How do we encourage our students to care about the veracity of the narratives they consume on the web? One way to address this gap in media literacy skills development is to use documentary film to teach students how stories are intentionally crafted to persuade viewers to think, feel and ultimately, agree with the director’s point of view.

The Docs for Schools program offers film from many perspectives. The Docs for Schools Today site offers programming with subject headings: Being Black in Canada, Indigenous, Environment and Voices to Hear, to name a few.

Teachers are encouraged to preview each film to determine the appropriateness of the content for their students. Each film offered in the specialized programming is accompanied by an indepth high quality teacher’s guide, written by educators.

The educational resources include summaries of the film, biographies of the filmmakers, activities for pre-viewing, viewing and post-viewing for students to utilize their prior knowledge and engage deeply with the content. The educational resource also provides vetted websites and online resources to further investigate, including quotations from the film to explore and a culminating activity. A notable media literacy resource is the Hot Docs’ Looking at Documentaries: A teaching guide that sets out questions designed to help teachers include the study of documentary film in their curriculum. It is crucial when watching documentaries to be aware of the intentions of the filmmaker and to test their ability to convince you of the truth they are trying to convey. Students are also encouraged to think critically about the ethical implications of how the director portrays their subjects and how they are represented in the films they make.

In my opinion, teaching students to be deeply skeptical of media products is imperative to preserving our democracy in a time when intentional disinformation is being used to undermine the truth.

For more information on resources from Hot Docs check out our article in the February 2022 edition of Salon

Sarah Murray, Teacher-Librarian Immaculata High School, Ottawa