Using mixed-media to get students hooked on literature

Matt Everett

Senior Assistant Principal, Cardinal Wiseman Catholic School

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Today’s students are digital natives. They multi-task while immersed in interactive digital media with vibrant content on their PC, PDA, MP3 player and mobile phone. These mixed-mediums just make sense to young people, and they can make sense in an educational setting too. 

By offering an engaging learning environment that speaks to young people’s experiences of consuming information, we can capitalise on their innate (but not always well-directed!) thirst for knowledge. In most subjects there are edtech resources available to help us achieve this, but English Literature stands alone with very few resources, leaving us with traditional books or eBooks. 

I know, for example, that if I made the students read through the whole of a Shakespearean play without any variation in my teaching methods, I’d lose them. So the first thing I do is introduce the story with the key plot; to a certain extent you do have to focus on the central story lines to grasp their interest, but it needs to make sense to them in a personal way. 

Is this teaching to the test?

In my view, it's actually quite the opposite. While all schools are under pressure to achieve good SATs and GCSE results, I have found that teaching to the test is the least effective way of drawing my students into the stories, poems and plays.

What has been particularly effective at Cardinal Wiseman in terms of learning and revision, is using videos that ‘play out’ the story lines. The students love it because learning is delivered in a style that is familiar and meets the needs of the YouTube generation who expect content on demand. Educators love it because it doesn’t take away from the autonomy or expertise of the classroom teacher.

Take Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as an example. After watching very short videos of the key narrative of Ebenezer Scrooge’s vision of the ghosts and his reaction when he sees the ill Tiny Tim, the children are naturally more engaged in the story as they have something to pin their knowledge to when they read. It’s about giving them the confidence to read the story and ignite their independent willingness to learn.

Research shows that students who visualise (or internalise) information are far more likely to retain it and be able to apply it in a meaningful and relevant way. The videos we use are ideal to create a mental connection between existing knowledge and the knowledge being taught. 

Each day, the opening lesson is a recap of the previous lesson. This often takes the form of playing one of the videos and discussing what we learned.

We tend to use the videos that cover the more difficult to understand sub-plots as it helps the students get a deeper and broader understanding of the text as a whole. There are a whole host of audio-visual clips on the Internet, but many only focus on generic overviews and have little benefit without an explanation of their purpose, and where they fit into the story. We use GCSEPod videos designed for the GCSE curriculum to support a developed interpretation; also ideal for homework and revision!

So, for all English Literature teachers out there, you can use the media that young people are so au fait with to hook your students into the books, plays or poetry that you teach them. Take it from me, it’s worth it.

Matthew Everett, Senior Assistant Principal, at Cardinal Wiseman Catholic School, in Coventry, uses GCSEPod for its cross-curricula videos and supplementary learning content.

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