the sources of Will’s problems, Sean continuously challenged Will to come up with his own reasons for his behavior. Further, he challenged Will’s answers if he felt Will was avoiding the real answer. However, Sean did not judge or put forward any one explanation ahead of another.

  • Does not shape to some goal behavior: Unlike Dr. Lambeau, Sean did not have as his goal the desire to shape Will into a math “lab rat”. As Sean told Dr. Lambeau, “Will is a good kid and I won’t let you [mess] him up!” Rather, Sean was driven to help Will sort through his problems and arrive at his own conclusions.

  • Withdraws guidance when student able to perform on own: Once Will came to terms with his problems, Sean ends the sessions.

·

Apprenticeship with Dr. Lambeau: As noted, Dr. Lambeau is the person who discovers Will as the “mystery mathematician” at the beginning of the film. He volunteers to bring Will into an apprenticeship at MIT’s Math Department under his direct guidance as Will’s mentor. Dr. Lambeau considers this Will’s “Golden Opportunity” and he feels Will should appreciate it. However, both the apprenticeship and the relationship did not work. Driscoll cites two potential pitfalls (p. 167) in the mentor / apprenticeship relationship that are present in Will’s relationship with Dr. Lambeau. These factors point to why the apprenticeship with Dr. Lambeau did not work:

  • Involuntary Servitude: Will did not choose be Dr. Lambeau’s apprentice. In addition, Will had no interest in interviewing for the jobs that Dr. Lambeau set up for him. Will had been facing jail time and Dr. Lambeau’s apprenticeship offered a way out of jail. Will expressed his disinterest in the apprenticeship and the positions that Dr. Lambeau arranged when he told Sean that he did not want to “Sit in a room doing long division . . . like a lab rat.”

  • Adversarial relationship: A bond of mutual trust and shared admiration never developed between Will and Dr. Lambeau, as it did between Will and Sean. While Dr. Lambeau stated that his intentions were to “help the boy”, it is apparent his intentions were also for Will to help him further his own legacy. Will rebels with Dr. Lambeau from the start. In contrast to others at MIT, Will is not in awe of Dr. Lambeau’s past awards and notoriety. Further, Will soon realizes that the math problems he finds easy, Dr. Lambeau struggles to solve. This is made painfully evident during one of the most poignant scenes in the movie when Dr. Lambeau scrambles to the floor to recover one of Will’s solutions that Will had defiantly set on fire. Will tells Dr. Lambeau, “Maybe I don’t want to spend my life explaining [this] to you. This is so easy for me . . . I couldn’t sit around and watch you [mess] it up.” Dr. Lambeau replies, “You are right, Will. I can’t do this problem. However, I wish I hadn’t met you, so I didn’t have to watch you throw it all away.”

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Supplement - Role of Instructor: As noted, To Sir, with Love relied heavily on the role of the instructor to facilitate the growth and learning in the students. As a supplement to this review, the chart on the last page compares aspects of Mr. Thackeray’s teaching in TSWL with the recommended “Role of the Instructor” in four of the Learning Theories that are cited in Table 12.1 in Driscoll (p. 417).

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My Husband’s Impressions: I watched both movies with my husband and we have shared our views on the films. His general impressions are remarkably similar to some of the points of comparison to the Driscoll book that I present in this paper. GWH is one our favorite movies of all time (great story, great acting), but my husband struggled to see the film as a movie about “learning”. He saw GWL to be a story about a brilliant (but angry and troubled) kid who is not living up to his potential and needs to pull his life together. Resolution (learning? / growth?, I ask) comes when Will works with a therapist who helps him deal with the abuse from his childhood. In TSWL, my husband noted three important factors that he felt all led to increased student motivation:

1.

The students were allowed to come up with what they wanted to learn. It was effective, because the subject matter was important to them. They worked harder, because it was important to them.

2.

Mr. Thackeray used “real life” problems. The students could relate to it. It was not “forced” in that they were not forced to learn something that they did not want to learn.

3.

Mr. Thackeray adopted an “unconventional” way of teaching that was in contrast to the other teachers who “taught by the book”. It was not just reading a book and taking a test. For example, they took field trips.


Role of Instructor within Learning Theories

(per Driscoll, Table 12.1 – p. 417)

Meaningful Reception

Situated Cognition

Interactional Theories

Constructivism

·

Activate learners’ prior knowledge.

·

Help make meaningful connections to what learner knows.

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Make materials meaningful to the learner.

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Model appropriate practices as a “senior partner” in the learning enterprise.

·

Help learners value participation in a community of practice.

 

·

Involve learners in a process of inquiry and problem solving.

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Engage learners in socially organized labor activities relevant to their culture with learning partners appropriate for the desired goals of instruction.

·

Provide realistic learning environments that challenge learners to identify and solve problems.

·

Support learners’ efforts and encourage them to reflect on the process.

Thackeray’s Role as Instructor within To Sir, with Love

·

Thackeray focused instruction on aspects of “life” that were relevant to the students.

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He built instruction around a base of life skills that they could see around them and that they would use within their lives.

·

He asked students to respond during class debates with examples that the class members had experienced.

·

He addressed any topic that students brought up as long as he could see it was truly important to them.

·

Thackeray modeled desirable behavior by treating the students with respect and demanding that they treat each other the same.

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He encouraged them act with maturity (“Are you a man or a hoodlum?”)

·

He allowed students to benefit from his life experiences by answering their questions about his personal life.

·

He showed them that he had overcome obstacles, as well.

·

Thackeray motivated the students to explore their history and to see how other’s rebelled throughout history on the museum field trip.

·

He used the salad making lesson as an example of the importance of trying new things. As he was mixing in various salad ingredients (some that were new to the students), he told them, “Never be afraid to experiment.”

 

·

Thackeray abandoned the traditional classroom “lecture format”, let the students establish the curriculum

·

As the class debated issues, he challenged and questioned the students’ beliefs about themselves and the world around them

·

He made them think about and appreciate their place within society.