Senna – the lesson plan

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    Prisoner Monkeys

    As some of you probably know, I am a high school teacher. Or, a little more accurately, a student-teacher. But that will change at the end of the year when I graduate from university, and hopefully enter the workforce full-time. In order for that to happen, I have to have an interview with the Department of Education and Training, and if they like what they see, they will offer me a placement in a public school (alternatively, I can go through inverviews with private schools, but there is no centralised system). After asking around, I have found that I get rated on three paramaters, in order of importance: my reports from practical experience placements, my portfolio of work to be presented at the interview, and my university grades.

    My practical reports have all been really good; my supervisors have all noted that they would be willing to trust me with a full load of classes without any need for supervision or any fear that the students would not meet their outcomes. On the other hand, my university grades have all been fairly average; I’m currently sitting on a credit average. This, however, is the least-important aspect of the interview because grades are based on theory essays, and the application of that theory is far more important than two thousand words on strategies to improve the outcomes of indigenous students.

    The area that is causing me a little bit of trouble at the moment is my portfolio. I need to have three units of worked planned out in my chosen subject area, which is English. I currently have two: one for Romeo and Juliet, and another on film, both of which I have taught and both of which have been received really well. But I’m currently a little bit stuck on my third unit, and I’m looking for ideas. Scouring the English syllabus for units that I could do, I have come up with two that potentiall go with. One is on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The other is on biographies as a text type.

    And this is where everything comes together. I’d really like to do the unit on biographies, using the Senna documentary as one that I would show to my students. There is, however, a slight problem. Several, actually. For one, I have not seen the documentary yet. I am not sure when it comes out in Australia, and when it does, my town is unlikely to get it (we’re not even getting Super 8, thank the stars). But my greater concern is whether or not it would be appropriate. We all know Senna dies in the end; that’s not the issue here. The thing is that I’m a dedicated Formula 1 fan, and while the documentary might have meaning to me, there is a question as to whether or not it would be relevant to my students. When the film premiered at Sundance, I was reading reviews that described eighty year-old women who got so heavily engrossed in the story that they were discussing the finer points of mid-season technical rule changes and how those influenced the action on the circuit. That got me excited about the idea of teaching Senna, but I’m still hesitant because of my being so heavily enmeshed in the world of the sport that my enthusiasm for it might not be reciprocated by my students.

    So, do you think Senna would be something that could be taught as an example of a biography to a group of fourteen year-old hormone bombs? Have you had any experiences with anyone who was not a fan of the sport watching the film and responding to it positively? I figure the truest test of this will be showing it to my mother when it comes out on DVD; she can’t stand motorsport because of the sounds. But until then, you guys are my best resource.

    And if I do run with it, I will totally use Keith’s articles on The Making of Senna as a refernce point for students.



    Their enthusiasm will not be the same as yours, for sure. it’s the same as if someone showed you a documentary about, let’s say, Pol Pot, assuming you have no major interest in politics or history of the world. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. You can’t please everyone, so you have to chose someone for your biography example. It might as well be Senna. Remember, it’s the object (in this case, being a bio) that matters, not the subject (being about Senna).

    And yes, Senna is a bio, it has everything a bio should have. Good luck


    Prisoner Monkeys

    I understand that their enthusiasm won’t be the same as mine. I’m not asking for it to be. I’m just wondering if the film is engaging enough that students can get involved in it. I’m willing to bet that none of them will have the faintest clue who Senna was – most of them will have been born after May 1, 1994 – but I’m hoping that at the very least, the majority of them will be interested enough that his death will have some impact. I once read that there will be a sportsman (in any sport) as talented as Muhammad Ali once in every lifetime, as talented as Don Bradman once in a generation, but the odds of another person being as talented as Senna was appearing are so vast they can’t even be computed.

    I don’t actually have to teach the units of work that I provide at the interview, but it’s best that you plan to because new teachers have very few resources to begin with in their first year.



    Interesting. I say go for it! I had to watch a few documentaries in high school, and I can assure you, even if I wasn’t an F1 fan, the subject was less interesting than a legendary racing car driver.



    “I understand that their enthusiasm won’t be the same as mine.”

    Sorry, got fooled by your sentence:

    “I’m still hesitant because of my being so heavily enmeshed in the world of the sport that my enthusiasm for it might not be reciprocated by my students.”

    As for what you’ve read, it’s actually a matter of opinion. For instance, for me the talents of Nadia Comaneci, Miguel Indurain, Usain Bolt, Gabrselassie, Sergey Bubka, Michael Jordan amongst others are way bigger than Senna’s in their respective sports. but who knows? that’s just me saying in result of my personal experiences following sport. One example of this: Before today I never even heard of Don Bradman – cricket is not a popular sport in my part of the world



    I haven’t watched the film yet but every review I’ve read as said that it really appeals to people who had never watched an F1 race before in their lives. The drama, fast cars, good looking lead guy and a tragic end should get them interested and make them want to look deeper into Senna. I think your love of the sport could actually help you as it’s always great to see a bit of passion.

    I also have a clear memeory of what school was like anyway and we absolutely loved any excuse to watch a DVD and put off writing an essay which included watching ‘Snow dogs’ and that was one of the worst films ever made.

    So in short, I think it should get the kids interested enough to watch it through and to want to discuss it or write an essay or whatever you have planned.


    Prisoner Monkeys

    Uh, not an essay. It would be an entire 4-6 weeks’ work. Only the early lessons would revolve around the film because the whole unit would be based on the ideas of a biography as a genre. So it would be important, but not the emphasis.



    I have not seen the film yet, so I don’t know what it’s like. However, if I were in your shoes, I don’t think that I’d opt to teach a class of English students a biography about someone they may not have even heard of. Like you said, most of them weren’t even born.

    And not matter how good the film is, if they have no interest in F1, it’s going to be a pretty big challenge trying to motivate them.

    It’d be like showing me a film about the 1966 World Cup. I have absolutely no interest in football whatsoever, and whilst the film might be very good, I couldn’t write essays or join in conversations about it.



    Senna is an amazing film. I don’t even like Senna and I cried. Mind you, I cried when Fernando lost it in Abu Dhabi.

    But as a high school student, I don’t see why there is anything wrong with showing it to your class, so long as you explain it to them.



    Oh right, I understand now. Sorry about that! I still think it would be a good choice though.



    I think its a great Idea PM, but it might be a bit of a hard task not having seen it yet. I watched it per stream, as I fear it will not come here anytime soon.

    The thing about it is, it mainly tells us a lot about the person of Senna, his beliefs and motivations. And it tells us of this great rivalry he had with Prost. And of how his saga ended.

    It does not show too much of his actual life, nor of how he grew up and went through karting etc. to finally end up in F1 and become that great champion. I don’t know if that would be a disadvantage to using it for the project though.

    As for the quality of the movie. Depending on what age these kids have, I think it is gripping enough to get to anyone. I have yet to hear of people not feeling gripped by it. The music is really good in getting you into it and the cut keeps it flowing.



    Take into consideration that they’ll have to cope with subtitles, as a big part is not spoken in english, if I recall correctly


    Felipe Bomeny

    Okay, here’s the perspecive of a “fourteen year old hormone-bomb”. First of all, I don’t know how the screnario might be in Australia, but in Florida, my friends do not care at all about F1. They do not even like IndyCars or NASCAR, or any form of racing. Last year, my English teacher made the whole class read a memoir of choice and then make an iMoive presentation of the memoir. I did Niki Lauda’s To Hell and Back, and the only comment my peers made were, “Wow, what happened to that dude’s face?”

    Then again, I do not know if your students are into F1 at all. I suppose at my school, people would care if the biography was on some basketball player or football player, because that is what they like.

    I do appreciate your passion for F1, though. I think for your first year, you should go with something safer, like a documentary about Princess Diana, as she has nothing to do with sports and appeals to every age group. That way, you can learn more about your target demographic. I honestly believe you should save Senna for your second year of teaching as by then, you will have already watched it and have benefitted from the experience of your first year teaching a documentary other than Senna.

    Best of luck, PM!



    Speaking as a 16 year old hormone bomb, it is only really when I got into F1 at the end of the 2008 season that I’d had even heard of who Senna was, let alone know how good he was (although I hadn’t heard of half the names in the 2008 season, so that isn’t too much of a shocker I hope).

    Now, of course, I know who he is, but I’ve had to go on what people have said about him, rather than see his racing live on the TV. While I know about Senna now, many people my age, even the F1 fans, see him as Jeremy Clarkson’s son saw him, as simply “that racing driver who died”.

    However, it is possible that it could work, but you have to know if the students are interested in F1 enough. In my view, this is essentially what it boils down to. Many of them will not be fans of F1. Granted, I haven’t seen Senna, but if the majority of the class are not interested in F1, they will not be interested in Senna’s life.



    A very interesting thread. I would be very tempted to do something similar in your position. I think Senna’s story is a brilliant one.

    With regards to the film Senna, i’m not so sure. It had me gripped and i’m sure it did a lot of people here too but let’s face it, people without an interest in Formula 1 may well only take interest in the moment he dies and in the film, or indeed any of the footage there is nothing ‘bloody’ enough to make the kids sit up and pay attention. Pains me to say it, but I think that’s how they could react.

    I remember going to the Imperial War Museum last year in the middle of summer. Me and MattHT went. The place was full of school kids. On the top floor there was an exhibition about crimes against humanity. There was this video on, a pretty graphic video. The kids didn’t digest it like we did, they seemed bloodthirsty almost, only hanging around ‘for the good bits’. I fear you may come up against a similar scenario. However, I guess it’s your job to engage them as best you can.

    Hope it works out for you :)

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