Open Thinkering


5 things School of Rock can teach us about real education

School of Rock

I watched School of Rock a couple of nights ago. Unbelievably, given that I absolutely love High Fidelity – which stars Jack Black in a somewhat similar role – I’d never seen it before. The film was great and I really enjoyed it; I also thought it gave some pointers as to what real learning experiences should look like.

Obviously, I don’t think that it’s acceptable for substitute teachers(or ‘supply’ teachers as we call them over here) to be unchecked and do whatever they want in the classroom. It’s not that aspect I think is laudable. Instead, it’s the following

  1. Project-based learning – the students in School of Rock work on one big project. If this was organised by a qualified teacher, department or faculty, then this could incorporate many different skills rather than trying to teach skills and content separately.
  2. Drawing out students’ talents – At first some of the students seem to be given roles that are an after-thought, ones which are not important. However, the students grow into these roles and make them their own. For example, the student who produces a lighting show is amazingly talented – but would never have had the opportunity to discover this if it wasn’t for the project.
  3. Developing confidence – The system of gold stars and receiving grades for each piece of work keeps students in their seats and keeps them well-disciplined in the film. This is necessary in some schools where students have very disorganised and fragmentary home lives. However, in most schools students need creative freedom and the opportunity to work to their strengths, building confidence in their own ability.
  4. Teamwork – Instead of working individually (or nominally in pairs), students in School of Rock had to depend on one another. They were all vitally involved towards the same end which made them seem valued and developed their interpersonal skills.
  5. Real-world experiences – The students work towards something called Battle of the Bands. Although the students do not win this competition, the experience of playing in front of a live audience and showing their parents what they have been up is invaluable. This made me think of students publishing their work for bigger audiences through blog posts, YouTube videos, etc.

Which films have you seen that you think relate to education?

12 thoughts on “5 things School of Rock can teach us about real education

  1. Like you, I saw School of Rock for the first time when it was shown on TV this week. I enjoyed it and related to Black’s teaching style: a good deal of ad hoc about it! The most relevant thing for me was the reminder that the best teaching takes place when (as discussed in another recent report, see Adam Sutcliffe’s post here) the teacher is given autonomy in the classroom. Add to that, that the teacher takes creatively subversive risks, or at least moves out of his comfort zone, and you have the potential for some truly brilliant learning experiences.

    I rather like the Harry Potter movies, too: I do try to model myself on Snape whenever the opportunity presents itself. And speaking of Alan Rickman, there’s some great ideas for the classroom in this.

  2. It’s funny to think about School of Rock as inspiration for the classroom.

    BUT, in the week after a long poetry unit with my sixth graders, I switch to teaching songwriting — we look at recent pop and rock songs and talk about them, and then they have to write a missing verse from one of my songs. It’s just one stanza.
    But, then, I bring in my electric guitar, amplifier, and set up the school PA system in my classroom, and I have my drum machine, and they come up and sing with me.

    Most definitely connect with the experience and some (less now, as years go on) say, We’re doing School of Rock!

    It’s a nice way to engage them as writers and performers.


  3. I've organized and performed in similar concert setups at my school, and I can't stress enough how much this does for students' self-esteem. I've had some kids perform who were very unmotivated and very withdrawn in school, but who come out of their shells with a guitar in their hands. It's so gratifying to see these kids get showered with praise by their teachers, which is something that never happens in the classroom for many of them.

    I've also had parents tell me that they can see the difference in how their children conduct themselves at home – more confident, more outgoing, etc. – after being a part of these shows. Impact of speaking to multiple intelligences and all that…

    I understand the point of the post was drawing out bigger-picture lessons, but I felt I needed to advocate for the rock as well. ;-) (wish there was an emoticon for a face melted by a face-melting solo)

  4. Very interesting observations on a fun feelgood film. I’m very lucky to be involved in a ‘Smart’ programme in my school where we focus on skills 8 lessons a fortnight w/ a y7 form.

    I recently did ‘Music Smart’ and did a mini take on the ‘school of rock’ or ‘Eurovision’ called ‘A Song for Smart’.

    Pupils worked together in groups to create a song based on their experiences in the subject so far. They then had to sing together…it proved very surprising….a lot of pupils exceeded my expectations and then some.

    I expect the next step where they create instruments and put music to the winning song to be AS surprising!

  5. Gulp. Just seeing my name mentioned in a comment makes me quiver. I too had similar thoughts when I first saw the film. I think students react well when there is an element of "risk" in thje classroom. On a couple of occasions I have had kids get out and use their phones in class to to record or share resources (bluetooth). There was definately a frisson amongst the students about explicitly doing something they really weren't supposed to, but with the backing of the teacher.
    Ewan McIntosh recently twittered a question about whether it was ethically correct to use phones in a class when the school rules forbade their presence. I felt I could justify their use as they helped to achieve an educational goal.

  6. I love school of Rock! The other film that I really like (with an educational twist) is Coach Carter. I particularly like it as its based on a true story.

  7. Haven’t seen School of Rock but the 5 ‘lessons’ make perfect sense!

    I’d cite Kindergarten Cop – the use of a whistle, structure and marching with small children is unrated! Seriously, in my experience, kids like to know where they are with you and a bit of structure is the basis for ad hoc creative subversion.

  8. I'm glad you can all see what I saw in School of Rock! :-)

    @Nick: Thanks for the links! And you're absolutely right about teacher autonomy. There's not enough of it, which de-professionalizes us all. :-(

    @Ollie: I wanted to see Coach Carter when it was on the other day but missed it. I shall have to rent it. :-)

    @Adam: Mobile phone policies are the bane of my life. I've got into trouble before for 'undermining other staff'…

  9. Not based on the film (which I love) but this is based on a similar set of ideas to those which Doug has identified:

    Apologies for posting a boring (and long) lesson plan but I thought it may be handy to put something on here that shows how this sort of idea can be put together in a pedagogically sound manner. Students react extremely well to having creativity and personal expression embedded into their learning. The outcomes of that series of lessons was a Radio programme recorded and aired by a local station. Link to a recording of the programme if anyone is interested is

  10. Its great to see something being done, but, our issues fidelity 401k are too large to fix. I think we have several more years of this before things turn around.

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