English Teaching Online - Teachit's half-termly e-newsletter

The one with all the FILM
Spring (2) 2010 / Term 4

Ditching the remote control | Geoff Barton Interpretation and film for pupils with SEN | Andrew Buckton
The most beautiful fraud | Harry Dodds Introducing pupils to FILMCLUB | Cat Fitton
A filmic perspective from NATE | Tom Rank Welcome to Film Education | Ian Wall
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory | Phil Beadle Webwatch | Rhiannon Glover

Must-see films

Which films should every student see before they leave school?

And which films work particularly well in the classroom?

Over to you ...

>> Join the discussion in the Teachit Staffroom

Watched any films in class this week? Well, good for you. It's possible to feel guilty about sticking a DVD on in the last week of term, but should you ever need any justification, Geoff Barton puts it beautifully below.

This issue is a celebration of film and its importance to English. It's full of ideas, possibilities, and sources of support. Almost enough to have you wishing the Easter holidays away. Or, more realistically, digging out a few movies to watch for yourself.

All the best for a silver-screen-filled break.

Katie Green

Ditching the remote control | Geoff Barton

Geoff BartonWhen I started teaching in 1985 there were two things we did which we grandly called Media Studies. One was to compare the front page of a tabloid and broadsheet newspaper (how quaint those terms sound now). The other was to watch films. And I still do both with the classes I teach.

Film has always been one of my favourite forms of art and entertainment. In the presence of a great film, the world outside the cinema is put briefly on hold.

That’s why I sometimes go all grouchy when I hear what some teachers do with film. Some, I gather, show pupils the 'film of the book' before they read the book. No, no, no: how wrong is that?

If we’re using the film for comparative study, then the text must surely come first because that’s where we cut our imaginative teeth: it’s where we brew our personal picture of characters and place, where we predict plot-twists and speculate on themes and sub-texts. I don’t want my version of Harry Potter to be defined by Daniel Radcliffe and his various directors. I want the definitive HP template to be constructed by no one other than me.

The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.

Alfred Hitchcock

Then there’s the small matter of interruption. Someone told me this week of a teacher who was being observed, and the inspector walked into the lesson just as the group had settled down to watch Peter Brook’s Lord of the Flies. 'Oh oh,' the teacher understandably thought: 'since inspection is based entirely on the progress pupils make, I need to find a way of demonstrating their progress.'

So she did what all canny and pragmatic English teachers would do. She paused the DVD at the end of the opening sequence, asked a well-honed question related to the learning objective, gave the pupils a dash of thinking time, and then asked them what they thought of the title sequence. The lesson was judged – quite rightly – outstanding.

Except, in the real world, let’s never undervalue the magic that great films weave when left to their own devices. Let’s not feel guilty if, having set up why we’re watching it and what we’re looking for, we leave the film do its thing, uninterrupted by us. Great films are about rhythms and nuances and, critically, about suspension of disbelief.

We’ll sometimes be better English teachers by not behaving like English teachers – by leaving the remote control firmly on the desk and letting the film’s story take its grip unaided (meaning uninterrupted) by us.

And there’s one more thing we owe both to our pupils and to the film industry. Have a chat with the manager of your nearest local cinema that’s not a multiplex, the one that’s struggling to survive in the face of fancy marketing and flash facilities. Make a deal to take your class to that cinema one day.

If we really want to our pupils to lose themselves in film, then there’s nowhere better than those dark and shabby and exciting caverns of red seats and big screens – those very aptly named Picture Palaces.

'Love film, love life,' runs the advertising slogan. To which I might add, rather less pithily: 'Films and cinemas matter a lot.' And like the books and poems and plays we read, they’re part of our pupils’ cultural entitlement.

So let’s watch lots of films with our pupils, preferably without a remote control and preferably in a cinema.

The most beautiful fraud | Harry Dodds

Harry DoddsEnglish teachers have always used film, mostly as an adjunct to the reading of texts, though less commonly as an object of study in its own right. On the basis that anything that qualifies as ‘text’, as film undeniably does, falls within the orbit of English, I’m surprised that we don’t give it more attention.

Of course, it’s immensely useful as a supporting resource. Look at the insights to be gained from comparing the different treatments of the death scene in Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare’s text, and in the very different versions in Luhrmann’s and Zeffirelli’s versions. You can’t avoid serious discussion about the nature and impact of drama, any more than you can avoid looking at directorial / editorial decisions. Very rewarding.

It’s the editorial theme I’d like to pursue more closely. Consider this piece of complete codswallop from Jean-Luc Godard: 'Photography is truth. The cinema is truth twenty-four times per second.' Photography is anything but truthful, as most kids know, even if that’s only from recent air-brushing scandals in advertising – and they can mostly play digital tricks with their own pictures. That’s not to deny that an image can be manipulated to enhance the depiction of the emotional truths to which it might refer – but seeing is not believing. It’s the same with film, but on a much larger scale, and I think the way in to sensitising kids to that is to look at film as the product of a series of editorial decisions, and to examine the impact of those decisions. The skills will readily transfer to studies of literature and of language – persuasive language, in particular. We might also come to agree with Godard (wearing another hat, obviously): ‘Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.'

Some favourite short films – really rich texts


A filmic perspective from NATE | Tom Rank

Tom Rank

We naturally use terms like 'flashback' to help students understand narrative, whether in a novel or a film. Literary purists may shudder at an import from the brash world of the movies – but then few remain purists, literary or otherwise, after a wet afternoon trying to explain Of Mice and Men to recalcitrant Year 10s. Actually, a well-informed literary purist (and they often are) will tell us that Steinbeck's work was devised with both novella and play in mind and was soon seen on both stage and silver screen. Post-modernity being the thing, then, we ought to be able to enjoy the use of filmic analogies when studying fiction. Paul Stevenson, writing about 'Opening up the curriculum with 21st century literacy' in the latest edition of NATE Classroom says: 'Often learners will more readily recognise the artifice and art involved in film which can be a useful teaching point when the same approach is transferred to print media texts .... This works both ways, as analysing the structure of multimodal texts can be placed in the context of conventions and functions of print media texts.' Paul goes on to suggest plenty of practical ways of doing this using film clips as well as having students create their own still and moving image work.

The moving image occupies a troubled place in the English curriculum – always the bridegroom to the blushing bride of language.

Andrew Burn

My eye then slid across to the previous page of the magazine to see Phil Grosset commending 'the perfect meeting point of poetry and media text'. He was referring to 'More Precious than Gold' a YouTube video from Unicef on child trafficking with a Simon Armitage poem as narration. Phil's article was about the excellent range of global education resources that are now available free on the NATE site. And now I've started looking through my NATE magazines, I've come across a comment by Mark Reid from the BFI in last June's English Drama Media reminding us that 'Literacy is not just about the written word' and arguing forcefully for wider form of literacy. It's followed by practical examples from Lance Hanson, demonstrating how his department at Redhill School in Dudley uses both film and literature to teach writing. NATE members can obtain copies of all the articles in current and back issues of NATE's Classroom and English Drama Media online in the Members' Area – another reason to join or, if you already have, to visit the website!

There's plenty about film at NATE Conference this July. The opening keynote speech is by Andrew Burn, a former head of English and now Professor of Media Education at the Institute of Education. Film Club will have an extensive presence and staff from Film Education are running workshops on 'Poetry/Film/Poetics: teaching poetry through the moving image' and 'Shakespeare on screen'. If you want an exam link, conference sponsors OCR have a workshop on their new GCSE course, with its non-fiction and media texts component. More reasons, if you need them, to book your place soon.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory | Phil Beadle

Phil Beadle“Here’s the deal,” says Tim Burton, “There’s a big difference: Michael Jackson likes children, Willy Wonka can’t stand them.”

Both Burton and Johnny Depp were extremely eager to distance themselves from suggestions that the Wonka character in Burton’s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was based on Jackson, who had, at the time of release, been recently acquitted of child molestation. Though rumours spread, most commentators were happy to accept the progenitors’ explanation, without any thought as to whether there might be a reason for avoiding a tussle with a legal team who not only represented a man whose income exceeded the GDP of many small countries, but who’d also successfully defended him after he’d admitted to giving minors alcohol, showing them pornography, and sleeping in the same bed as them.

Let’s look at the evidence. The first frames feature a snowstorm out of which appears a huge, erect chimney, which, as we sweep in, is surrounded by a series of smaller chimneys. Phallic signifiers? Undoubtedly. Our first sight of Wonka is a single gloved hand. A reference to Jackson’s iconic ‘fashion statement’ perhaps?

A wide screen just makes a bad film twice as bad.

Samuel Goldwyn

His language too is suggestive of the singer. At one point he proclaims, “Let’s boogie!” – a phrase we know was in the lexicon of the singer (who was prone to blaming things on it). He also lapses into African-American jive-speak: “Are you hep to the jive? Can you slide me some skin?” This dialect is from the time Jackson first came to fame, and the suggestion of Wonka being a child of the early seventies is furthered by his quotation from a song of that time: “Good morning star-shine. The earth says, ‘Hello’.”

At points his language is appallingly reminiscent of the language an alleged paedophile might employ. Three times he says to Mike TV, “You really shouldn’t mumble, I can’t hear you when you mumble,” and his reaction when asked by Augustus Gloop, “Don’t you want to know our names?” sneering, “I can’t see how it could possibly matter,” allows the interested English teacher to examine the notion of objectification with their class.

For my classes, the clincher is as the children and parents queue to enter the factory. At this point they are presented with an animated doll show. The camera pans in to a close-up of the dolls, all of whom have pigmentation issues. A throne appears, fireworks go off, and the dolls’ hair is set alight. The kids I teach have all, despite their initial anger at any suggestion the film is a satire of Jackson, clicked their fingers with recognition at this point. “No way, man!” screams Rhys, finally aware that sir might have a point.

Have a look at it. I’ve been teaching this scheme for several years. It’s a short coursework fix, gets the kids engaged and leads to feverish discussion. Results are great. It’s well worth the fiver you can get the DVD for. 

Interpretation and film for pupils with SEN | Andrew Buckton

Cat FittonFor many pupils with SEN, the ability to ‘put yourself in someone else’s shoes’ can be very difficult. For pupils with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD), this is generally exceptionally hard as developmental difficulties with a ‘theory of mind’ or ability to empathise are a key feature of Autism. Any work on reflecting on different perspectives or interpretations of a text is therefore problematic from the outset.

However, the ability to see a novel or play as a film version ushers in some significant benefits. Seeing a text presented in such a visual way can help many pupils to gain a more concrete understanding of the play or novel. By definition, it is therefore less abstract and easier for the pupils to engage with. Different interpretations of texts, when presented visually, can be easily compared. Seeing a film can support some pupils with special needs who have difficulty with imagination, vocabulary, visual processing skills for reading and auditory processing skills for listening.

No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings ...

Ingmar Bergman

The opportunity to view the film version of a play or novel is also a bit of a winner for pupils, who undoubtedly view it as an alternative to ‘working’ for that particular lesson. It also seems to me that the more recent and ‘modern’ the film the better. Baz Lurman’s 1996 Romeo and Juliet, for instance, always gets more approval from the pupils I teach than Zeffirelli’s 1968 version. So too with Of Mice and Men, with Garry Sinise’s 1992 film proving more popular than the 1939 version by Lewis Milestone. This inevitable preference for more modern films can be well harnessed. Once pupils can move on from which film version they like best, they can begin to explore why. Which actor portrays Romeo as a self-obsessed trouble maker, and which portrays him as a love-struck teenager with a string of bad luck? Which film is the more realistic? Films really come into their own when key scenes are explored from the perspectives of different versions and the learning is centred around why the text was interpreted in that particular way.  

So many novels and plays have been made into films. You can type titles into www.findanyfilm.com to get details of film versions that are available. With DVD players dirt cheap and in most laptops, perhaps it’s the season to pull down the blinds and justifiably turn your classroom into a movie theatre to promote learning.

Introducing pupils to FILMCLUB | Cat Fitton

Cat FittonMention ‘after-school club’ to most teachers and the thought fills them with dread. Not because they don’t want to provide enriching activities for students, but the time and energy that goes into them either seems impossible to manage or wasted when only three students turn up (and at least one of those is there because they owe you a detention and this was a compromise).

In reality, there are not many after-school activities that students go to and even less that a lot of kids go to regularly – but then there are still lots of schools that haven’t set up a film club.

I’ve now set up and managed film clubs in two different schools and both have been successful and rewarding. And, the best thing? It’s free to state schools and easy. As teachers, the pressures are enormous and even taking on the responsibility of an after-school activity can add to an already heavy workload. With FILMCLUB though, all the hard work is done for you.

If any one thing is wrong with the movie industry today, it is the unrelenting effort to astonish.

Clive James

On the FILMCLUB website you’ll get your own homepage. Through this you can message students, set up screenings and post information regarding events and competitions. Even better, students can log on and suggest films, allowing them a sense of ownership over their club. A free account with lovefilm.com is set up for you so that, through the website, you can put a number of films on an order list that are simply sent to you. The FILMCLUB team are enormously helpful and many of them used to be teachers so they don’t expect anything unrealistic. They can also come to your school to induct staff and introduce students to the programme. If you’re really savvy, you can get some sixth formers to run it too – older students can be inducted to run clubs as well as teachers.

I won’t lie. It may take some perseverance at first. In early weeks, it’s not unusual to get only two or three students but it doesn’t take long before you have a regular 10-20 students and the question you are asked most on the corridor is, “Miss, what’s the film this week?” It’s an opportunity to expose students to films they otherwise wouldn’t see, to get students talking about things other than work, coursework, teachers, the weekend. Students have strong opinions about films and they’re not afraid to express them. Sure, they may not like every film, but they’ll definitely want to tell you why and, what’s more, they’ll more than likely want to type up those opinions in the review section of the website.

Apart from this, the best thing about this scheme is its inclusivity. Book clubs alienate reluctant readers; drama clubs alienate shy students; sports clubs alienate those with two left feet. FILMCLUB means every student can come together and find something in common that’s fun.

Give FILMCLUB a shot. It’s an after-school club that offers maximum rewarding return for relatively little input and, as teachers, we all know that doesn’t happen very often.
To sign up visit: www.filmclub.org/register.

Welcome to Film Education | Ian Wall

Ian WallWe founded our charity with a simple proposition: film is a powerful educational tool. Not just to keep children still or to introduce Media Studies topics, but to bring alive subjects that can seem very remote from today’s world. A huge part of this was our belief in the value of the cinematic experience and its part in children and young people’s cultural life. For the past 25 years we’ve been producing teaching materials, running training sessions and organising cinema based events for schools and colleges

Teachers are able to use a range of resources that are linked to the primary or secondary school curriculum. Many of these are free to use and based on specific films such as Casino Royale, Beowulf or Schindler’s List. We also produce special packs that focus on topics such as Shakespeare, Poetry or First World War history which are available for a significantly reduced fee and come with a licence which covers the entire school. In each case, they have been designed and written by our in-house team of educational developers, all of whom have teaching experience. We’ve just published a range of resources on film and Shakespeare which link in with the new GCSE English specifications.

The focus of our resources is always on helping teachers to capture the pupil’s imagination. By combining the power of the moving image, a clear learning structure and inventive use of interactive tools, we aim to give teachers compelling content that will leave their classes wanting more. They are designed to be flexible and easy-to-use so that schools can adapt them to different environments.

For me, the cinema is not a slice of life, but a piece of cake.

Alfred Hitchcock

Training events, conferences and courses

We run a series of events and activities that focus on giving teachers information and guidance on using film in education. Our regular activities include courses, INSET days and a bi-annual residential conference, CP3. The CP3 Conference, offers critical and creative perspectives on digital media in education. A creative, cutting edge, residential conference for teachers, advisors and education officers of both primary and secondary sectors, CP3 offers delegates the opportunity to practice new skills in digital media whilst developing fresh ideas for the classroom. .

National Schools Film Week – Europe’s largest youth film festival

Every October, schools across the country go to the cinema for free as part of National Schools Film Week, a unique event that takes place in venues across the UK. In addition to blockbuster film screenings, the programme includes a range of independent and international releases.

Young critics

At every event in the calendar, school children are encouraged to send us a review of the film that’s been screened. These are entered into the Young Film Critic of the Year Competition. The winners are announced at a ceremony that is held during National Schools Film Week. Last year’s nominees attended a red carpet event held at BAFTA , London.

Our full catalogue of resources and lists of events is always available online at our website www.filmeducation.org. If you would like to receive information about our free resources, please sign up for our email newsletter or write to us directly.

Webwatch | Rhiannon Glover

Rhiannon GloverFilm Education  is still a great and increasingly sophisticated website for practical resources and ideas that you can use in the classroom. Examples of imaginative resources on recent films include those on The Lovely Bones and Sherlock Holmes but there also guides to particular aspects of film and the film industry such as their Film Trailers guide.

On BFI’s main site you can access the BFI National Archive, books and posters and the latest news and reviews from ‘Sight and Sound’ (the article on different representations of Alice in Wonderland over the years is fascinating and could provide inspiration for various media based coursework tasks).  The education section of the website has information about forthcoming events and many resources, including detailed lesson plans on a range of films and film-related topics.

The DCSF National Strategies site also has detailed lesson plans on various film-related topics including worksheets to help Year 8 pupils write a film review and a year 5 scheme on film narrative.

The online Guardian has a great film section for features, reviews, interviews and blogs, while the Internet Movie Database is an American site which is more informal but also useful for film synopses, box office information and trivia. Reviews and features, entertainment and film news can be found at the BBC website together with podcasts of The Film Programme. Through the BBC film site you can also access Blast Film-Making for Young People which offers tips, messageboards and competitions for aspiring film-makers and writers.

FILMCLUB is a great free resource for teachers or older students who may wish to set up a film club in their school or college. It offers free weekly screenings, online reviewing and practical support.

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