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Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

History in the Real World: A Documentary Filmmaker

Follow documentarian Laurens Grant as she develops a new film on the history of the Black Panther Party.

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The Real World videos in the Reading and Writing in the Disciplines course support teachers’ daily efforts to effectively teach students using the Common Core State Standards as benchmarks for success. Through stories of professionals working toward social justice in different disciplines, these videos can serve as a tool for showing students the role that literacy plays in mathematics, science, history, and the English language arts in creating dynamic career paths. When students ask how these core discipline areas are relevant to their lives, this video series presents passionate professionals as career role models who are making a positive difference in the world. From the development of technical, social, and critical thinking skills to the advancement of social justice and community development, the videos will benefit both students’ professional and personal development.

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts

Concepts from the grades 6–12 standards highlighted in this video include:

  • Key Ideas and Details: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions. Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts). Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts. Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a ­­text. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.
  • Craft and Structure: Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually and quantitatively as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

In the Classroom

This video demonstrates the interactive relationship between content knowledge, literacy practices, and social justice action in the workplace. Students often wonder how the work they do at school relates to their own lives and ask questions such as “How is this relevant to my life?” or “How can knowledge of history change the future world?” These videos help students answer these questions and consider the types of careers that will inspire them and perhaps have a positive impact on the world and their community.

Laurens Grant speaks about the positive impact that the preservation of history can have on societies and communities. This video exposes students to the process of documenting history through filmmaking. Teachers can show students the number of people and the amount of research and fact-checking involved in producing a documentary and history-based films. This documentary will educate many people about a period of time and movement that could potentially inspire young people toward community development and have further impact on social justice efforts.

Connections to selected classroom videos (see links below):

The Video

This video follows documentarian Laurens Grant as she develops a new film on the history of the Black Panther Party. This video is a tool for teachers to connect the study of history with young people’s lives and to show students the need to use specialized skills and practices in the areas of reading, writing, research, critical thinking, and interviewing. Grant’s production team engages in the process of creating a documentary and illustrates the necessity of highly developed research, analytical, and literacy skills. Curricular strands in this video include history, civil rights movement, social movements, media, documentary, film, illustration, art, social justice, and community development. Relevant core subjects include social studies, U.S. history, and world history.

“And the literacy aspect is really crucial because, actually, we have over 150 books that we had to source or look through for our film. You need to read them. You need critical thinking skills. I think that is something [that] perhaps is getting a little lost in some of our educational things that are going on; you really, really need to have the basic reading skills, writing skills, and critical thinking skills because it’s history,” says Grant.

This video shows how history can be documented and analyzed through a variety of media and gives students an example of a career track in socially progressive filmmaking. In developing this documentary on the Black Panther Party, Grant seeks to inspire young people to participate in community organizing and explore the professional field of documentary filmmaking. “I’ve been fortunate to work on some amazing historical documentaries, and it’s such an honor to meet actual history makers. Many of them didn’t realize they were making history—they were just living. And it’s exciting to meet them.”

This video shows connections to literacy instruction through its emphasis on writing, interviewing, transcription, and codification. Reading is shown as an integral part of research, source verification, and the analysis of informational text. Communication skill development is highlighted through the importance of listening and the process of film editing to convey a desired meaning.

Suggested questions for viewing the videos with students:

  • What are the reading and writing practices that you see?
  • How do they support and promote the goals of the professional in this video?
  • Who benefits by the use of those practices in the video?

These questions give students the opportunity to see literacy in a real-world context. They become aware of a diverse array of people using a variety of literacy practices. And they can imagine or speculate about their own potential for creating value in the world through their literacy practices.

Social Justice Education Reference Texts

  • Rethinking Popular Culture and Media by Elizabeth Marshall and Ozlem Sensoy
  • A People’s History for the Classroom by Bill Bigelow
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire

Series Directory

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines


Produced by WGBH Educational Foundation. 2015.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-906-4