"Audible" review; Or, A Lesson in Showing, Not Just Telling
I am a huge fan of Oscars season because the nominations motivate me to watch films I wouldn’t normally seek out. This year, a Netflix short subject documentary, Audible, got a nod, so I followed my “I-Want-To-See-All-The-Nominees-Before-The-Show” excitement and got to watching. The summary of Audible from the Netflix website is: “Shaken by a friend’s suicide, a Deaf high school football player copes with family and relationships while anticipating his final homecoming game.” This description seems interesting enough. Netflix, after all, did have last year's Oscar-winning Feature Documentary, My Octopus Teacher, so their documentaries can be trusted. (My Octopus Teacher is an outstanding documentary, by the way).
Being a high school story, I figured I’d be able to predict the arc of the thirty-eight minute story, find some of the characters similar to my students, and enjoy that Netflix is giving representation to our Deaf community. However, I was affected not just by how rich the storytelling is, but how simply nuanced the through line of the film is woven. This film literally has all the themes the majority of my students go through: suicide, queer identity, broken families, abandonment, athletic competition, gender roles and expectations, teen romance, and a slew of others found in the familiar High School experience.
Pedagogically, the film is a sterling example of show-not-tell. The filmmakers and featured football star, Amaree McKenstry-Hall, don’t waste a moment showing the audience how this life, these struggles, the successes are all part of strength, growing empathy and, most importantly, how showing stories can be powerful for the adults teaching our students and running our schools.
Show, not tell. Lecture, direct instruction, even podcasts can be valuable methods for delivering the information students need to know in order to bridge the gap between pre-existing knowledge and state standard content. However, a more significant impact is made when students are shown what the content looks like, a real-world example, for instance. After all, their real-life experiences are certainly felt and shown, not just told. There is a time and place for showing and telling, to be sure. Our elementary schools have finessed this into a growing activity so students can get to know each other while developing the soft skill of public speaking. I employ show-and-tells with my students several times per semester without drawing attention to it. Audible wasn’t a tell though, and it wasn’t assigned reading or a rubric-based assessment for me; I was just interested in watching the Oscar nominees. I didn’t think it would be a story I desperately needed to see.
Perhaps it’s time for me to take a step back from all the graded assignments and tells and embrace the authentic experience of allowing my students to show their knowledge, and I show mine. Audible may or may not win the Oscar, and that’s out of my control. Even if it loses, it still made the impact. Even if the student’s work isn’t graded, it’s still their experience. They still delivered it, they still lived it, and now it’s been shown and shared, and we're better off by having that experience.