Is Brainpop Bad For Students?

Blogger Gary Stager is never afraid to speak his mind, and often provides a lot of food for thought. I’m a regular reader.

Sometimes, though, as all iconoclasts do, I think he goes a bit too far. His critique of VoiceThread was one of those times, and his just-published post that begins “Brainpop gives me a headache,” I think, is another one.

He critiques the use of Brainpop animations in class (using their recent one on the events of 9/11) as simplistic and not worthy of use in a classroom.

I’m a big fan of Brainpop movies (and of Voice Thread) for English Language Learner students of all ages. They are accessible, especially now that they are all closed-captioned, engaging, and short. They provide listening and reading opportunities, along with imparting basic content knowledge.

I would say the Gary’s critique of the site holds true for most content on the Internet and elsewhere.   The key to teaching, and learning, in my view is what you do with students prior to and after their reading or watching the material.  Sticking a student in front of an individual computer without combining that action with activities that access prior knowledge, without including small group collaborative learning, or without adding other engaging questions to provoke higher-order thinking skills is just taking the “easy way out.”

Brainpop provides a nice little introduction to factual material — no more, no less.

And, in my opinion, it does a pretty good job at doing just that.

13 thoughts on “Is Brainpop Bad For Students?

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  2. ok, I’ll moderate my view. 99% of voicethread projects are garbage.

    Voicethread is to learning or personal expression what Floam is to art.

    Using Brainpop’s close-captioning to learn to read is a good idea but hardly dependent on BrainPop AND does nothing to refute my more serious criticisms of the site or it’s dominant use as an information source.

  3. Gary,

    English Language Learners throughout the world are using Voice Thread as an effective way to practice speaking, listening, and writing skills. We have an International Sister Classes Project where ESL classes from fifteen countries create Voice Threads and comment on each other’s creations (

    As I mentioned in my post, I believe VoiceThread, Brainpop, a regular newspaper or any book can be viewed as simplistic if it’s not used in the context of classroom interaction that stimulates the imagination and higher-order thinking skills. Without that kind of interaction, I believe any text or activity is providing the “words without the music.”

    It’s also really not that easy to find resources online that provide expository text with audio and is closed-captioned.
    Brainpop does stand-out in that regard.


  4. Hmmm, is BrainPop’s dominant use as an information source? I always used it as an into/set/building background or prior knowledge in science then followed it up with hands on experiments, some lecture and notes, a handful of worksheets, and an assessment? It’s fantastic in that capacity with language learners.

    I hate to jump to conclusions, but most of what I see from Dr. Stager suggests that he doesn’t understand a lot of what we do, and the theory behind English Language Development. Look at the statement,

    Using Brainpop’s close-captioning to learn to read is a good idea but hardly dependent on BrainPop…

    Close-captioning is NOT used to teach reading. It’s used as a scaffold for language learners if they miss something in the audio because hearing a new language is very different (and a harder skill) than reading it. This is NOT teaching them to read, it’s making sure they get the background information before they go onto study a subject in more depth.

    While BrainPop may not be the “only” source for video with close captions, the pared down to essential nature of the illustrations and ideas in BrainPop make them much more accessible for language learners especially in elementary. It helps build some vocabulary and basic ideas to give students background (or schema) they likely do not have.

    I have had “issues” with Dr. Stager in the past on this, as in this exchange at Wes Fryer’s Speed of Creativity. This may work somewhere, but it does NOT work where I teach. Students need background/schema, scaffolding and modeling of the stages of building a project. He is dead on that they need time to work with other kids independently, with input from the teacher as needed, BUT with ELD students they may not ask for help, even with they are drowning, so I’ve discovered I need to do frequent check-ins, etc. to make sure they are “on track”.

    I’m searching in vain for a post/comment where someone basically said, Dr. Stager is great at critique, but he rarely offers anything he likes or approves of. The only things that come to mind that escape that are OLPC, and Logo. OLPC is not a workable teaching model where I work because it has no instructional plan, and seems to follow the velcro method of instruction (throw it out there and maybe something’ll stick). Logo/Scratch is nice, but my students need to learn English, not a computer language. Their Math proficiency (for what that is worth) is much higher than their Language Arts scores and their CELDT levels (this determines whether or not they are “fluent” English users).

    I need teaching methodologies, and theories that work for that reality. He doesn’t offer that. His critiques are sometimes right on, but often miss key points that make a given application particularly well suited to use for English Language Development (such as with VoiceThread).

    Look at these discussion of the “Hole in the Wall” project, which was the model/kernel that led to OLPC. First we have Dr. Stager, writing about how this is great because students are constructing their own knowledge, which left me saying WTH? because I’m wondering where teachers fit into that, kids just teaching themselves? I’m not picturing that as a successful model. He has a link to a post by Sylvia Martinez which shows how teachers fit into this model of instruction. Now THAT is useful.

    The public will have a chance to see either myself discussing Web 2.0 and ELD instruction AND Dr. Stager discussing what to do with a Laptop at ILC ( in October. My presentation is on Tuesday at 11:30, and Dr. Stager is scheduled for Thursday at 1:00.

  5. Brainpop is a fun way for students to hear a little bit of content from a voice other than my own. For some students, “Tim” might explain something in a new way that helps them make a connection. For the other students, it’s just a brief, fun, educational interlude between more intense methods of learning. I see absolutely no reason to object to BrainPop in terms of it dealing with things too simply — that’s where we, the teachers, naturally step in.

  6. I watched the 9/11 video and I think he might be right in that one case. Otherwise I think Brainpop is a terrific reinforcer for skills/concepts I’m teaching with primary age English Language Learners.

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  9. I like BrainPOP and watch it all the time. It was good for reviewing the Science state testing. 🙂

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