Why binge-watching TV could actually help your teaching

Deep into her summer Netflix binge, Sarah Simons realised that a universal love of TV is the perfect bridge to learning

Why a TV binge might be more educational than you think

Who’s doing the box-set binge over the summer? I am! I am! Oh, it’s glorious.

I'm almost pleased that it’s binned it down outside for over a week, as I don’t even have to administer a self-bollocking about fresh air or making the most of the sunshine. Nah mate. Massive cup of coffee, sack of Malteasers and non-stop telly.

I've Glowed, Crowned and Schitt's Creeked my way through the week. I'm currently up to my neck in Orange is The New Black. If you're a Netflix aficionado like me, you’ll know that if it gets wind that you're in it for the long haul on any given TV series, it gives you the option to "skip intro" as soon as the opening credits start. Hungry for more plot, I’ve "skipped intro" a few times, thinking, "I’m well versed on the theme tune, and can tell you the names of everyone involved, from executive producer to the person who lays on the buffet, so let’s crack on."


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But, I fear it was a false economy. The repetitive routine of the opening leads me by the ear into the world I'm about to inhabit, even if I’ve banked 16 hours in that world already. The closing theme tune is equally important, giving me time to process the unfolding events and mull over the cliff-hanger. It tells us that the story is at an end for now, so we should move on.

When I was at drama school, one of my best pals was sharing his rented accommodation with a load of noisy housemates. A stickler for his kip, he’d established a routine in the house that, strangely, all of his housemates abided by. Being a student house there were a lot of parties, some he was interested in participating in and some he wasn’t.

When it was time for them to "SHUT THE FRIG UP!", rather than storming downstairs like an angry dad, instead he played his closing theme tune, signalling that loud gobs would be at the mercy of his mighty wrath if they continued their clamorous racket. That theme tune was Patrick MacNee and Honour Blackman’s 1964 classic Kinky Boots. Even now, nearly 30 years later, when I hear the opening plinks of that bloody tune I think, ‘Everybody, shhhh.’

I often use an opening theme tune as entrance music for when I’m doing a speaking gig, assuming that it’s the kind of event that will tolerate a bit of whimsy. My entrance music is chosen with care to promote the type of personality I want to project – a bit middle-aged, a bit Lakeland, a bit Clarks shoes. My opening theme is borrowed from the early Eighties sitcom Terry and June. What’s that, young people? Never heard of it? Oh just bob it through the Google, dears.

Of course my enthusiasm for projecting this homely image also has a hidden agenda. If through music, appearance and choice of language we all tacitly agree that I'm a safe, non-threatening, steep-bosomed matron type, I can then trot out material that would make Frankie Boyle blush and no one twigs on. They might do now…

Bringing the box into learning

Use of norms that seep in through the telly box can create routine in the classroom too, though my telly metaphor piece de resistance happened only last term.

Week after week in my functional skills English sessions I’d tried to break down sentence structure. My adults, all working at entry level, were really struggling with creating a basic compound sentence.

Some couldn't move past a series of very short simple sentences in written work, which made their continuous prose seem stilted and abrupt. Some started a sentence and ended it two pages later, unable to grasp the recipe that I wanted them to follow: simple sentence/conjunction/simple sentence.

They were really clear on what each element meant – we’d made conjunction art and stuck it on the walls, we’d paired simple sentences on similar topics. Oh we’d done all sorts of activities to try and pin down the sentence structure that would transform their written work: pictionary, dominoes, bingo, charades, even the dreaded worksheets.

Then, during the class, one of ‘em started musing over last night’s episode of Emmerdale, a programme of which it seemed everyone in the group was a fan, and I had a brain wave…

I asked: “How long is Emmerdale?’

They said: “30 minutes.”

I asked: “Does anything break it up or it it 30 minutes straight?”

They said: “Yes, the adverts in the middle.”

And there we had it. 

Emmerdale part 1 = simple sentence 1

Adverts = conjunction (joining part 1 and 2 together)

Emmerdale part 2 = simple sentence 2

It finally made sense to them, Emmerdale was the entire compound sentence. And from then on, everyone’s continuous prose was greatly improved.

Right, enough of this. Stop distracting me with education-based thought. The ladies of Litchfield Correctional Institution are calling.

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons

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