Academic journal article English Journal

Teaching with and about Sports-Based Documentary Films to Address Core Standards

Academic journal article English Journal

Teaching with and about Sports-Based Documentary Films to Address Core Standards

Article excerpt

hough I consider myself a sports fan, the athletic prowess of US cyclist Lance Armstrong did not draw me to the sport of competitive cycling. Rather, I was riveted by Armstrong's journey, which saw him rise from battling testicular cancer to win- ning the Tour de France seven consecutive times before admitting to taking performance-enhancing drugs to gain a competitive advantage. Though Armstrong's physical feats were impressive, they never captured my attention the way his odyssey did. My interest was piqued by the larger questions his saga raised: What does it really take to overcome adversity? What price am I willing to pay for glory?

My fleeting interest in competitive cycling re- minds me that athletic endeavors are not the sports world's only draw. Often, the stories of embattled figures and the universal themes that swirl around the arena are most inviting. Such stories make for compelling reading (i.e., "listening and viewing in addition to print-oriented reading," as defined by IRA/NCTE [2]), and they have much to contribute to the English language arts (ELA) curriculum in the present day, a time marked by the emergence of national content area standards.

Inspired by Leslie David Burns and Stergios G. Botzakis's efforts to demonstrate how texts recog- nized as exemplars by the Common Core State Stan- dards could be used to address national standards and meet the needs of contemporary students, I aim to illustrate how alternative nonfiction, nonprint texts-sports-based documentary films-could be used to address national standards while also hon- oring students' interests in popular cultures. The activities presented in this article model ways that teachers can account for national standards while carrying out research-based teaching practices. The suggested activities are affirmed by research related to (a) helping students develop more sophisticated understandings of composition involving multiple semiotic systems (Hobbs, Reading) and (b) enhanc- ing students' literacy practices by recognizing the centrality of popular cultures-including sports culture-in the lives of youth (Morrell).

Bigger, Stronger, Faster* as a Core Text

This article features Bigger, Stronger, Faster*, a docu- mentary film released with a PG-13 rating in 2008, to illustrate how sports-based documentaries can be used to embellish students' literacy practices while accounting for Common Core State Standards in the ELA classroom. Christopher Bell, the film's di- rector, investigates the use of anabolic steroids in the United States by examining his siblings, each an admitted steroid user, and the muscle-bound heroes of his youth (e.g., former bodybuilder/actor/ politician Arnold Schwarzenegger and professional wrestler Hulk Hogan). In the process, Bell weaves together varied perspectives on steroid use, includ- ing those offered by US congressmen, professional athletes, amateur bodybuilders, doctors, and law- yers. Beyond interrogating the steroid subculture in the United States, Bell questions the values of a nation that, much like the aforementioned Lance Armstrong, seems obsessed with achieving victory by any means necessary. Ultimately, the film proves to be more than just a viewpoint on steroid usage; like a popular novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the film also tackles the moral complexity inherent in the relentless pursuit of the Amer- ican Dream.

In the secondary classroom, sports-based documentary films such as Bigger, Stronger, Faster* pro- vide teachers with opportunities to engage students in the study of multimodal composition. The film is a complex nonfiction text that, given the director's careful selection and editing of artifacts, audio, interviews, images, and ar- chival footage, presents a compel- ling look at American culture in the modern day. Additionally, the study of sports- based documentaries such as Bigger, Stronger, Faster* honors the place of popular cultures, and specifically sports culture, in students' lives. …

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