Harnessing the power of film in the classroom

Jane Fletcher

Jane Fletcher is Director of Education at Into Film, having previously been the Schools Director at FILMCLUB. She has extensive experience in the world of charity and moving image, and her past roles include Head of Programmes and Innovation at the charity TimeBank, in the Extended Schools Service in London and leading Toynbee Hall's Education Programme. Jane also has ten years experience in her previous career as a BBC Director / Producer for CBBC and BBC Education. Into Film is a UK-wide education charity, supported by the BFI (British Film Institute) that puts film at the heart of young people’s learning.

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As seen with Nicole Ponsford’s article last month, film offers many different qualities for teaching students of all ages. Jane Fletcher, director of education at British charity Into Film, gives her thoughts on how teachers can employ movies to teach a wide variety of fields.

In a world where the moving image is becoming increasingly dominant it makes sense to acknowledge film as the richest of educational resources, with the capacity to broaden young people’s horizons, enrich their learning experiences and raise attainment. Film has extraordinary production values in which art, science and technology meet.

The synthesis of art forms to tell compelling stories, and the enormous historic, literary, geographic, linguistic, cultural and social value and relevance these stories embody, which speak across age, class, gender and background, render film an invaluable tool for educators. This is a medium that is accessible to all, regardless of ability, with the power to bring to life aspects of the curriculum which some students may consider dull, portray themes from science to Shakespeare in a different light and inspire disengaged pupils.

Feedback from teachers that run school film clubs shows that regularly watching, discussing and reviewing films helps to develop a range of skills, which are valuable in their own right and are associated with wider academic attainment, including:

  • Independent thinking
  • Improved Literacy
  • Critical Analysis
  • Broader Cultural Awareness
  • Vocational aspiration
  • Confidence and social skills

Film to Support Literacy

One of the most valuable applications of film in education is its potential to support traditional and visual literacy. Encouraging young people to watch, discuss and review films, as well as developing film literacy is a powerful way to enhance their speaking, writing, listening and critical skills - particularly in the case of those who usually struggle or lack motivation in these areas. Related literacy activities, too, are beneficial, from writing a voiceover for a scene that has no dialogue or an account of a scene from a particular character’s viewpoint, to writing a persuasive letter to the British Board of Film Censorship (BBFC) regarding a film’s certification.

“Some of my boys who are reluctant writers are eager to complete film reviews and do so to such a high quality that I was pleasantly surprised, as they do not show that level of capability in class.” Sam Linton, Deputy Headteacher.

“Boys often engage more effectively with visual learning and film is the perfect medium for this. Writing about what they have seen seems to stimulate them more than writing about what they have heard or read.” Teacher and film club leader

Film is also a powerful tool to engage pupils with reading and support the teaching of English literature. Studying film adaptations of books – whether it’s Wizard of Oz or Roald Dahl, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, or adaptations of popular texts like Animal Farm, Great Expectations and Pride and Prejudice, all of which will feature in the new curriculum – can shed new light on plot and character, highlight themes that haven’t previously been considered and inspire students who find certain texts or writers challenging.

Film to Engage and Inspire

Film, supported by high-quality teaching resources, is a great way of promoting discussion around many curriculum topics at all Key Stages, from Primary to Sixth Form. Whether screened in their entirety, or through the use of relevant, carefully-selected clips that show a particular situation or behaviour, films can help to engage pupils in deep learning, which aids in the retention of information, tackling difficult subjects and sparking debate about a broad range of issues. All of this contributes to raising attainment. In history, for example, films can be used in discussions to interrogate sources and to support subjects ranging from World War I and slavery to The Cold War, The French Revolution, America and The Mayans.

Watching and discussing a film like Paper Clips (U) is an age-appropriate way to introduce younger pupils to the Holocaust, while for older pupils films like In Darkness (15) or Shooting Dogs (15) are thought-provoking ways to raise the subject of genocide. Equally, pupils could be encouraged to reflect on climate change after a screening of An Inconvenient Truth (U) or Encounters At The End of the World (U), or immersed in another language and culture through a foreign language title to aid language learning, which from September 2014 will be compulsory for primary as well as secondary pupils. And in PSHE, films ranging from Dumbo (U) to Rebel Without A Cause (PG), Mean Girls (12), Maria Full of Grace (15) and In Real Life (15) are excellent ways to start conversations about sensitive subjects such as bullying, e-safety, underage sex, drinking and drug use.

“Films are an excellent way to bring to life different periods in history, introduce a complex topic or engage pupils in subjects they may think are boring,” says one teacher. “Our film club introduces children to a variety of films that encourage them to think about contentious issues,” says another.

Filmmaking too – from scriptwriting and storyboarding to making a short documentary about historical events or the local environment - is an interesting and creative way to inspire young people and help them develop a range of academic and social skills, from writing and research to design and technology, creativity and team-building.

As well as bringing subjects to life, broadening young people’s horizons and stimulating their imaginations, film – and the act of sharing it with others – has the power to raise aspirations, break down barriers and increase empathy and tolerance. For every teacher in the UK, opportunities to use film and filmmaking in class - to enhance learning at all levels and support the new National Curriculum - are available as never before. Now’s the time to embrace them.

Image Credit: Flickr

How does this compare with your use of film in the classroom? Let us know in the comments.

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