May 25, 2015

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Students Improve Speech Through History in “The Address” | DVD Pick

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theaddressThe Address. 84 min. Dist. by PBS. 2014. $24.99. ISBN unavail.
Gr 6 Up–This documentary focuses on the students at the Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont, as they seek to understand the meaning of the Gettysburg Address, but, more importantly, as they strive to memorize the words and recite the address at a formal dinner held in February each year. Founded in 1978, the school educates young men who have a variety of complex learning differences, including dyslexia, dysgraphia, executive function, and ADHD. Many of the students experience language-based learning disabilities, thus the accomplishment of a public delivery of Lincoln’s most famous speech is most notable. Director Ken Burns, using the cinema verité method, follows the students’ efforts for 10 weeks. Viewers experience school meetings, teaching sessions, and students’ free time activities, and hear from the kids. They speak about their past educational experiences and how they were often bullied at former schools—a profound and emotional aspect of this film. Burns uses historical photographs and on-screen text to relate the story of the battle at Gettysburg and the cemetery dedication, all of which is narrated by the Greenwood students and interwoven with their progress. When presentation day arrives, 34 students recite the address or other memorized historical speeches, and successful elocutionists receive a school coin, a proud possession and reminder of their accomplishment. This film is another triumph for master filmmaker Burns, who lets the audience see and feel the success of these students. Classes across the curriculum can utilize this film.–­Patricia Ann ­Owens, formerly at Illinois Eastern Community Colleges, Mt. Carmel, IL

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